Turnout matters. The NH Secretary of State had predicted that primary voters would turnout in record numbers, and reports of traffic jams, long lines, ballot shortages and extended voting hours proved him correct. But in this election cycle that has thus far defied all political and electoral common knowledge that is one of the few things that we know for sure. At every step of the process for months now pundits and prognosticators have speculated aloud about what factors might determine this election. Now, with the casting of actual votes in Iowa and NH behind us, here is what we have learned:
Spending didn’t matter.
Jeb Bush burned through an incredible $36M in combined campaign and SuperPAC spending in the tiny state of NH – more than approximately double the next closest expenditure. He came in 4th place, solidly behind the clear winner Donald Trump who spent $3.7M and closely behind the 3rd place finisher, Ted Cruz, who spent the least -- only $580K.
Debates didn’t matter.
Well, maybe the last debate mattered, at least to the candidate named Marco Rubio. Rubio’s eloquence and charisma in all past debates and public speeches set the bar stratospherically high for himself, and when he stumbled oddly in the NH debate he was mercilessly torn apart for it. Though the reaction seemed overblown, it is quite possible that late-breaking voters were influenced to take their votes elsewhere because of it. The dark irony is that Chris Christie, the one responsible for Rubio’s excoriation and a consistently solid debater failed to even crack double digits in NH. Thus, pundits have termed the episode a “murder-suicide.” Otherwise, there has been no clear correlation between debate performance and electoral results.
Ground game didn’t matter.
John Kasich was considered to have a good ground game and fared well with a strong 2nd place finish. But based on polling up until a few days ago, his results were more likely a factor of undecideds coalescing around an alternative to Trump who was widely noted to have no ground game at all. Ted Cruz was polling well with conservatives all along, long before ground operations were up and running.
Experience didn’t matter
Be it measured by years in elected office or policy chops, this election seemed to put those with experience at a strong disadvantage. In fact, according to exit polls by ABC News, more than half of voters specifically wanted a candidate that was from “outside of politics” and Donald Trump benefitted from 57 percent of their votes. The polished policy lingo of budgets and legislation that would seemingly be a mark of viability and gravitas was also widely rejected in favor of Trump’s brand of verbal belligerence and policy vagary. The candidate whose answer to every policy challenge, both domestic and foreign, is along the lines of “We’re going to win. We’re going to be happy and make American great again!” won 45 percent of the voters who haven’t gone beyond high school, with support dwindling as education level rises.
Ideology didn’t matter.
Bringing the Democrat ballot results into the mix, it becomes apparent that Bernie Sanders’ consistent brand of socialist populism was far more appealing than Hillary Clinton’s wild swaying from moderate to progressive policy positions. On the Republican side however, Donald Trump has remained unmoored from any consistent ideology in speech or personal activism through the years. Yet, he registered solid support from conservatives and first-time independent voters alike. He consolidated votes among all groups across gender, income, partisanship, ideology, and all age groups except for senior citizens.
Anger mattered and perceived trustworthiness mattered.
When the polls closed on Feb. 9th in NH, these two factors undeniably mattered the most. Republicans and Independents were angry about pretty much everything they perceive as being foisted upon them by the political class and political establishment on both sides of the aisle. They voted for the candidate that, to them and regardless of all other considerations, best gave voice and bravado to their discontent. And that person was Donald Trump. On the liberal side, authenticity and trustworthiness had a premium. Hillary Clinton who widely reeks of the opposite, her record plagued with scandals, evolving positions and blatant lies, was electorally obliterated by Bernie Sanders, 38.3 percent to 60 percent.
A unique election cycle by all accounts, there is still much to come to enlighten us as to what matters most in other states at this point in American history.
Marilinda García is the national spokeswoman for The LIBRE Initiative