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N.H. bucked 2012 House Republican trend

Politics, geography and a stubborn independent streak combined to help insulate New Hampshire from a phenomenon that occurred in 2012 when Republicans took advantage of carefully redrawn congressional districts to engineer House victories across the nation.

An Associated Press analysis of district-by-district results in 2012 contests showed that Republicans held onto a 33-seat majority in the House despite their candidates getting 1.4 million fewer votes than Democrats. That was only the second time since World War II the party getting the most votes failed to win a majority in the House.

At the same time, Republican Mitt Romney won 17 more House districts than Democrat Barack Obama even though Obama got 5 million more votes.

Political parties have always used the once-a-decade, census-based redistricting process to draw lines designed to protect the party in power. It’s a powerful tool that has helped incumbents hold onto their jobs at rates regularly exceeding 90 percent nationwide.

In New Hampshire, though, where state Republicans left it to their two Republican U.S. representatives to haggle over new district lines, the party lost both House seats while Romney was defeated in both districts.

So, how did New Hampshire buck the trend? Several factors combined to nullify the advantage that Republicans crafted in other states, primarily the geography of the state, said Linda Fowler, a professor of government at Dartmouth College.

“Basically, the problem for Democrats is that their votes are concentrated in urban areas, so a lot of their presidential support is wasted when it comes to House seats,” Fowler said. “I think the key to understanding New Hampshire is the absence of a really large city. So it is difficult for Republicans to pack Democrats into a single district to guarantee themselves the second seat.”

Then there’s that big bloc of voters who don’t pledge allegiance to either major party. Undeclared – or independent – voters make up more than 42 percent of the electorate, compared with 30 percent who register as Republicans and 27 percent as Democrats.

“The number of undeclared voters is extremely high,” Fowler said. “They have tended to lean Republican, but have become a more volatile segment of the electorate, particularly as the national GOP has moved to the right.”

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