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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

No, Democrats Aren’t “Infiltrating” the New Hampshire Republican Primary

It’s not unusual for Donald Trump to just make up stuff that’s not true, but in this case I wanted to set the record straight at New York:

In her very long-shot effort to get in the way of Donald Trump’s third consecutive Republican presidential nomination, Nikki Haley really needs to overperform in the New Hampshire primary on January 23. Fortunately for her, it’s probably her best state in the entire country. For one thing, she’s spent a lot of time there and is benefiting from the strong support of popular lame-duck governor Chris Sununu. But more basically, the GOP primary electorate is relatively light on Evangelicals (a mere 25 percent in the 2016 presidential primary), and GOP moderates are a small but visible breed (27 percent in 2016). Plus, independents (42 percent of GOP primary voters in 2016) are allowed to participate in the Republican contest.

Trump has seized on this last data point in an effort to discredit Haley’s showing on the chance that she really does beat expectations, as the Washington Post reports:

“Trump argued during his rally here [in Portsmouth] that Haley is ‘counting on Democrats and liberals to infiltrate your Republican primary.’

“’A vote for Nikki Haley this Tuesday is a vote for Joe Biden and a Democratic Congress this November,’ Trump said. (He went so far as to suggest that Haley would abandon her party, stating at one point: ‘I actually think she might go to the Democrat Party.’”)

As is often the case with the 45th president, he didn’t exactly get his facts right. Registered Democrats cannot vote in the GOP primary in New Hampshire, and they couldn’t even switch party registration after the October 2023 deadline (reportedly 4,000 voters — or less than 2 percent of the anticipated primary vote — did so). Still, as Ben Jacobs noted at New York recently, there has been an organized effort to get Democratic-leaning independents to vote against Trump in the GOP primary, and according to the polls, they are contributing to Haley’s base of support.

A new St. Anselm College poll this week shows Haley leading Trump by 52 percent to 37 percent among registered independents, who represent 47 percent of likely Republican primary voters (Trump leads Haley 65 percent to 25 percent among registered Republicans). Ten percent of likely GOP primary voters, moreover, told the pollsters they self-identify as Democrats, and among them Haley wins 90 percent.

There’s nothing illegitimate, much less illegal, about independents voting in a partisan New Hampshire primary (six other states allow independents to vote in either party’s primaries, and another 16 states — including South Carolina, which is holding the next big primary on the calendar — don’t have registration by party, which means you just show up at the polls and pick a primary). And a significant majority (81 percent, according to a Pew study in 2019) of independents nationally lean strongly toward one party or another. So there’s no “infiltrating” going on in New Hampshire, and the vast majority of GOP primary participants will likely support the party nominee in November. Team Haley, of course, will argue that her popularity among non-party-affiliated and even some self-identified Democratic voters is a token of how well she would do in a general-election contest with Joe Biden.

Having said all that, Trump’s superior performance among self-identified Republicans could pay off for him down the road in states with closed primaries in which independents — no matter which way they lean — cannot vote. That’s assuming he hasn’t already clinched the nomination much earlier, which will certainly happen if he beats Haley in New Hampshire and then in South Carolina, as appears likely. That St. Anselm poll showing Haley doing so well among independents also gives Trump a 14-point lead overall. To invert the old Sinatra song, if she can’t make it there, she can’t make it anywhere.

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