Did Edwards’ Slip Help Clinton in New Hampshire?

by Stuart Rothenberg January 9, 2008 · 6:46 AM EST

While some will suggest that Sen. Hillary Clinton’s New Hampshire victory can be traced to her emotional comments shortly before the primary, and others will credit Bill Clinton, there is some evidence to suggest that the collapse of the John Edwards campaign in the Granite State may have given Clinton a victory that multiple polls promised would go to Sen. Barack Obama.

Edwards’s weak 17% showing in New Hampshire was a significant drop from his 30% finish in Iowa just a few days earlier. (It’s probably more accurate to conclude that Edwards drew 23% or 24% in Iowa, not 30%, since that’s what the Iowa entrance poll found. Edwards undoubtedly benefited in the caucuses from realignment, which boosted his final percentage past Clinton, though more people went into the caucuses saying that they would support her. Still, Edwards’s 6-point drop between the Iowa entrance poll and the New Hampshire exit poll is worth noting.)

It’s not that Edwards is unpopular with his party’s voters. A solid 79% of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters had a favorable opinion of him, and many said that he “cares about people.”

But exit polling from New Hampshire shows that the former North Carolina senator flopped with a number of groups that, given the tone and message of his campaign, he should have scored with – groups with which Clinton made noteworthy gains.

Granite State Democrats seemed to regard Edwards as irrelevant on Tuesday.

Among the 61% of Democratic primary voters who said that they were “angry” with the Bush Administration, only 16% voted for Edwards, who clearly ran the angriest campaign of the top three Democrats.

Of the 55% of Democrats who said that the top candidate quality they were looking for was “Can bring about change,” Edwards drew only 12%, while Obama won the votes of 58% and Clinton drew the support of 27%.

Given that Edwards pounded away with a ‘change” message for months – and drew 20% in Iowa among those wanting a candidate who could “bring change” – his New Hampshire showing on this dimension was disappointing.

A majority of New Hampshire Democratic voters (58%) said that they were “very worried” about the economy. That was an issue that Edwards dealt with repeatedly. Yet among those Democrats who felt that way, only 17% voted for Edwards, while 41% picked Clinton and 36% picked Obama.

It would be reasonable to assume that Edwards’s former supporters would switch to Obama, the other “change” candidate in the race, and the Democrats who seemed to have momentum going into New Hampshire. But that apparently didn’t happen.

Instead, it was Clinton whose numbers generally rose as Edwards’s slipped.