Wondering how N.H. will vote? Look to the city of Dover

Voters greeted Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on Sunday in Dover, N.H.
Voters greeted Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg on Sunday in Dover, N.H.Steven Senne/Associated Press

DOVER, N.H. — If you want to know how New Hampshire will vote in its first-in-the-nation primary on Tuesday, you might train your eyes on Dover, a city of 31,000 near the seacoast.

A new Globe/WBZ-TV/Suffolk University survey of Dover residents over the weekend suggests Senator Bernie Sanders is likely to win here, with around 25 percent of the vote. The survey also suggests Senator Amy Klobuchar is experiencing an 11th-hour surge, probably fueled by a widely praised performance at Friday’s debate, and is polling at 16 percent in Dover.

Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., was at 22 percent in the city. Former vice President Joe Biden was at 11 percent and Senator Elizabeth Warren was at 10 percent among the 300 likely Democratic voters in Dover who were surveyed.


Dover has managed to pick the correct winner in each of the past four Democratic presidential primaries in New Hampshire.

“For this election, at this time, based on history, Dover has a special gift," said David Paleologos, the director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which partners with The Boston Globe on polling.

“They’ve also predicted the exact order of finish for the top four, which is really hard.”

Dover’s results came within four percentage points of the statewide results in each of those four primaries, including in the last one with a Republican incumbent, in 2004.

All that makes Dover an ideal bellwether, which means the city’s voters are being inundated by the campaigns.

“At least 4 to 5 times a day, somebody’s at the door handing out something,” said Richard Davidson, 70, who supports Klobuchar. “I must get 100 e-mails. Especially from Amy. I’d like to call her up and say, ‘Look I’m on your team, now shut it off.’ ”


Thomas Young, 58, said a number of campaigns reached out to him, but gave up after he planted signs for Biden in his front yard.

“Just a real quick reason: If President Trump is picking on him the most, if he fears him the most, then that’s who it should be,” Young said.

The latest Dover survey, which Paleologos said is a “sister test” to statewide polling, has a margin of error of 5.66 percent.

Before its star political moment, Dover was best known for being home to the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire, housed in a former armory, and, perhaps, for being the birthplace of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. But the former mill city, near the University of New Hampshire in Durham, is economically diverse, residents say, which could help explain its predictive power.

“You have a little bit of the industrial past, so you may have some of those blue-collar Northern Democratic leanings,” said Chris Kline, 36, a high school social studies teacher who lives in the area. “But it’s also a very fast-growing community. So there’s a lot of young families.”

Kline is considering Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and Sanders. He said he’ll study their policy proposals in the next two days.

The Boston Globe/WBZ-TV/Suffolk University daily statewide tracking poll on Sunday had Sanders pulling ahead of Buttigieg, with Klobuchar just behind, followed by Warren and Biden.

In a high-stakes moment in his campaign Sunday afternoon, Buttigieg chose to spend a few precious hours wooing voters in Dover, speaking to a crowd in the gymnasium of the Dover Middle School, where he took a shot at his biggest rival’s health care plan.


“What we can do without is a plan so expensive that Senator Sanders himself freely admits he has no idea how it’s supposed to be paid for,” said Buttigieg.

Outside the gym, a few people passed out fliers created by Action for a Progressive Future, denouncing both Buttigieg and Biden for opposing Medicare for All.

Residents of Dover have also spread out across their community in recent weeks to sway their neighbors.

“When I started back in December, a lot of doors I knocked on, people hadn’t heard of her,” said Carol Finn, 65, who was canvassing for Klobuchar. “I said, ‘Well, she’s someone you might want to look up or learn about.’ ”

Bryan Hardwick, 44, persuaded his colleague, who was leaning toward Biden, to go with Buttigieg.

Hardwick, a Dover school bus driver, asked the colleague to imagine Biden in a one-on-one debate against Trump.

“It worked. This gentleman is now a Pete supporter,” Hardwick said.

But some remain undecided. Andrew Davis, 29, has ruled out Buttigieg and Biden, but thinks Sanders “might have some good ideas” and is enthusiastic about Gabbard.

“Honestly, at this point I’m not really sure,” he said.

Communities like Dover draw the fascination of political campaigns and pundits every four years, but their prognostic status is precarious.

“Sometimes the bellwether lives up to its history," Paleologos said, “and sometimes it gets disqualified from future consideration.”


Zoe Greenberg can be reached at zoe.greenberg@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @zoegberg.