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Music on the campaign trail: How pop music explains the difference between Iowa and New Hampshire

Iowa Republicans' music is less secular

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By Sasha Issenberg, Bloomberg News

Anyone trying to understand why Donald Trump always has thought New Hampshire would be friendlier to him than Iowa should put aside the polls for a moment and focus on what each state’s Republican voters are putting on their Spotify playlists.

According to data for the week ending Feb. 1, Iowa Republicans can’t stop listening to “This Is Amazing Grace” by Christian rocker Phil Wickham, which opens with the verse: “Who breaks the power of sin and darkness/Whose love is mighty and so much stronger/The King of Glory, the King above all kings.”

Republicans in New Hampshire, meanwhile, prefer “Idle Hands” from EXGF, whose opening lines speak to a very different doctrine of inerrancy: “Just play the music/************, don’t stop.”

The charts that those two songs sit atop are the sample of an election-year collaboration between Bloomberg Politics and Spotify, an on-demand streaming music platform.

Trump won New Hampshire’s Republican primary on Feb. 9, while coming in second in Iowa.

The Spotify subscriber list was anonymously matched to voter records managed by TargetSmart Communications to highlight trends and patterns that reflect on how politics and musical taste intersect. (The differences between Democrats from the two states were less pronounced-with the exception that the three top songs in New Hampshire are from Disney’s “Frozen,” none of which appear on Iowa’s list.)

TargetSmart, a political-data company that works primarily for Democrats, was able to locate more than 7 million Spotify users on voter-registration rolls nationwide, and — after stripping away all personally identifiable information — assigned them to three buckets according to the kinds of partisan behavior and attitudes political consultants use to sort voters. (For the purposes of this reporting, those buckets are called “Red,” “Blue,” and “Purple.”)

Spotify then compiled recent listening patterns for 43,090 subscribers in Iowa and 16,477 in New Hampshire.

The charts emphasize distinctiveness, showing songs played at an unusually high rate by Republicans in the first two voting states. In other words, the music popular on both sides of the aisle were ignored, to highlight areas where the two sides diverge.

The gap between the certainties sung by Wickham and by EKDF reflect a chasm well-documented in political demography.

While 62 percent of voters who participated in Feb. 1’s Iowa caucuses considered themselves “white evangelical or white born-again Christians,” only 22 percent of those who voted in New Hampshire’s 2012 Republican primary did.

Only three of the songs on the Iowa Republicans’ top 25 are fully secular in lyrics and message-upbeat country tunes by Jon Langston, Cold Creek Country and Brad Paisley — while the New Hampshire chart is resolutely godless from top to bottom.

Trump and Gov. Chris Christie have picked the state to save their candidacies: Three of the top four songs on its Republicans list carry an “Explicit” warning. Christie dropped out of the race after doing poorly in New Hampshire primary.

Otherwise, New Hampshirites are comparably catholic in their tastes. The state’s Republicans queue up both mainstream R&B by Miguel — the single “Simple Things” features Chris Brown and Future — and fiddle-driven, banjo-accented rock from Green River Ordinance. They also embrace far more racial and ethnic diversity in their music than Iowans.

The New Hampshire list’s cosmopolitanism stretches from Colombian singer J. Balvin to the Italian pianist Ludovico Einaudi. (Balvin sings entirely in Spanish.)

It’s little surprise that Ohio Gov. John Kasich (a Deadhead who recently entered a campaign event to the White Stripes and sang a tribute to David Bowie) maintained hope that the state’s Republicans could be just idiosyncratic enough to go for him — and also hoped to woo some center-left independents. And they were — he finished second, though by about 20 percent fewer votes than first-place finisher Trump.

At number 40 on the New Hampshire Republicans list is Vampire Weekend, which brought its winking affection for preppy New England culture to Iowa last week on behalf of Bernie Sanders.

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