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History Shows Winning Iowa Doesn't Guarantee Success in New Hampshire

Photos via Wikimedia Commons

Tonight, Iowans will take to school gymnasiums and church basements to select their preferred presidential candidates. 

Tomorrow, voters in the other state that likes to call itself “first” will wake up, read the Iowa results, and then possibly go in their own direction.

Recent primary results show that a win in Iowa often doesn’t translate to success in New Hampshire on either side of the ticket. It’s been 16 years since Democrats in the first two nominating states selected the same candidate in a non-incumbent year. For Republicans in open election years, Iowa and New Hampshire haven’t agreed on a nominee since 1976.

For Democrats, Iowa has mattered more

On the Democratic side, you have to rewind to 2004 to find voters in Iowa and New Hampshire agreeing on the nominee in a non-incumbent year. That year, John Kerry carried both states on his way to the party nomination. Al Gore, four years prior, also enjoyed a sweep of the first two states.

Credit Sara Plourde/NHPR

But prior to Gore, it was Jimmy Carter in 1976 who last victoriously rolled through the first two voting states. (Technically, Carter finished in second place behind "uncommitted" in that year's caucuses, but history remembers it as a win.)

In the two most recently contested elections, it was Iowa’s winner who ultimately secured the party’s nomination: Barack Obama won over Democrats in 2008, beating Hillary Clinton and John Edwards in the Iowa caucuses. While Clinton would take New Hampshire’s primary that year, it was Obama who ultimately secured the Democratic nomination. 

Then in 2016, Clinton prevailed over Bernie Sanders by a whisker in Iowa, only to lose to him by a wide margin in New Hampshire just a few days later. After a months-long battle, Clinton won the Democratic nomination.

The last time a Democrat lost in Iowa but used a victory in New Hampshire to propel them to the nomination was in 1988, when Michael Dukakis overcame an earlier loss to Dick Gephardt in Iowa. 

For Republicans, New Hampshire is the bigger springboard

In each of the last three contested elections, the Republican candidate who prevailed in Iowa saw his campaign grow cold in New Hampshire. Donald Trump, Mitt Romney and John McCain all stormed to victories in the Granite State (in 2016, 2012 and 2008) after failing to win in Iowa. They all went on to win their party’s nomination, as well. 

Credit Sara Plourde/NHPR

In fact, in each of the past seven elections where an incumbent wasn’t running, Iowa and New Hampshire have selected different Republicans. 

Will it be different this time around?

For candidates who come up short in both Iowa and New Hampshire, Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992 may hold the only bit of solace.

After finishing at just 2 percent in Iowa, Clinton surged to a second place finish in New Hampshire, nicknaming himself the ‘Comeback Kid’ in the process. He’s the only candidate since Iowa and New Hampshire solidified their early stature in 1976 to go on to win a party’s nomination without taking one of the first two states. 

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
Sara has been a part of NHPR since 2011. Her work includes data visualizations, data journalism, original stories reported on the web, video, photos and illustrations. She is responsible for the station's visual style and print design, as well as the user experience of NHPR's digital platforms.
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