Director, Commonwealth Policy Center

With the election season in full swing, presidential candidates are racing across the country to stump their speeches, shake hands, and pontificate on why they should be the next president of the United States. While the Democratic nomination seems like a foregone conclusion, the Republican nomination is wide open. Some candidates have decided to make Iowa their boom or bust caucus, while others have decided that the Granite state will be the place they make their mark on this race. Political commentators and pollsters alike have set up camp in both states, each elucidating on why their particular state is more likely a bellwether for the nomination. 

The truth for this election cycle, however, is that neither state is likely to pick this year’s nominee. Iowa is the first state to hold elections during this cycle and the focus has been on the Hawkeye state because of this primacy. Yet in recent elections it did not choose the nominee. While Bob Dole won in 1996 and President George W. Bush won in 2000, It was Mike Huckabee that came away the victor in 2008, and Rick Santorum won in 2012. So at best it is a push. While Iowa has been more representative of the GOP electorate in the past, an overall less-concerned-about-social-issues Republican Party means that Iowa is likely an exception and not the norm. What about the Granite State? They have a better recent history of choosing the nominee. Romney won in 2012, McCain in 2008. But the independent streak that New Hampshire is famous for usually does not translate into an overall picture of the electorate. 

This year, unlike any in recent history, the ground beneath the GOP base seems to be shifting more than previous years. There is still a large enough bloc of social conservatives that makes Iowa a state to watch, but the growing influence of libertarianism within the party makes for a difficult projection beyond Iowa. On the other hand, New Hampshire's fiercely independent streak that runs throughout the state makes for a difficult prediction as a bellwether. At the end of the day, voter turnout may hinge on who gets the nomination and who wins the top of the Democratic ticket. That may push voters into their voting precincts far more than bellwether primaries.