What Is The New Hampshire Primary and Why Does It Matter?

Next up in the 2020 Democratic primary race is New Hampshire, where voters will head to the polls next week to pick the candidate they want to see nominated for president.

The Granite State's first-in-the-nation primary takes place on February 11. The contest is the second stop for candidates after the Iowa caucuses and could gain a bigger spotlight this year because of the vote-reporting problems that plagued the Midwestern state.

Like Iowa, New Hampshire plays an outsized role in the primary process partly because it happens so early in the nominating race. Andrew Smith, a pollster and political scientist at the University of New Hampshire, told Newsweek that both states are vital because they provide a "winnowing function" to the field of candidates.

"We usually know who the front-runner is after Iowa, and we'll know the second-place challenger in New Hampshire. Once you get past New Hampshire, it's pretty much down to a two-person race," Smith said.

Eleven Democrats are vying for the party's nomination and the opportunity to take on President Donald Trump in the general election. But many of those campaigns are likely to hit a breaking point if the candidate doesn't perform well in the early-voting states.

Candidates who come out on top in New Hampshire generally gain a lot of momentum heading into the rest of the primary season. Bernie Sanders' campaign against Hillary Clinton in 2016 rapidly picked up steam after he won the New England state. But those who don't do well there usually have a harder time fundraising and competing in other areas.

In fact, winning in New Hampshire increases a candidate's expected share of the total primary vote by 27 percentage points, according to William Mayer, a political scientist at Northeastern University. Finishing in second place in the state increases a candidate's expected share of the primary vote by 17 percentage points.

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Voters look on as former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event on February 4 in Concord, New Hampshire. A day after the Iowa caucuses, Biden was campaigning in New Hampshire ahead of the state's primary on February 11. Justin Sullivan/Getty

Polling in the state currently shows Sanders leading the pack. The senator from neighboring Vermont had 24 percent support among likely primary voters in a recent survey from The Boston Globe/Suffolk University. Former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren rounded out the top three slots, earning 18 percent and 13 percent, respectively.

New Hampshire cemented its status as the first-in-the-nation primary by passing a law that requires state officials to move the primary to pre-empt any other in the nation, no matter how early. The contest works pretty much the same as a regular election. Unlike caucusing, where participants meet in small groups, voters in New Hampshire simply go to a polling station and cast their ballot for the candidate of their choice.

But many progressives have raised concerns about New Hampshire's important role in the presidential race because the state does not reflect the diversity of the rest of the country or even the Democratic Party. New Hampshire, like Iowa, is roughly 90 percent white, while the country is 60 percent white.

Julián Castro, a former presidential candidate, argued last year that Iowa and New Hampshire should lose their status as the first-in-the-nation caucus and primary states.

"Demographically, it's not reflective of the U.S. as a whole, certainly not reflective of the Democratic Party, and I believe other states should have their chance," Castro said.