New Hampshire voters have a reputation of being free thinkers, but truly independent voters could be hard to find in the Granite State.
Undeclared voters in the state are allowed to vote in Tuesday's Democratic or Republican primary, which has made them a valuable get for candidates in both parties.
But just because a voter is Undeclared does not mean they’re undecided or don’t identify with the standard parties, according to a professor at the University of New Hampshire who has studied voter patterns and interviews with several voters days before the primary.
“I think you’d have a hard time finding a true independent voter in New Hampshire,” said Peter Soreff, 73, an attendee of the New Hampshire Democratic National Convention’s McIntyre Shaheen dinner in Manchester on Friday. “Voters are really either liberal or conservative and they’re basically Republican or Democrat.”
Soreff, of Nottingham, has called voters and canvassed homes for the past month and a half as a volunteer with the Hillary Clinton campaign. Most people didn't answer their phones and of the roughly 20 people with whom he spoke, none were interested in being swayed, he said. Soreff said the idea that independents have enough weight in the primary to determine a candidate’s outcome is “oversimplified” as voters have usually made up their minds, at least over which party they most identify.
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“I know we’re supposed to say ‘we choose the person not the party,’ but that’s garbage. If you go and see how people vote, they usually vote a straight ticket,” Soreff said.
A recent WBUR poll found that 44 percent of the state’s voters are Undeclared, a population that pollster and University of New Hampshire Associate Professor of Political Science Andrew Smith says should be viewed as “Democrat lites” and “Republican lites.”
His center's analysis of polling data since 1999 found just one-third were true independents.
While much attention is placed on obtaining these independents’ votes, such voters are actually the least likely to show up on Election Day, Smith said.
“People out of the state, the press, and locals as well, are guilty of calling them Independents,” Smith said. “That’s fine if you understand that they’re not truly independent. If you say ‘Independent’ for a long enough time, you get the impression that they’re not partisan and not locked in with one party. The truth is, they’re very much locked into one party. They’re quite partisan with their positions.”
People often wonder which way independent voters will swing in an election, but that’s the wrong way to look at them, Smith said.
“We should ask ourselves which of the races is exciting those people that are less likely to vote more, the Republican or the Democratic race? The race that is more exciting, especially if it’s close, pulls out more of those Undeclared voters,” Smith said.
An exciting race can pull out voters of all parties, though, and may even prompt voters to reconsider where they stand.
Crystal Berberich, 41 of Manchester, is a registered Republican, but said she considered becoming Undeclared.
“I share a lot of views of the Republicans, but I also have a lot of very liberal views as well,” said Berberich during her post-run coffee stop in downtown Manchester on Saturday. “I’m going to vote Republican in the primary because I don’t want Trump to get any further and I may vote for a Democrat in the general election. I’m so anti-Donald Trump I think that if he was to make it to the final election, I'm hoping you would see some people switch parties.”
Peter Noonen, of Manchester, is also straddling party lines. Noonen, 44, is the type of open-to-influence voter candidates search for when campaigning in New Hampshire. He has campaigned for George W. Bush, but voted for President Barack Obama. This year his top two candidates are Republican former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Democratic candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.
“I’m a registered Republican, but we have the ability in New Hampshire to go back and forth," Noones said. "It takes an extra five minutes to undeclare yourself and then, if you really feel passionately about someone on the other side of the ticket, you can say, ‘Yes, I want to vote for that person.’ I've done it before for governor, even for mayor for Manchester.”
Although Berberich and Noonen are registered Republicans, their open-mindedness suggests a certain independent spirit.
Megan Doyle, a political reporter at the Concord Monitor, said that the common theme she has noticed when interviewing voters in New Hampshire is not their partisanship, but their passion.
“They want someone authentic. They want someone they feel like they connect to,” Doyle said. “They can’t always articulate why they like that person, or what puts them over the edge to support them, but when you get to a primary like this where candidates can line up similarly on issues, I’ve noticed voters will talk a lot about passion and character. That’s one of the hallmarks of the New Hampshire primary. Voters are very much putting candidates to a character test here, in addition to grilling them on the issues that they care about.”