If tiny New Hampshire is a swing state, John McCain has more than a financial crisis and high anxiety to worry about there. With Sarah Palin expected there Wednesday and Barack Obama Thursday, there's also the overriding reality of demographic change. According to a comprehensive new state survey released Wednesday, a head-turning one-third of potential voters are new to the state and the majority self-identify as Democrats.
The University of New Hampshire's Carsey Institute crunched 16 voter surveys and 8,300 interviews, combining them with eight years of Internal Revenue Service and Census migration data. It found that the potential electorate turned over by one-third in just eight years, as 321,000 people moved to New Hampshire from elsewhere and about 208,000 of those now remain. Meanwhile, 199,000 people of voting age exited, and 113,000 new voters reached the age of 18 as 83,000 residents died during the period. The end result is about 321,000 potential new voters out of 991,000.
The state has gone Democratic in three of the last four elections and is surrounded by decidedly blue states. John Kerry topped President Bush by a slim 1.4 percent four years ago. Yet, conventional wisdom has deemed New Hampshire, and its four electoral votes, a swing state.
That reality may be changing, given migration patterns leaving it as a state with one of the smallest percentages of its native-born citizenry still living there. The image of a tradition-bound Yankee state may be belied by the reality that just 43 percent of the people living in New Hamsphire were born there. Only five states have a smaller percentage.
Politically, "The influx of potential voters to New Hampshire has significant implications because they different in their party identification from long-time residents," according to the report co-authored by Kenneth Johnson, a senior demographer at the Carsey Institute who arrived after a distinguished career at Chicago's Loyola University; Dante Scala, a political scientist at the university; and Andrew Smith, director of the university's Survey Center. Both young voters (53 percent) and the new migrants (52 percent), who tend to come from the Boston metro area and the South, are more inclined to self-identify as Democrats than established voters (43 percent). A total of 39 percent of established voters identify with the Republican Party, says the survey.
Changing voter registration reflects the demographic patterns in the state, with Democratic registrations rising by 30 percent the last decade, compared with a stable Republican registration. A once significant Republican margin had narrowed to only a small Republican lead, namely 271,000 to 265,000.
Most Democratic registration gains came in traditional Republican counties, with the most vivid changes in Grafton, Carroll and Belknap counties. Admittedly, the Democratic share's growth there partly reflect an inherently lower base to start with. But "such rapid gains also coincided with large migrations gains in Carroll and Belknap counties, suggesting that voter turnover may have contributed to these Democratic gains," wrote the authors. Their detailed analysis suggests that "diminished Republican dominance in these traditional Yankee Republican counties may well be due, at least in part, to the turnover in the pool of voters fueled by migration and generation changes."
In concluding that demographic change in the Granite State "has significant implications for the November election," the academics still can't answer an obvious ultimate question: who will actually come out on Nov. 4? For the moment, the McCain campaign probably should hope it's not a lot of an old state's distinctly new citizens.