Who Lives in New Hampshire, Anyway?

A short profile of the Granite State, where voters play an outsized role in choosing presidents.

Faith Ninivaggi / Reuters

New Hampshire residents play an outsized role in presidential elections. Who are they? The stereotypical Granite State dweller is a flinty, independent-minded Yankee.

“Since the outset, Yankeedom has put great emphasis on perfecting earthly society through social engineering, individual self-denial for the common good, and the aggressive assimilation of outsiders,” Colin Woodard writes in his taxonomy of America’s regional cultures. “It has prized education, intellectual achievement, community (rather than individual) empowerment, and broad citizen participation in politics and government, the latter seen as the public’s shield against the machinations of grasping aristocrats, corporations, and other tyrannies.”

These voters have been counterbalanced in recent years by what Michael Barone calls “greater Vermont”:

Once the nation’s most Republican state, Vermont is now the second most Democratic. The flinty Yankee farmers of yore have died out, replaced in the 1970s and 1980s by a flood of alternative lifestyle newcomers of whom Brooklyn native Bernie Sanders is a typical example… New Hampshire’s Democratic primaries used to be dominated by Irish- and French Canadian-descended textile mill workers. Now the mills are high-tech office space and the state’s Democratic electorate has been increasingly Vermontized, with fewer (as some analysts call them) beer Democrats and more wine Democrats.

Today the state is about evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. And it is known for the independent streak of its voters. About 40 percent decline to state a party affiliation.

There is a deliberate effort to encourage more libertarians to move there.

Among the state’s 1.3 million people 94 percent are white. “I live in rural New Hampshire, and we are, frankly, short on people who are black, gay, Jewish, and Hispanic,” P.J. O’Rourke once wrote. As a whole, the state is 3.3 percent Hispanic, 2.5 percent Asian, and 1.5 percent black. 5.4 percent of residents were born abroad.

The median household earns $64,916, compared to $53,046 in the nation as a whole. The unemployment rate is 3.8 percent and the homeownership rate is 71.4 percent.

For a small state, New Hampshire has more subcultures than one might expect.

Census Bureau

“Its regional subdivisions are so distinct that numerous people have suggested it be divided in thirds, with roughly equal parts being added to Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts,” R. Stuart Wallace writes. “Despite these contrasts, the state has developed a distinct identity. Central to that identity is the image of governmental frugality: New Hampshire has no general sales tax or individual income tax. Frugality at the state level has accentuated the dispersal of responsibility to towns.”

Local control works well for the most part, and 66 percent of residents have “a fair amount of trust” in their state’s government, ten point’s higher than average in the U.S.

This may be due in part to the many residents who share their state government’s frugal impulses. “What’s Yankee-est thing you do?” New Hampshire Magazine once asked.

Fritz Wetherbee said:

The last time I went to a barber was 27 years ago. I cut (what I have of) my own hair with one of those comb-and-razor-blade “thingies.” It’s good enough. And I use the cheapest double-edged razor blades I can find.

Yankees are not cheap. They are expensive. It’s the stuff they do that’s cheap.

My great-great grandfather, Ira Hanson, up in North Woodstock, bought a second-hand tombstone and had his name incised on the opposite side. Any idea where I might find a second-hand tombstone for sale?

Said Fred Marple:

I reuse tea bags, a trick I learned from Nana, who said it was a sin if you didn’t get two or three cups out of every bag. Mother used to rinse out the empty ketchup bottle and use it in her beef stew rather than waste the ketchup that was stuck to the inside of the bottle. One time, the gas gauge on the old Ford broke. Rather than pay a mechanic to fix it, Dad attached a piece of chalk to the dashboard with a string. He’d write the odometer reading on the dashboard, and when he’d gone 300 miles, it was time to put more gas in. His only expense was a new piece of chalk now and then.

Of course, these are all broad brush statistics and characterizations, and cannot fully capture something as complicated as the qualities of a state’s population. For more detailed information, see the Census Bureau’s page on New Hampshire.

And one final thing: Like Oregonians and Coloradans, Granite Staters really like it there, or such has been my impression speaking to them over the years. As former Supreme Court Justice David Souter put it, “The restoration comes not only from the landscape and air, though they play their significant part, but from the people. I feel a strong need to be in New Hampshire for as much of the summer as I can manage it."

Today they’ll be voting in winter. Tonight we’ll know their choices.