Large number of migrants means N.H.’s voter demographic is constantly changing

  • People arrive at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts prior to a concert hosted by Katy Perry, supporting Democratic presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton, Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) Julio Cortez

 Monitor staff
Published: 11/6/2016 12:06:28 AM

Originally from Boston, Derry GOP town committee Chairman Jim MacEachern moved to the Granite State in the early 1990s for work and to escape the Bay State’s soaring real estate market. New Hampshire politics was the cherry on top.

“People were a lot more involved in the government up here,” MacEachern said. Plus, being a Republican in blue Massachusetts was “a lonely position to be in.”

MacEachern soon became involved with the Derry GOP and town boards, relishing the opportunity to get involved in the political process.

Republican or Democrat, MacEachern said he thinks people flock to New Hampshire for its independent spirit and the opportunity to be engaged in the political process. 

New Hampshire has a fabled political reputation. The home of the First in the Nation primary, New Hampshire voters have their own identity as fiercely independent, hardened Yankees who are die-hard Granite Staters.

But the truth is the state is actually one of the most mobile in the nation – meaning a substantial part of the population moved here from another state.

Only a third of New Hampshire residents age 25 and older were born here, making it the sixth most mobile state in the nation. 

“I don’t think people appreciate that,” said Ken Johnson, senior demographer at the University of New Hampshire’s Carsey School of Public Policy.

Johnson chuckles when he sees depictions of New Hampshire in popular political TV shows like House of Cards.

“They always want to paint it that way, (voters) always standing in front of an old courthouse,” he said. “And here, two-thirds of the people, the adults weren’t even born here.”

At the same time, New Hampshire-born people are leaving the state at about the same rate as those coming in, creating high turnover.

Johnson and UNH political science professors Dante Scala and Andy Smith concluded these demographic changes have significant implications for how the state will vote in future elections.

New Hampshire is widely-known as a swing state because it’s evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. Many voters here are registered as “undeclared,” even though they still lean toward one political party.

Smith, who runs the UNH Survey Center and conducts statewide polls, says outside pundits tend to talk about New Hampshire voters as one group that is thinking collectively.

“We tend to think of electorates as stagnant,” Smith said. “It’s just a mass of people that’s constantly changing, constantly having people moving in and out of it. It’s never stable.”

While conventional wisdom might suggest it’s liberal voters who are most likely to move north from Massachusetts, Smith and Scala say Bay State migrants have turned southern New Hampshire border towns into one of the biggest Republican strongholds in the state.

The border towns of Pelham, Salem and neighboring Derry and Londonderry are solidly Republican turf, partially influenced by conservative Massachusetts residents moving to a state with lower home prices and fewer taxes.

Scala said New Hampshire’s booming migration years in the 1970s and 1980s expanded the size of these border towns and made them a deeper shade of red.

“They became a lot larger and a lot more Republican,” he said.

New Hampshire was reliably Republican in the 1970s and 1980s, data from MassINC polling shows. In 1984 – the year Ronald Reagan won re-election – 217 New Hampshire towns were considered GOP strongholds.

But over the years, the state’s northern and western towns have become far more blue as the states oldest voters either moved or died.

The North Country, Upper Valley along the Vermont border, Cheshire and Merrimack counties have all turned blue in recent years.

“That’s the secret to the Democrats’ success, holding Republicans close in the big counties and then running up the Republicans in the smaller counties,” Scala said.

If you look at an electoral map now, the overwhelming blue is nevertheless a bit misleading. Republican Rockingham and Hillsborough counties have the most densely populated communities, which keeps the state more evenly split between the two parties.

“It’s more evenly balanced between Republicans, Democrats and Independents,” Smith said. “It’s not heading in one direction. It’s flattened out.”

However, given the fact that the oldest generations in New Hampshire are left-leaning baby boomers, Scala and Smith said the state could be poised for another political shift in future decades.

“Those are some of the strongest Democratic voters in the state,” Smith said. “One generation has a short time on the political stage before the next one shoves them off.”

(Ella Nilsen can be reached at 369-3322, or on Twitter @ella_nilsen.)

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