What Humanists Can Learn After Iowa and New Hampshire

Photo by scukrov / 123RF

This is an article published under the Center for Freethought Equality, the 501c4 lobbying organization of the American Humanist Association.

I know that Iowa is technically the first state to decide which presidential candidates will represent their political parties in November, but New Hampshire has the nickname of the “first-in-the-nation” primary for a reason. Pollsters and political pundits get paid to appear on talk shows and the news to make their “bold” and “data-driven” predictions before and after each election during the primaries. But trying to make any sense in analysis of a caucus vote will make even politicos appear amateurish.

The results following the New Hampshire primary has given us a lot to talk about, and now we have the ability to make some informed predictions and opinions on future elections and what the general theme of this presidential cycle is.

Most political pundits have correctly framed this race on both sides as an election between establishment frontrunners and outside challengers. Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton represent the establishment wing of their parties, while Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders represent opposition to the status quo. Trump and Sanders are trying to capitalize on the fact that many voters remain unsatisfied with our current government and the lack of authenticity from our elected officials.

But what else can we learn about the 2016 race for the White House after the Iowa and New Hampshire elections? Here are my takeaways for both parties after analyzing the exit poll data:


The big question surrounding the GOP race for President after Iowa chose Ted Cruz as their nominee was whether or not Donald Trump’s great polling numbers were inflated by non-primary voters. He led in many polls preceding the vote, but the candidate known as a Christian conservative hero won even though it was virtually a tie. Can a political outsider who doesn’t represent either of the traditional core segments of the GOP, the Christian conservatives, or the moderate establishment win the Presidential nomination?

Many political pundits strongly claimed that this is a three-person race for the presidency after Iowa: one between Trump, Cruz, and Marco Rubio.

Here’s what we learned after the New Hampshire vote: Donald Trump will continue to be the GOP frontrunner for the presidential nomination until the southern evangelical votes start to come in. In a state that is one of the least religious in America, Trump won almost every demographic category of voters, including those who identify as born again or evangelical. However, the southern states are more similar to Iowa than New Hampshire in their demographic makeup. Watching how Trump does in South Carolina will be his next big test.

When voters were asked what the top quality they look for in a candidate is, the most popular choice was a candidate that agrees with their values (35 percent). For these voters, their top choice was a tie between Ted Cruz and John Kasich, both receiving 21 percent. Donald Trump only received 13 percent of the vote from this group. This could prove to be problematic for Trump moving forward if his opponents capitalize on it.

A key issue in the election is immigration and one of the largest voting demographics are independents. New Hampshire is a state where there are more registered independents than Republicans and Democrats. In the GOP Primary, 56 percent of the independents support a pathway to citizenship while 41 percent believe illegal immigrants should be deported. Trump tied with Kasich for voters who support a pathway to citizenship. This will not likely be a major issue for Trump in the Republican primary, but it will be if he wins the nomination in a general election.

Finally, we are starting to see a separation between candidates on the GOP ballot. As mentioned, Trump is the clear favorite at this point. The second-tier candidates are shaping up to be Ted Cruz, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush, with no clear separation between them. We should begin to see the other candidates’ exit strategies on how to leave the race with their political dignity still intact. Chris Christie and Carly Fiorina announced their exits on Wednesday.


The main focus of Democratic pundits after the Iowa results was to determine if Bernie Sanders can continue the upward trajectory of his support. By finishing in a virtual tie with Clinton and outperforming Sanders’ own polling averages leading up to the Iowa caucus, the big question for New Hampshire was whether or not Clinton could close the gap with Sanders according to those polls.

The New Hampshire primary has definitively told us that Bernie Sanders is a legitimate challenger to the Clinton legacy. Here’s why: Many comparisons have been made of the current battle for the White House between Clinton and Sanders and the historic primary elections between Clinton and Obama in 2008. With Sanders’s large victory in New Hampshire, he actually has more pledged delegates than Obama did after the same two early elections in 2008. This must have the Clinton camp shaking their heads and thinking here we go again.

Bernie Sanders won every demographic group except for voters who are over sixty-five, voters who make more than $200,000 per year, and voters who are nonwhite. Bernie even won the women vote by an 11-point margin. (Sorry, Madeleine Albright, but I guess there is a place in hell for many New Hampshire women.) This is a great sign for Sanders supporters if this is representative of Hillary Clinton’s constituency.

Finally, it appears that Clinton has a ceiling of support that she is receiving from Democrats and independents, while Sanders’s ceiling continues to rise as voters get to know him. If we look back at New Hampshire in 2008, Clinton received 39 percent of the vote in a race she won. On Tuesday, she received nearly the exact same percentage of the vote, and she lost by a huge margin. If John Edwards had not been a viable candidate for President in 2008, it’s a good chance that President Obama would have had a comparable result to Sanders’s on Tuesday.

Fortunately for Clinton supporters or those who enjoy the entertainment value of a competitive presidential election, it’s not all doom and gloom in the aftermath of the crushing defeat she saw in New Hampshire. Although it was essentially a tie, Clinton did win the nonwhite voting demographic. This will be Bernie’s big test moving forward as we approach states that have a much larger percentage of minority voters (which only makes up 7 percent of the electorate in New Hampshire). Clinton has big leads in states like South Carolina with large African-American populations and if this holds, it’s a great sign for her. If Sanders can continue his momentum with a solid performance in Nevada, minority voters might begin to embrace his candidacy, and he can start to chip away from the support Clinton currently has with this group.

I think humanists can thank Donald Trump for at least one contribution to our political discourse: While he may make a reference or two about religion every now and then, Trump is showing Republicans that you don’t have to make it a central theme of your campaign to get elected. We’ll still have to wait and see how this plays with southern evangelicals, but there is plenty of evidence at this point to think that he may be on to something.

Another good sign for the humanist movement is that for the first time in our nation’s history, a non-Christian won a presidential primary (Sanders identifies as Jewish). This should be very helpful to secular organizations with political activities, like the Center for Freethought Equality, in their promotion of the fact that non-Christian candidates can win Democratic Party elections.

For me, a core principle of humanism is being an active participant in improving the wellbeing and prosperity of society as a whole. Voting and being involved in the political process is one of the ways that we can achieve this. The first step is being as knowledgeable as you can about the issues and the candidates. The next is to actually go out there and vote. As long as we are doing this, the secular movement will continue to grow its profile and influence within politics. One day, possibly not too long from now, we will see the first self-identified humanist candidate win a primary in a progressive, Democratic-leaning state.