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A New Hampshire Swing District Continues its Evolution

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In this Tuesday Oct. 19, 2010, file photo, Democrat  U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, right, and Republican Frank Guinta spar during a debate at New England College in Henniker, N.H. Guinta won the election that year, two years later Shea-Porter won the election and unseated Guinta. In 2014 the two face each other for a third time, the 1st Congressional District is starting to resemble a best-of-three ping-pong tournament, with voters bouncing back and forth. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
In this Tuesday Oct. 19, 2010, file photo, Democrat U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, right, and Republican Frank Guinta spar during a debate at New England College in Henniker, N.H. Guinta won the election that year, two years later Shea-Porter won the election and unseated Guinta. In 2014 the two face each other for a third time, the 1st Congressional District is starting to resemble a best-of-three ping-pong tournament, with voters bouncing back and forth. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)Jim Cole / AP

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Want to compare the differences between a presidential electorate and a midterm one? Look no further than New Hampshire’s 1st Congressional District.

Since 2008, the Granite State’s 1st Congressional District has bounced between a Democrat and Republican – and between the two politicians on this November’s ballot. In fact, this is the third time the two candidates are facing off.

Current Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, a Democrat, won in 2008 until Rep. Frank Guinta unseated her in 2010. She won back the seat in 2012, and now Guinta is trying to take it back again.

If the pattern continues, it is Guinta’s turn to win.

This is President Barack Obama’s second midterm election, which should favor Republicans nationally. But underneath that back-and-forth in New Hampshire’s 1st – a swing district in a swing state – it may well be on its way to becoming a bluer shade of purple.

In this district that borders Maine and touches the Atlantic, vote swings have been dramatic. In 2008, Shea-Porter won the district 52% to 46% (against former Rep. Jeb Bradley). In 2010, Guinta beat Shea-Porter by a larger margin, 54% to 42%. In 2012, Shea-Porter won again, 50% to 46%.

Behind those fluctuations is one word: turnout. More than 340,000 people voted in the race in 2008. Only 225,000 voted in 2010. Then more than 344,000 voted in 2012.

In other words, of the past three elections, Shea-Porter has won in high turnout years, which are also presidential election years.

There are some good reasons for those swings. The district is heavy on college students. The 1st District is home to the University of New Hampshire (enrollment 15,000) in Strafford County, and younger voters tend to vote in lower rates in midterms elections. The electorate should look more like 2010 than 2012 this November.

But the composition of any House district shifts and that’s especially true in New Hampshire’s 1st.

The district has been filling up with transplants from other places, much like New Hampshire as whole. Between 2005 and 2009, about 46,000 people moved into the Granite State from other states – more than 16,000 of them were from Massachusetts and about 39,000 of them were from other presidential blue states.

In the last year alone, the Census estimates the 1st District has added more than 20,000 people from outside of New Hampshire.

The population is growing younger and better educated. Between 2008 and 2013, the district has seen the percentage of those with a bachelor’s degree or better climb from 33.6% to 35.4%. The percentage of those with advanced degrees has climbed from 11.4% to 12.5%.

And the 65-and-older population, a generally reliable GOP constituency, is declining. In 2008, the 65-plus population made up 8.1% of the district. Today it is about 5.7%.

Those figures are pushing the district to look more like the districts in and around Boston, which are all very well educated and very Democratic.

That inflow has impacts on electoral politics. The 2014 midterms will be a good test to see how big an impact those influxes are having.

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