WASHINGTON (MEDIA GENERAL) – New Hampshire is home to the nation’s first primary, and thousands of swing voters known to upend presidential contests.
Candidates spend months, even years, at Granite State coffee shops and town halls in hopes that residents will make a late break in their favor on primary day.
The New York Times dubbed the crucial bloc, “a highly coveted and unpredictable species… that makes up about 40 percent of the primary electorate, and that has the potential to propel one candidate to victory or tip another to defeat.”
A CNN/WMUR poll released Monday puts Republican undecideds at 31% and wobbly Democratic votes at 15% — proving the difficulty of pinning down politically affiliated Granite Staters, much less declared independents.
Tuesday’s contest, as in so many past, will come down to snap decisions made as citizens step into voting booths and do a gut-check.
Some of the game day choices are enough to make political scientists’ heads spin.
A chunk of undecideds are choosing between Donald Trump and Sen. Bernie Sanders. Yes, that billionaire businessman. And that bank-busting Democratic Socialist.
“Sanders’ team has even prepared a script as part of their literature for volunteers who encounter voters who say both Trump and Sanders’ ‘outsider’ status appeals to them,” reports CNN International.
Campaigns say this phenomenon speaks to the “live free or die” culture prized by the state’s residents.
So when pollsters make predictions, sometimes “toss-up” is the best they get.
“People are moving around from candidate to candidate… I think if you called the same person in two successive nights, you might get two different answers of who they like,” University of New Hampshire professor Dante Scala told Politico.
In the latest Monmouth poll of New Hampshire voters, researchers found just 49% of likely GOP voters were “completely decided” before the primary. Democratic support appears more durable, with 60% of likely voters solidly decided.
Digging deeper into the numbers reveals there is a particularly valuable sub-group of uncommitted votes: independents.
In New Hampshire, registered “independents” make up one-third of eligible voters and can cast ballots for either party on primary day – a mammoth swing group.
“These independents are a relatively liberal group, hewing a bit more to a Democratic view of what issues matter most, and even identifying as Democrats more than Republicans, “ writes Boston’s WBUR.
When all is said and done, CNN suggests a combination of turnout and idiosyncratic preferences will push these undeclared voters into disparate groups:
Right now, 46% of undeclared voters have decided to participate in the Republican primary compared to 40% in the Democratic, according to a WBUR/MassINC poll. Of voters who are undecided about which party to vote for, slightly more are learning towards picking a Democratic ballot — 24% to 19%.
The biggest beneficiaries of such a split among undecideds, reports NYT, would be “Mr. Sanders — whom independents favor — or, on the Republican side, a more moderate candidate, like Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio
The RCP average of polls forecasts the GOP’s top five, as of this writing, at: Trump (31%), Rubio (14%), Kasich (13.5%), Cruz (11.8%), and Bush (11.5%).
On the left, RCP lists Sanders with 54% of support, followed by Hillary Clinton’s 41%.
But as we’ve seen before, that could all change in an instant.
New Hampshire’s fence-riders are fully aware of their value and plan to make a statement with their ballot.
Despite heavy snows blanketing the northeast, many reports predict record turnout for Tuesday’s primary.
Follow Chance Seales on Twitter: @ChanceSeales