Trump’s big New Hampshire win hides White House electability issues

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Donald Trump sailed to victory over Nikki Haley in New Hampshire’s Republican primary on Tuesday, and two things are clear in the data. First, Trump’s base still loves him and votes for him. Second, he underperformed among voters outside his Maga movement.

The second point will be pored over by Trump’s strategists as they focus on another campaign to win back the White House.

Trump was expected to score highly among Republican voters without college degrees in lower-income areas — and he did. But he performed worse among the kind of voters he is likely to need if he is to win November’s general election.

Independents heavily favoured Haley on Tuesday, according to the exit polls from New Hampshire. And she fared a bit better in towns with more independents than elsewhere, according to analysis of the results. Trump’s vote share trended slightly lower in those areas.

Also significant was just how concentrated Trump’s support in New Hampshire has become — a trend that allowed him to run up his tally in areas where he did well in 2016. On the contrary, Haley won towns in more moderate areas of the state that Trump claimed in 2016, including the state capital Concord.

If repeated nationwide, this could be especially important in a general election that is decided not in the partisan areas of the country, but the swing states. In a general election, Trump will not need more votes from states already friendly to him. He will need them from undecided areas — and New Hampshire suggests this could be a problem.

Trump’s vote share on Tuesday was 54 per cent — far above the 35 per cent he obtained in 2016, the last time he was in a contested Republican primary in New Hampshire. But 2016 and 2024 were not like-for-like primaries, because the vote was really a two-horse race between him and Haley.

What the lines in the chart below show, however, is that Trump’s support rose most among the poorest households and areas with the lowest rates of college educated people. His share increased less among the highest-income and most educated groups.

Where Trump truly dominated was among registered Republicans. But only a minority of people voting in November are likely to be Republicans. And in contrast with the former president, Haley’s more traditional conservatism seemed to have a broader appeal.

She won more support from moderate voters, and she did better in parts of New Hampshire with fewer Republicans and more Democrats. One of Haley’s biggest wins, for example, was in Hanover, a wealthy Ivy League town home to Dartmouth College, where 41 per cent of registered voters are independent and only 7 per cent are Republicans.

Even more telling was the voting by independents. Unlike most other states, New Hampshire conducts a partially “open” primary, which allows voters who register as independent to participate in either of the two parties’ ballots. An exit poll from CNN suggested that of the independents who voted in the Republican primary, the split was 58-39 in favour of Haley.

But if the votes by New Hampshire’s independents point to a potential problem for Trump, the state’s turnout will offer him comfort.

In last week’s Iowa caucuses the sharply depressed turnout numbers sparked speculation about “Trump fatigue”. But that vote took place during a period of record-cold weather in Iowa. Vote totals in New Hampshire, on the other hand, were up significantly compared with previous primaries.

The next contested primary is on February 24 in South Carolina, where Haley served two terms as governor and has continued to buy advertising. On Tuesday, between noon and 10pm, as New Hampshire voters dropped off their ballots at the polls, Haley bought at least $981,000 worth of ads — all for South Carolina — according to data from tracking firm AdImpact. According to polling averages, Haley trails Trump in South Carolina by 37 points.

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