Don’t blame Massachusetts for New Hampshire’s Leftward Drift

By: DJ Bettencourt – July, 2014

In New Hampshire politics there is a widely held but grossly inaccurate myth. For Republican believers in the myth, it is a source of significant resentment. For Democrats who believe this myth, it instills confidence.

For decades, New Hampshire was a reliably Republican state. From 1960 to 2000, New Hampshire went for the Republican candidate in eight of 11 presidential elections. In fact, the Granite State was stocked with such great Republican talent that it was an incubator of GOP statesmen at the national level – leaders such as John Gilbert Winant, Sherman Adams, Meldrim Thomson, John Sununu, Warren Rudman and Judd Gregg.

Then something happened. New Hampshire suddenly became much less reliably GOP. In fact, we have not gone Republican in a presidential election since 2000 and haven’t elected a GOP governor since 2002. So what happened? How did a once staunchly conservative state lose its political identity so quickly? The conventional wisdom is a simple but grossly inaccurate explanation. In short, it’s all Massachusetts’ fault.

Life-long Granite Staters remember a New Hampshire much different than the one they see today. They remember a fiercely independent, Yankee conservative state. Today, they are nauseated by a community that voted twice for Barack Obama. To them, this radical transformation is easily explained. Attend any Republican gathering in New Hampshire and you will hear loud grousing that Massachusetts has “infected” and “ruined” the Granite State.

However, as is often the case with conventional wisdom, it is simply not true. According to a recent University of New Hampshire (UNH) Survey Center study, the facts tell a much different story. The majority of New Hampshire residents are transients. In fact, less than 40% of adults who live in New Hampshire were born here. That is the lowest percentage of any New England state. So where have the majority of Granite Staters come from? The answer is Massachusetts but the influx of Bay Staters and New Hampshire’s recent liberal voting pattern are not interconnected.

The UNH survey of Massachusetts transplants found that the top three reasons residents fled the Bay State were cheaper housing; lower taxes; and escaping Massachusetts liberalism. Not exactly the responses you would expect from former residents of the only state in the nation to vote for George McGovern in 1972.

The southern part of New Hampshire is where most Massachusetts transplants have settled, and it is now the most conservative part of the state. When I served in the New Hampshire legislature, I represented the towns of Salem and Windham – both of which border Massachusetts. In getting to know my constituents, I quickly realized they were shell shocked tax refugees. They escaped Massachusetts for the very reasons the UNH survey cited and the last thing they wanted to do on Election Day was turn New Hampshire into the high tax wasteland they fled.

So what is the cause of New Hampshire’s political leftward drift? The UNH survey also answered that question. The real culprits are residents from the Mid-Atlantic States: New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland. They move to New Hampshire to escape city life in exchange for rural our natural beauty. Unfortunately, they bring their big-government liberal philosophies with them. They have relocated to New Hampshire in similarly large numbers as Massachusetts transplants. In fact, many of New Hampshire’s most recent Democrat leaders have hailed from these states. Former Governor John Lynch hails from Pennsylvania, Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representative Terie Noreli is from New Jersey, former Congressman Paul Hodes is from New York, and Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter was born in New York and worked in Maryland.

Not only are the Mid-Atlantic States producing liberal voters but they are making up the leadership of the New Hampshire Democratic Party. It certainly puts the absurdity of Democrat attacks against Scott Brown being a Massachusetts transplant into perspective.

Ronald Reagan, who New Hampshire supported in 1980 and 1984, once said that it is “worthwhile to find out how images are created — and even more worthwhile to learn how false images come into being.” It may be easy for New Hampshire Republicans to look south and blame its political misfortunes on the myth of Massachusetts transplants but it is a false image that masks reality. New Hampshire will never again be a conservative state as long as we continue to lazily misdiagnose our real electoral problems and fail to accurately address them.

D.J. Bettencourt served as a State Representative in the New Hampshire House of Representatives from 2005 to 2012 and was the House Majority Leader for the 2011-2012 legislative term. He currently works as the Director of Development and Community Relations at the Salem Animal Rescue League.