Last Tuesday, I reported on the results of the 2012 Iowa Republican Caucus, and despite my attempts to provide a sober, thoughtful analysis of the night's events, I was greatly influenced by the lateness of the hour when the results finally came in. For New Hampshire, I decided to provide the event with the commentary it deserved. But I have spent another night up too late, waiting for 287 of New Hampshire's precints reporting to turn into 301 reporting. Since that hasn't happened, I will give the results as we now know them, which are, unlike in Iowa, pretty clear-cut.
The run-up to the 2012 Republican Presidential Primary has been full of surprises and twists, with one candidate after another having a "surge" in their fame and perceived chances of success, only to be brought back into the herd. Through all of this however, the estimated results of the New Hampshire primary have been about the same. Mitt Romney was expected to be the easy front runner in the contest there, and polls for over a year showed his share of the vote being somewhere between 30 and 45 percent. Romney was the governor of neighboring Massachusetts, he has a home in New Hampshire, and his moderate politics seem to fit with the electorate in New Hampshire. The biggest question for students of the campaign was whether Jon Huntsman, the former governor of Utah and another moderate, would be able to do well enough in New Hampshire for his campaign to remain viable. Since the race's more conservative candidates (Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich) weren't banking on doing well in New Hampshire, nothing that happened in the state would make or break them. There was some slight speculation that Ron Paul could force an upset in New Hampshire, but by election night it was very slight indeed.
The election results were very close to what they were predicted to be. As of this writing, they are Romney with 39.4% of the vote, Paul with 22.8% and Huntsman with 16.8%. According to Nate Silver's meta-analysis of polling data on FiveThirtyEight, the expected numbers were 38.5, 18.6 and 17, which says something both about how smart Nate Silver is and how boring New Hampshire is.
The state of the race now is about where it was 24 hours ago: Romney is still the front runner, although he seems to be having trouble sealing the deal: he can't score 40% of the vote in his stronghold. Paul is still running his strongest campaign yet, but again he can't get into first place. Huntsman is still hanging on, and the conservative candidates are still waiting for South Carolina to see what happens.
But perhaps what I should really be talking about is basketball. I have watched a good amount of basketball, and the commentators, having to say something, often tell stories. Say a player, at the end of the half, hits a three-point shot, putting his team ahead by one point. The player and their team is then "on fire", "has momentum" and is "willing to take chances", or any number of other stock phrases. Say that the same shot narrowly misses, leaving the team behind: now that player's team is "getting desperate", "losing discipline" or not "following fundamentals", or any other number of stock phrases. Sometimes these stories make sense, and sometimes they are just fun stories.
The same is true in politics. There are a lot of commentators getting paid to add narratives to data, and the result of this primary may be one. After two primary contests, one of which he won by a whopping eight votes, and the other of which was in an area very favorable to him, Mitt Romney is now the perceived front runner. Which he is, but commentators will extrapolate from this that Romney is now the inevitable nominee or even that the country has caught Mitt-mania. The truth is, that basketball just happened to have bounced one inch in one direction...or another.