The first primary election in the United States presidential election has confirmed that the country is struggling to find a candidate who can bring along all the disparate elements of both parties. The divisions within the Republican Party have been evident for some time and they were strongly confirmed in New Hampshire. Unlike the Iowa caucus, in which any voter can participate, the primary of each party is open only to voters registered with that party or as an independent. The Republicans showed they remain a house deeply divided. Four of the normal party candidates split just over half the vote almost equally among themselves. This contributed to the maverick billionaire Donald Trump sailing above all of them with 35% of the vote. There is little evidence that the Republican Party will see party voters coalescing behind any single candidate anytime soon. The Christian conservative vote will largely drive Ted Cruz, the corporate lobbies will sustain Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio — and there is little evidence of who can make the twain meet. Iowa had given the sign that things might prove different, but it is now clear a long and destructive battle of attrition is certain.
The surprise is that a similar cleavage is now evident in the Democratic Party. The American liberal-Left had always seemed more ideologically coherent than the conservative Right. It had also seemed to have an anointed candidate in Hillary Clinton. A few months ago, the Democrats’ choice for the White House seemed carved in stone. Ms Clinton remains the favourite, given the size of her financial war chest, the breadth of her grassroots organisation and sheer name recognition. Bernie Sanders has shown there is a deep, partly class and partly generation-based, cleavage within the Democrats that was not really understood earlier. While he was expected to win New Hampshire, the margin of victory — over 20 percentage points — was telling. He swept the youth vote and swung a large portion of the women vote. Only eight months ago, Ms Clinton was 40 percentage points ahead of Mr Sanders. The degree of insurgency that Sanders represents should not be underestimated: He is not even a Democratic Party member, he is an independent. Ms Clinton should still win, but now she will have to fight for it.
Over the next few weeks, the candidates will shift their positions and release advertisements designed to push rivals who appeal to the same voter base. The Democratic race will tack leftward. The chaos of the Republican race is such that no one is sure which way it will go.