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Will the Iowa Results Sway New Hampshire Voters?

Jeff Jones

Some recent (non-Gallup) polls of New Hampshire primary voters have caught my attention. These polls asked New Hampshire voters whether the Iowa caucus results would affect their vote. The vast majority of New Hampshire voters -- about 9 in 10 -- say they would not. For example, the Dec. 13-17 CNN/WMUR/UNH poll finds 74% of primary voter saying Iowa will not affect their vote, in addition to the 22% who claim a firm commitment to a candidate at this time.

That could very well be the case this time, but the Iowa results did appear to sway a good many New Hampshire voters in 2004. In our tracking poll that year, our pre-Iowa caucus numbers of New Hampshire voters (Jan. 17-19, 2004) showed Howard Dean leading John Kerry, 32% to 25%. In our first tracking poll results in which all interviews were conducted post-Iowa (Jan. 20-22), Kerry led 34% to 22% -- a gain of nine percentage points for Kerry, a loss of 10 points for Dean, and a net shift of 19 points in the lead (from Dean +7 to Kerry +12).

We know from polling and other social science research that people are often not great predictors of how they will behave in a given situation. While many New Hampshire voters may not be consciously waiting for the Iowa results to decide on a candidate, it would be hard to believe that the massive rush of positive media attention that usually showers the Iowa winner (as was the case with Kerry in 2004 and others before him) would not sway a good number of New Hampshire voters.

Kerry's surge was aided in part because his Iowa win was unexpected and Dean's post-Iowa speech/scream became one of those unforgettable campaign moments that has sunk many a presidential ambition. We may not see as much change in the New Hampshire numbers in 2008 as we did in 2004, but I would be surprised if the pre-Iowa New Hampshire numbers change as little as the "will Iowa affect your vote" numbers suggest.

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