When the results start coming in, it’s not who’s winning – it’s by how much 

  • A voter casts a ballot at the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters, Friday, Nov. 4, 2016, in San Jose , Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez) Marcio Jose Sanchez

Monitor staff
Sunday, November 06, 2016

The most painful moment of this long campaign season for politics fanatics arrives at 7:01 p.m. Tuesday, when voting will have ended at many New Hampshire precincts yet we still won’t know what has happened.

If you’re one of those people, desperate to figure out results as quickly as possible, here’s the advice from one of the state’s best-known politics fanatics: Don’t look at early winners, look at early margins.

“It’s all about the margins,” said Dante Scala, associate professor of political science at UNH.

The earliest results reported in New Hampshire tend to be from big cities, which use ballot-counting machines and generally have more people collating and releasing results. Because cities tend to vote more Democratic than the state as a whole, it won’t be a surprise if Hillary Clinton is winning as the results trickle in. The real question will be, by how much?

“Concord and Keene, throw in Portsmouth as well . . . there’s no chance that Republicans would carry them. Expect Democrats there to be polling about 15 points more than the rest of the state. If it’s 50-50 statewide, then (Clinton) should be winning with, say, 63 percent in Concord, 68 percent in Keene,” he said.

That means, he said, “If she wins Concord with 58 percent, that’s not good (for her).”

“I also wonder about a place like Bow,” he said. “It has lots of prosperous folks, high levels of educational attainment, a lot of two-career families. (Clinton’s) success there will be a good barometer to me as to whether she has really won over those college-educated white voters in large numbers.”

For an early indication of Donald Trump’s level of success, Scala pointed to Manchester’s west side.

“If Trump wins Manchester or Nashua, then maybe we’re starting to see working class white voters flexing their muscles,” he said. “That would be bad news for Democrats.”

A major piece of information that will come in even the earliest of tallies is the effect that the presidential candidates are having on other party candidates for federal or even state office.

“That’s one of the big what-ifs. (Kelly) Ayotte is depending on a lot of cross-over, (Chris) Sununu as well. Will this be a typical party line vote, or will there be cross-over?” he asked.

On election night, as tallies start to roll in, the best bet is to concentrate on places that lean heavily one way or the other.

For the Republicans, that includes the state’s southeast corner.

“Republicans are hoping that Rockingham County will come out big for them – that was a big Scott Brown area. It seems to have tilted more Republican than it was before Obama,” Scala said.

He pointed to very large and GOP-leaning towns in Rockingham County and nearby parts of Hillsborough County, such as Derry, Londonderry, Merrimack, Hudson and Bedford.

“If Trump’s winning by only a few percentage points, that means he’s losing,” he said. In particular, he noted that Bedford “leans 15 points Republican,” which means “if Clinton is losing Bedford 55 to 45 (percent), that’s a big win for her.”

Dean Spilliotes, a civic scholar at Southern New Hampshire University and another well-known New Hampshire politics fanatic, said he thinks turnout is an important early signal.

“If turnout is not great . . . it might suggest Clinton is not getting the Obama coalition,” he said.

In 2012, New Hampshire had a turnout of 70.2 percent, one of the highest rates in the country.

Turnout is expected to be heavy again on Tuesday. One indication – a small one, but a hint – are requests for ballots by state residents overseas, including active military. As of Friday, 5,803 absentee ballots had been requested, which is 25 percent higher than the total 2012 tally of 4,572, and requests are still coming in.

Finally, after all the results are known and close to two years of politicking in this primary state has ended, one more question will be left: What will this race do to the country as a whole?

“Talking to people, I encounter more concern about the aftermath, regardless of who wins, than I’ve seen in a long time. People are kind of wondering what it will be like on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday,” said Spilliotes.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)