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New Hampshire helped set up the matchup nobody wants. Detailed data explain why.

Joe Biden and Donald Trump won the New Hampshire primary. But it was not exactly a show of strength.

While the pair did cruise to victory, there were clear signs of discontent in the electorate. Rather than a dominant win for the two likely nominees, a POLITICO analysis of detailed election results and exit polls suggests there are serious downsides for the four major candidates still in the race.

Beneath Trump’s victory was a continued struggle to win support from independent and moderate voters, key constituencies who doomed his reelection effort four years ago. His main challenger, former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, couldn’t get enough support from conservatives to notch her first win. And her primary path becomes brutally difficult, with future states looking like the parts of New Hampshire where she struggled the most.

The Democratic side, where the primary was not sanctioned and didn’t award delegates, was messy in a different way. About 1 in 3 voters did not participate in the write-in effort for Biden, who deliberately did not put his name on the ballot because the state did not comply with DNC rules. But those skeptical of the president also did not flock in large numbers to Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, who struggled to win over ideological voters and build a coalition.

New Hampshire just helped set up the rematch most Americans don’t want. But it turns out, the voters wanted the other options even less.

Just look at the data.

Nikki Haley has a primary election problem

Haley’s performance on Tuesday night, coming within 11 points of Trump, was enough for her to claim momentum in the two-person race.

The former South Carolina governor picked up about 43 percent of the vote, performing best in highly educated towns where most adults have college degrees — a continued strength that she first showed in Iowa. She received her highest municipal vote share, nearly 85 percent, in Hanover, home of Dartmouth College.

Haley also appeared to benefit from New Hampshire’s rules allowing independents to participate in either party’s primary. Turnout in the GOP primary was up compared to 2016, and nearly a quarter of voters were independents or Democrats, according to AP VoteCast. Those voters favored Haley by a significant margin, boosting her numbers.

But her path is likely to only get more difficult from here, and the New Hampshire results help show why.

In the reddest towns, Trump beat Haley by a whopping 24 percent. But she wasn’t able to make that up with Republican voters who live among Democrats: In towns where Biden won in 2020, Haley only beat Trump by about 1 percent, according to a POLITICO analysis.

That’s a serious problem for the former South Carolina governor as the primary moves into heavily pro-Trump territory, including her home state next month.

To actually knock off Trump, Haley would need to do a lot better than losing GOP strongholds by double digits and splitting the primary vote with him in the purple and blue ones.

Trump has a general election problem

The lopsided GOP primary results may benefit Trump for now, but they raise questions about whether he’ll be able to expand his base as he heads toward a third hotly contested general election.

The former president’s victory was smaller than polls had suggested, and the voters Haley picked up come from blocs with which he’s continued to struggle.

Tellingly, 35 percent of GOP primary participants said they would not vote for him if he was the party’s nominee, according to AP VoteCast.

That, in part, reflects greater participation by independents and Democratic-leaning voters in the Republican primary — New Hampshire, as noted, allows unaffiliated voters to vote in any primary — rather than a fade in Trump’s standing within his party. But that mobilization of voters to cast ballots against Trump in the primary still speaks to a potential challenge for him in the general election. Those voters — especially college-educated suburban voters who make up a significant share of the New Hampshire electorate, helped deliver Biden the White House in 2020.

The municipalities where Trump was weakest during the 2016 New Hampshire primary, mostly towns where a majority of adults were college-educated, were also those where he struggled the most in the 2016 and 2020 general elections. And they’re where he lost to Haley this time.

Here’s another way to understand Trump’s inability to expand beyond his base: Of the 14 towns won by Ohio Gov. John Kasich in New Hampshire’s 2016 GOP primary, Trump managed to flip only one, the tiny Hart’s Location, where he won 14 votes to Haley’s 5.

Dean Phillips failed to build a coalition

Phillips, who mounted a longshot challenge to Biden, came away with less than 20 percent of the vote — a non-trivial share, but far closer to wellness guru Marianne Williamson than the incumbent Democratic president.

The detailed data shows few silver linings for Phillips. He won just a handful of New Hampshire’s more than 200 municipalities, and he did not put up especially good numbers with any particular demographic or ideological group that could signal a budding coalition.

Phillips has made age central to his candidacy, saying Biden is too old and should “pass the torch” to a new generation. Phillips was strongest with the 47 percent of voters who thought Biden was too old to serve another term, according to AP VoteCast — but even among those voters, the Minnesota representative barely beat the incumbent president. Phillips won 38 percent of those voters, while 35 percent of voters who thought Biden was too old still opted to write in his name anyways.

Phillips told reporters Tuesday night that he would not drop out until he had built “enough national name ID” to be tested in a head-to-head matchup with Trump, and then only if he performed worse than Biden in the polls. But even if Phillips has the money to do just that, it is not clear how he gets the votes from Democrats to seriously challenge the incumbent.

Joe Biden voters weren’t excited about supporting him

Biden was the clear winner of the Democratic primary, likely to end up with around 65 percent of the vote once all write-in ballots are totaled. His margin of victory over his Democratic opponents was relatively consistent across the state.

But that means about one-third of Democratic voters didn’t back his bid. And many of those who did, polling shows, did so despite disagreements with him.

AP VoteCast found that Democratic primary voters were evenly divided on Biden’s handling of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, with 49 percent approving of his handling and 48 percent disapproving. He performed slightly better on immigration, but 41 percent of primary voters still said they did not like his handling of the issue.

And 44 percent of Democratic primary voters said they would be dissatisfied with Biden being the nominee.

Yet Biden was still a winner among the voters who were not happy with him. He still won a plurality among voters who disapproved of his handling of issues, including immigration and the Israel-Hamas war. And 87 percent of Democratic primary participants said they would still vote for him in November, compared to only 64 percent of GOP primary voters who were locked in for Trump.

The good news for Biden, then, is that voters are largely ready to vote for him, even if nearly half of them have to hold their noses to do so. The danger is whether lack of enthusiasm could hurt turnout in a closer election.

Turnout in the Democratic primary was relatively low this year compared to the party’s 2016 and 2020 contests. But those were primaries with no incumbent. Turnout was higher than 2012, when Barack Obama easily won New Hampshire on his path to reelection.

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Author: POLITICO