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Fighting for favorites

Voters in NH look past the meet-and-greet events to focus on policy and actions.

By Gaby Waksberg

MANCHESTER, N.H. – Randall Walden believes that likability and even public opinion on candidates shouldn’t interfere with what they’ve actually said and done during their careers. The school bus driver supports President Joe Biden or any Democrat willing to work on issues he’s focused on, such as the necessity of accurate history education in schools. 

“Likability has nothing to do with it…. I just want to go by what they’ve done with their lives. I read up, and when I hear someone get trashed like Hillary, I get the book, and I read and find out,” he said.

Favorability polls conducted by The Bulfinch Group in the past week show that 56% of Americans disapprove of President Biden. Likability and favorability in New Hampshire take on a new meaning when retail politics brings candidates to town. Communities across the state have shaken hands and heard directly from candidates, but polling hasn’t shown much of a change in likability related to their travels. Nikki Haley, the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, campaigned in New Hampshire for months but only had a 39% favorability rating in the first-in-the-nation primary earlier this week.

Sign from a Nikki Haley rally, where Judith Sheindlin, “Judge Judy,” spoke. (Gaby Waksberg/91㽶Ƶ)

Haley’s favorability score was reflected in the results from the New Hampshire primary, where she lost to Trump by 11%. This race was closer than her loss in Iowa but shows that despite 40-plus appearances across the state, favorability is hard to swing with retail politics. In conversations with New Hampshire voters, many said their opinions weren’t changed by meeting, or not meeting, with candidates. 

Stephan Loranger, 21, and his sister, Katie, 20, agree that meeting a politician doesn’t change their opinion of the candidate much. The Gen-Z siblings weren’t driven to vote based on strong favorability toward a particular candidate but said they voted because it was their civic duty. Katie is a first-time voter and believes that policy is what controls who she is voting for, not the opportunity to shake a hand. 

Nashua local Karl Blanchette felt similarly, worrying most about foreign policy. He said he is loyal to former president Donald Trump. Blanchette has a son who has served overseas and believes that Trump is the best candidate to keep the armed forces and U.S. citizens safe. He can see how Trump’s personality is polarizing and, at times, immature, but he thinks people are ready to look past that. 

Blanchette said that more people are interested in policies rather than a likability or popularity contest. “Good thing it’s not a populist vote, or we’d have Brad Pitt running for president,” he said.

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