NEW HAMPSHIRE—If former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg hopes to knock off Bernie Sanders in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, he will need to win suburban towns like Londonderry, where he spoke on Sunday evening to a large crowd at the local middle school. It was Pete’s popularity among suburban Iowan voters, particularly in wealthier neighborhoods, that catapulted him into a virtual tie with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders; if he shows similar strength in New Hampshire, he could score an upset victory here.
Out of 235 towns in New Hampshire, Londonderry ranks 37th in annual median income (compared to Manchester, which ranks 185th, and the impoverished northern town of Berlin, which ranks 233rd). The poverty rate in Londonderry is just 3.8% compared to 15% in Manchester and 13.1% nationally, while home ownership is over 82%. Surrounding Londonderry are some of the most affluent areas in the state—including the towns of Bedford and Windham, which rank second and ninth respectively in median income.
In 2016, Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, winning 60.4% of the vote to Clinton’s 38%, but Clinton performed well in wealthier, suburban towns. In Londonderry, for example, the margin was narrower, with Sanders taking 55% to Clinton’s 43%, while Bedford and Windham were two of only four towns in the entire state that broke for Clinton. In order to defeat Sanders, Buttigieg will need to carry towns like Londonderry or others where the margin between Sanders and Clinton was even closer—such as in Portsmouth, Stratham, Hampton, and North Hampton on the seacoast.
In these relatively affluent towns, voters are less inclined to care if Pete has 40 billionaires, as Sanders noted in Friday’s debate at Saint Anselm College, contributing to his campaign.
On Sunday night in Londonderry—the town where I grew up—Pete appealed to upper-middle class, liberal instincts. He criticized Bernie’s attacks on the rich and the rhetoric of “revolution” as divisive and exclusionary. At the same time, Buttigieg emphasized his “faith” and the importance of using faith to take care of the most vulnerable in our society. Pete noted that though he is Episcopalian, he greatly admires the current Pope, in particular the Pope’s focus on poverty—which may have been calculated to resonate with Londonderry’s large Catholic community. Pete finished his talk by invoking the theme of “Hope”—he asserted that “running for office is an act of Hope”—channeling previous Democratic standard-bearers Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.
In other words, Pete is betting that this kind of do-gooder progressivism will appeal more to Londonderry Democrats than Bernie’s working-class socialism, and he may be right. I have spoken with numerous Democratic voters in Londonderry and other relatively well-off suburbs who are weary of paying higher taxes under Sanders and are convinced that his “socialism” will turn off centrist voters and throw the election to Trump. Like many other suburbs in New Hampshire, Londonderry doesn’t have public transportation, affordable housing for low-income earners, or a downtown where people can frequently interact. People move to towns like Londonderry, Windham, and Bedford to buy homes with nice, spacious yards, and tend to be more concerned with protecting their investments than overthrowing the political establishment.
But the anti or non-Sanders vote appears to be divided. While Pete has gained substantial ground in New Hampshire since the Iowa caucuses, the latest opinion polls still give Sanders an edge—the final CNN-University of New Hampshire poll, released today, shows Sanders with 29%, and Buttigieg in second with 22%.
In 2016, Sanders dominated in less affluent but well-populated towns like Keene and Rochester—in addition to sweeping less affluent towns across the board—and appears poised to do so again.
This article was produced by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism as part of its Manchester Divided coverage of political activity around New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary. Follow our coverage @BINJreports on Twitter and at binjonline.org/manchesterdivided, and if you want to see more citizens agenda-driven reporting you can contribute at givetobinj.org.
Mark Grueter has a PhD in History with a focus on the labor movement in the United States.