CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — President Barack Obama doesn't appear to have much to show for his campaign's aggressive effort to encourage college students — particularly out-of-staters — to vote in New Hampshire.
While the president won all four of New Hampshire's major college communities — Durham, Hanover, Keene and Plymouth — by wide margins Tuesday, his advantage in those towns actually shrank compared to 2008.
For example, Obama won 82 percent of the vote in Hanover, home to Dartmouth College, in 2008, but only 75 percent on Tuesday. In Durham, Obama's margin of victory dropped from 74 percent four years ago to 69 percent Tuesday.
Those kinds of drops weren't unusual — overall, Obama's share of the vote decreased in nearly three-quarters of all towns and cities compared to 2008. But the results in the college towns stand out given the extent to which the Obama campaign courted students.
The campaign actively urged out-of-state students to register in New Hampshire, telling them that their vote "counts more" in a swing state. Former President Bill Clinton campaigned for Obama at the University of New Hampshire, telling students that Republicans were trying to take away their right to vote.
"They've worked so hard to keep you from voting," he said at a rally in October.
Clinton was referring to a new voter registration law backed by Republican legislative leaders who argued that liberal-minded out-of-state students were diluting the votes of New Hampshire residents.
The law, which was ultimately put on hold before the election after students challenged it in court, would have required new voters to sign a statement saying they are subject to laws that apply to all residents, including laws requiring drivers to register cars and get New Hampshire driver's licenses.
Students traditionally have been allowed to declare the state their home for voting purposes without holding legal residency, which involves an intent to stay for an extended period of time. The statement wouldn't have specifically required students to be residents but would have made them subject to hundreds of laws involving residency.
It's unclear how the controversy over the law played out on Election Day. In Durham, home to the University of New Hampshire, town officials said a record-breaking 3,024 people registered to vote on Tuesday, casting more than 40 percent of the town's total vote. Officials said the overwhelming majority of them were students, though how many were out-of-staters is unknown, and there's no way of knowing how any of them voted.
As the registration line grew, election workers scrambled to move people around the local high school so as few voters as possible would have to wait outside in the cold. Worried that some might get discouraged and leave, volunteers went up and down the line distributing candy — 30 bags full — to lighten the mood. Inside, 40 workers manned 17 tables to get people registered.
"It looked a little bit like the New York Stock Exchange in terms of the level of activity and all the hand signals," said town administrator Todd Selig.
The town also registered students on campus ahead of the election, but only 400 signed up this year, compared to about 1,000 who signed up early in 2008 and 1,700 who waited until Election Day. Selig believes the media coverage of the new voter registration law led to Tuesday's rush by reinforcing the notion that students have a right to vote where they attend school.
"My strong opinion is that the young people who come to vote are not in any way, shape or form trying to game the system by voting in their college community," he said. "They simply want to participate in the democratic process."
Though it's impossible to determine what kind of effect out-of-state college students have on elections, the impact is likely greater in New Hampshire, where out-of-staters make up a greater percentage of enrollment than in all but three other states. An analysis of total enrollment in the fall of 2011 showed just over 32,500 out-of-staters — a significant number in a small state — but no one knows how many of them actually voted in New Hampshire.
More broadly, exit polls Tuesday showed Obama hung onto to his support among young voters — not necessarily college students — compared to 2008. In New Hampshire, 12 percent of voters Tuesday were between the ages of 18 and 24, and they backed Obama 67 to 30 percent. That was similar to the 2008 exit poll results.