Monday, December 28, 2015

'Undeclared' Voters Could Be Wildcard in New Hampshire

New Hampshire has both election-day voter registration and an open primary system. It makes for intense voter mobilization right up to election day.

At the Los Angeles Times, "In New Hampshire, undeclared voters could be a key wild card in the primary":
Catherine Johnson's day started at 6 a.m. She left her home in Hanover, drove 100 miles southeast across New Hampshire to a campaign event in Plaistow, then worked her way back with stops in Londonderry, Bedford and Goffstown.

Her itinerary rivals that of some presidential candidates. But Johnson will be casting a ballot, not appearing on one. She wanted to do her homework.

"I'm having so much fun," Johnson said recently as she talked of watching Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who campaigned Dec. 19 for Sen. Lindsey Graham's now-ended GOP run, and of planning to see New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is seeking the Republican nomination. She also plans to attend a Democratic primary debate.

"I just want to vote for who I think is the best leader for this time in our country's history. And I'm not sure I know who that is yet," she said.

Johnson is registered as an independent — "undeclared," as such voters are called in New Hampshire — one of 380,993, more than 40% of the electorate, who can choose to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary on Feb. 9.

She grew up in Republican politics, the daughter of a former state party chairman, and said she spent her 7th birthday stuffing envelopes for her father's Senate campaign.

After voting for McCain in the 2008 primary, she supported President Obama for reelection in 2012, she said. She met Hillary Clinton this year and is considering the former secretary of State, but is concerned about Donald Trump's standing in the polls and considering which Republican might be the best alternative.

"You want your vote to count," she said.

Not all undeclared voters will put in her kind of mileage in weighing their options, but neither is Johnson a total anomaly in this state, which grows obsessed with presidential politics every four years. Undeclared voters represent a significant wild card here, and campaigns will work overtime to monitor their changing attitudes in the final weeks before the first ballots are cast.

"You have to recognize there's always going to be shifting ground because of the nature of New Hampshire," said Joel Benenson, chief strategist for the Clinton campaign. "You have to be vigilant and staying on top of it, and looking for changes and asking as many questions as you can to assess who's going to vote where."

Many undeclared voters are not truly independents and vote consistently in one primary or the other, analysts stress. The true swing, independent vote here might be as little as 4% of the final electorate, said Andy Smith, a University of New Hampshire pollster.

But in a close primary contest, those voters can make a significant difference. So can undeclared voters who lean toward one party or the other but don't vote in every election. Both groups add another unpredictable element to a state where more than a third of voters often make up their minds in the final three days before the primary, according to exit polls taken over the years.