After last week’s debacle in Iowa, Democrats will head to the polls in New Hampshire on Tuesday, February 11th. While it’s still unclear whether Bernie Sanders or Pete Buttigieg won, both candidates have claimed victory and are moving on. New Hampshire, like Iowa, has traditionally helped candidates set the tone for the primary race, and so most campaigns are focused on scoring a win in the Granite State.
Betting on the Iowa caucuses last week was a headache. I (correctly?) wrote that Sanders would win, and while I also predicted lower turnout for Biden than expected, I didn’t see his fourth-place finish coming. Fortunately, New Hampshire should be a lot more predictable. The Granite State runs a traditional primary, not a caucus, and there’s no 15-percent rule to reallocate votes. And in the 2016 and 2012 primaries, the polling frontrunners — Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump, and Mitt Romney — all ended up with the win.
However, all of those candidates had big leads heading into Tuesday’s vote. Per RealClearPolitics, Sanders led Clinton by an average of 13.3 percent. Similarly, Trump had a 17.2 percentage-point lead over Marco Rubio in 2016, while Romney led libertarian Ron Paul by 19 points in 2012.
The last time we had a close race in New Hampshire was in 2008, and pollsters gave Barack Obama an 8.3 percentage-point lead over Hillary Clinton. He eventually lost to Clinton by 2.6 percent. So while the polls have done an excellent job at predicting the winner in New Hampshire of late, they haven’t had to deal with tight margins.
RealClearPolitics’ polling average has Bernie Sanders in the lead by a slim 5.2 percent over Pete Buttigieg. That’s a smaller advantage than the one pollsters gave Obama in 2008, so New Hampshire could once again come down to the wire. That said, none of the other candidates are polling nearly well enough to be competitive. Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, and Amy Klobuchar are locked in a tight three-way race for third place, but none of them have earned more than 20 percent support in recent surveys, and Warren and Klobuchar have even dipped into single-digits in some polls.
If this polling holds, which it should, given that New Hampshire is a traditional primary state, it’s a two-way race between Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg. Sanders has the advantage, but there were signs of a late-breaking Buttigieg surge. The Boston Globe/Suffolk poll, for instance, puts the candidates just two points apart, and the same pollster had him one point ahead a day prior.
Friday night’s inconclusive debate supports the two-way race narrative, although it may have slowed Buttigieg’s momentum. No candidate had a breakout showing, but Klobuchar went after Mayor Pete, and there’s some polling evidence to suggest that it has had an effect. In an Emerson College/7News tracking poll, Buttigieg lost four points while the Minnesota Senator picked up four, putting Buttigieg 10 points behind Sanders.
FiveThirtyEight’s polling average also shows a two-way race.
According to them, Sanders leads by 4.9 percent — a bit smaller than the RealClearPolitics average, but not much of one. I talked about what makes FiveThirtyEight’s average different when I wrote about Iowa, and you can read that here. They also model the results of each primary, and that gives us some numbers to weigh against sportsbooks’ odds. According to them, Sanders has a 67 percent chance to win the most votes, while Pete Buttigieg has a 28 percent chance. That gives anyone else just a five percent chance to come out ahead.
As of publication, the sportsbooks favor Sanders heavily. Let’s take a look at PointsBet’s odds for New Hampshire:
Sanders and Buttigieg are the only two candidates with realistic chances, per PointsBet. The -286 odds for Sanders assume a 74.1 percent chance of him winning, while Buttigieg’s +200 odds are based on a 33.3 percent of his victory. Both of those numbers are reasonably close to FiveThirtyEight’s model, so there’s not significant value on either line.
It seems like Buttigieg has faded a bit in recent days. As a result, Sanders should be a safe bet to win New Hampshire again, as no other candidate is close enough in the polling averages to pose much of a challenge. While you won’t win a ton taking him at -286, it’s the strongest bet you’ve got heading into Tuesday night. Take the easy money for your bankroll before next week’s Nevada caucuses.
That said, PointsBet could lower Buttigieg’s odds given his post-debate polling slump. If that comes to pass, it could create some value closer to Tuesday. Should his number fall to around +350 or +400, consider taking him as a high-risk dice roll.