In a blow to moderates across America, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump exceeded expectations Tuesday night by beating their opponents by 20 point margins. The election was called about thirty seconds before the polls closed, and with under 10% of the voting reported. A bump in fundraising for Sanders and a jump in the polls for Trump is sure to follow, but just how concerned should we be?
Before we all submit and embrace the anti-establishment, let’s take a deep breath and look at some numbers. To understand what happened in New Hampshire, you first have to understand its primary rules, and then you have to understand its demographics.
Under New Hampshire primary rules, anyone undeclared can vote in either primary. That means that independents can vote for whichever party they choose. Independents by nature have a tendency to reject party politics. They prefer candidates who buck the system and challenge the status quo. The fact that a state that courts independents went for outsiders like Trump and Sanders shouldn’t be a huge surprise. Exit polling showed that independent participation made up about a third of the voting for Republicans, and nearly 40% for Democrats. Polarization also played a large role. Moderates only made up about 24% of the electorate, with more people than ever claiming to be liberal or conservative.
Suburban, and predominantly white.
According to the latest U.S. Census data, New Hampshire is also one of the whitest states in the country. Whites make up 94% of the population compared to 77.4% for the whole of America. It has a median income of $64,916 and a poverty rate seven points lower than the national average. Homeownership and higher education also score higher in New Hampshire than the rest of the country.
The results in New Hampshire should be taken in that context. They are a microcosm of the state’s demographics. Last night’s primary is an isolated anecdote that is hardly representative of America. A state that embraces the motto, “Live free or die,” is going to have strong feelings about politics and government that reject the establishment not just on belief, but on principle.
Angry and anxious.
What we are dealing with is an angry white electorate. Suburban whites are mad a political system they believe no longer works in their interest. Exit polling also showed that one of the most important attributes voters sought in a candidate was that they, “care about people like me.” Nine in ten Democrats believed the economy favors the wealthy. 75% of voters from both parties said they were “very worried,” about the economy.
Republicans are angrier than Democrats. Nine in ten were dissatisfied with the federal government and at least half of Republican voters felt betrayed by their party. In one of the more shocking statistics to come out of last night’s primary, nearly 2/3 of Republicans supported a temporary ban on Muslims.
Fear and anger are powerful motivators, especially when politicians take advantage of the American public’s trend toward anxiety. New Hampshire may not be representative of America, but it is representative of a certain type of voter. A voter that ignores an improving economy that has always worked to the benefit of suburban whites. A voter that could be characterized as dangerous, because if they don’t know how good they have it now, will they ever?
It says something about our country when the most privileged group of voters whine about their circumstances and put more value on the candidate who cares about them, than the candidate that will be best for the country. They’ve been so busy pointing fingers at their imagined enemies, that they’ve run out of fingers to point back at themselves. Will enough ever be enough for the angry white electorate? Or will we all become victims of their collective temper tantrum?