Executive Summary

Although New Hampshire enjoys a longstanding democratic tradition and established institutions of representation, recent data across six core dimensions of democratic practice paint a troubling picture of the health of democracy in the Granite State. The core findings for each dimension are summarized as follows; comprehensive data and sourcing are provided in the sections that follow.

I. Voting: Except in presidential elections, the majority of eligible New Hampshire voters stays home on Election Day for reasons that are partly within and partly beyond their control, earning grades of B, C, D, and F. 

  • 47% of New Hampshire’s voting-age public turned out to vote in the 2014 midterm election and 15% cast ballots in the most recent municipal elections in 2013.
  • Turnout in the most recent primary elections was 16% in the 2014 state primary and 30% in the 2012 presidential contest.
  • Non-voters cite an array of practical barriers to voting, as well as general disapproval of candidate choices, as their major reasons for staying away from the polls on Election Day. 


II. Civic Participation: Fewer than one in five Granite Staters regularly participates in politics beyond the ballot box and a similar percentage is able to correctly name their elected representatives, earning grades of D and F. 

  • Although one in four New Hampshire residents reported some form of community engagement in 2013, approximately half that number engage in various forms of political action like contacting an elected official (14%), boycotting a product or service (15%), or joining a civic organization (10%). 
  • People with lower socioeconomic status are far less likely to participate in political activities than their more affluent counterparts despite reporting similar levels of trust and participation in nonpolitical voluntary activities.
  • Contrary to New Hampshire’s reputation for having an informed electorate, less than half of New Hampshire residents can name both of their US Senators and even fewer can name their US Representative, State Senator, or State Representatives. 


III. Election Funding: A small and unrepresentative sample of New Hampshire voters currently provides the tens of millions of dollars raised to fund campaigns campaigns, even as the majority of total spending comes from out of state, earning grades of C, D, and F. 

  • The cost of campaigns and concentration of funders in New Hampshire reached an all-time high of $106 million in 2014, with candidates for state and federal office spending a combined $9.5 million and $36 million respectively, and independent organizations spending a combined $61 million. 
  • Only 1.4% of New Hampshire residents made itemized contributions to state and federal candidates in 2014 and 0.06% (591 individuals) provided a majority of contributions in amounts of $2,600 or more. Three political committees provided a majority of all independent spending in state elections. 
  • 78% of campaign contributions were provided by individuals and institutions in the private sector, with labor, public interest advocates, and ideology/single issue groups (excluding candidate self-funding) providing between 6 and 8% each.  


IV. Lobbying: Fewer than 100 private-sector businesses and special interest groups account for the vast majority of New Hampshire lobbying expenditures, earning a grade of F. 

  • Businesses and organizations across the political spectrum retained 572 paid lobbyists and spent $10.2 million lobbying New Hampshire state government in 2014. 
  • The top 58 lobbying clients (12.9%) accounted for a majority of the total lobbying expenditures in 2014, spending an average of $88,580 each; the top ten lobbying clients accounted for $1.8 million in spending and were all headquartered outside NH or were subsidiaries of out-of-state corporations. 
  • Private-sector businesses accounted for 81% of total lobbying expenditures in 2014 while non-profit organizations accounted for 14% of spending, public-sector clients 2.6%, and labor unions 2.4%. 


V. Electoral Competition: The overwhelming majority of incumbents who seek reelection to state office in New Hampshire win by wide margins, earning grades of C and D.  

  • Incumbents enjoyed a nearly two-to-one fundraising and spending advantage across all state races and a nearly three-to-one advantage for state senate in 2014. 
  • Of the 70% of state races in which an incumbent ran for reelection in 2014, 83% of state represen-tatives, 95% of state senators, 100% of executive councilors, and the governor were re-elected. 
  • Approximately three out of four races for state senate, executive council, and governor were considered uncompetitive with a margin of victory of greater than 10%. 


VI. Diversity of Representation: New Hampshire’s elected leaders are significantly more likely to be male, white, and enjoy high socioeconomic status than the general population, earning grades of C and F. 

  • Although New Hampshire made history for having the first all-female cast of senior elected officials in 2012, men continued to hold the large majority of seats in elected state office after the 2014 election, including all five executive councilors, 67% of state senators, 72% of state representatives, 60% of mayors, and 75% of city councilors in New Hampshire’s five largest cities.
  • New Hampshire’s elected officials are significantly older than its population and almost exclusively white; 100% of the mayors and city councilors in the five largest cities are white, as are the Governor, the Executive Council, the State Senate, and 99% of the State House.
  • Elected officials in New Hampshire enjoy significantly higher socioeconomic status than their constituents in terms of educational attainment and professional background, a common feature given the requirements and restraints of serving in elected office.


Open Democracy Index Report Card


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