Current track



Current show

Travel Time

1:00 pm 5:00 pm

Current show

Travel Time

1:00 pm 5:00 pm

Upcoming show

Weekend Rotation

5:00 pm 10:00 pm

Haley’s Last Hope for Beating Trump Rests With These Voters

Written by on January 20, 2024

ROCHESTER, N.H.—This state’s independent voters tired of extreme partisanship look like Nikki Haley’s last hope for breaking Donald Trump’s iron grip on the Republican presidential nomination.

Fed up with the former president and unmoved by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, the majority of unaffiliated voters here are planning to back the former South Carolina governor in New Hampshire’s primary on Tuesday, polling suggests. Haley’s also expected to pull in some Democrats-turned-independents who are skipping the Democratic primary because it won’t count toward that party’s nomination or because they aren’t enthusiastic about re-electing President Biden.

Haley has gained ground on Trump in the state, polls show, by appealing to centrist voters and conservatives who long for a return to the traditional Republicanism that defined the party before Trump. But the challenge of beating Trump is immense given he won the Iowa caucuses in record fashion and leads most New Hampshire polls by double digits.

On Friday night, former presidential candidate and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott endorsed Trump, a setback to Haley.

Failure likely crushes the hopes of those wanting a Trump alternative. And even if Haley performs well in New Hampshire, Trump holds sizable leads in the next round of early nominating states where the pro-Trump electorate is stronger.

Four in 10 New Hampshire voters are independents, part of a growing share of Americans who don’t belong to either political party. Gallup found an average of 43% of U.S. adults identifying as independent, according to 2023 surveys, up from 33% in 1988, the first year for which data is available.

As both parties have pushed toward their ideological edges, many voters are abandoning them, viewing them as too liberal or conservative. Some want to cherry pick policies from both sides, with a number of independents saying they favor the left’s embrace of abortion rights and the right’s tough stance on immigration. Others are sick of tribalism that has led to family feuds and lost friendships.

“It almost segregates you. It becomes an identity,” Sam Avila, 31 years old, of New Boston, said of belonging to one party or the other. He emigrated from Guatemala and decided to register as an independent for his first election, in which he is considering Haley but wants to learn more about her. Avila, who is a quality manager in manufacturing, thinks Biden has gotten the U.S. too involved in foreign conflict but also credits his attempts to manage inflation.

The ranks of independent voters first surged just before President Barack Obama took office and grew during the rise of the populist Tea Party movement. Young voters coming of age in this era are more likely to identify as independent than their older peers, according to Gallup.

There is evidence that many unaffiliated voters aren’t as up for grabs as the label suggests. Gallup found that on average, most voters lean Democrat or Republican, or consider themselves aligned with one of the parties. A 2022 AP VoteCast survey of New Hampshire voters in House races found that just 9% didn’t consider themselves a Democrat or Republican or lean toward either party.

New Hampshire is among the states that allow independent voters to cast ballots in either party’s primary. About 4,000 New Hampshire Democrats became unaffiliated with a party or switched to the GOP in the last month before the October deadline to change registration, according to the secretary of state’s office.

Trump is criticizing state election laws that allow for such a switch. “You got to get that changed,” he told a crowd earlier this week in Portsmouth.

Some 31% of New Hampshire voters are Republicans, state figures show. Trump had the support of nearly two thirds of all Republican primary voters, while Haley had one quarter and DeSantis had 8%, in a Saint Anselm College poll released this week.

Haley is backed by Gov. Chris Sununu, the state’s popular governor who drew bipartisan support for his four re-election bids and most recently won by 15 points. Republicans hold the majority in the state legislature. But voters have also re-elected an all-Democrat federal congressional delegation, including Sen. Maggie Hassan, who won her 2022 race by 9 points.

The state’s motto is Live Free or Die, and voters generally support a hands-off government approach. There are no state or local sales taxes, and the state income tax is levied only on interest and dividends, according to the nonprofit Tax Foundation. Abortions are restricted at 24 weeks and polling shows voters across the ideological spectrum don’t want it restricted further

Interviews with dozens of independent voters across the state found that many want a candidate who will govern from the center and see Haley as the most likely to do so. Most voted for either Biden or Trump in 2020 but don’t want a rematch. They worry about the age of both candidates—Biden is 81, Trump 77—and want a new generation of political leaders.

“There’s a lot of drama in politics these days. Nikki brings a certain amount of professionalism, she brings integrity back,” said Steven Easler, 53, who works for a bank and lives in Dover. “I think she can be a uniter in a divided country.”

Carol Collins, 62, a retiree from Alton, voted for President Biden in 2020 “because I felt like the country needed a good grandfather,” but she’s now ready to move on. “I think we need to be a little more financially responsible and I really like what Nikki Haley has to say.”


By Eliza Collins, Alex Leary and Anthony DeBarros 



Reader's opinions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *