New UMass Amherst Polls Shows Shaheen Facing Potential Challenges in 2020 Senate Re-Election Bid, Support for Democratic Immigration Policies

Popular Gov. Chris Sununu poses strongest test to incumbent in Senate race
UMass wordmark

AMHERST, Mass. – New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen may face a difficult re-election bid in 2020 should Gov. Chris Sununu toss his hat into the ring, a new poll of Granite State voters conducted by the University of Massachusetts Amherst shows.

Shaheen, a Democrat and the first woman elected to the Senate from New Hampshire, and herself a former governor of the state, currently holds just a three-point lead over potential Republican challenger Sununu, 45-42. She defeated Sununu’s older brother, John, then the incumbent, in her first campaign for the Senate in 2008.

Shaheen holds a slightly larger five-point lead over potential GOP opponent former Senator Kelly Ayotte, 41-36. Twenty percent of the poll’s respondents are undecided in a possible Shaheen-Ayotte matchup, while only 10 percent are unsure in a Shaheen-Chris Sununu contest. Polling on both campaign scenarios show an identical 3 percent of voters indicating that they would not vote for either party’s candidate.

However, the plurality of New Hampshire voters polled – 45 percent – are registered as undeclared with no party affiliation, while 28 percent are registered Democrats and 27 percent are registered Republicans. Among these undeclared, independent voters, Sununu narrowly leads Shaheen, 41-40, with 18 percent unsure, while Shaheen leads Ayotte 38-33, with 28 percent unsure.

“Sen. Shaheen is likely to face a competitive race should popular Republicans like Ayotte or Sununu choose to run against her,” said Raymond La Raja, professor of political science and associate director of the UMass Poll. “She gets good marks but so do her potential Republican rivals.”

Sununu holds a high 60 percent approval rating among New Hampshire voters according to the poll, with only 33 percent of respondents indicating somewhat or strong disapproval. Thirty nine percent of Democrats and 32 percent of liberals approve of Sununu’s performance as governor, as well. Shaheen currently holds a 49-42 approval rating for her work in the Senate, while fellow Democrat Sen. Maggie Hassan holds a similar 48-43 approval rating. The Democrats are unable to tout the same bipartisan support Sununu holds, as only 16 and 12 percent of registered Republican voters support Shaheen and Hassan, respectively.

Sununu bests Ayotte among almost all demographics in their respective potential challenges to Shaheen, with only post-grads (29 percent each) and those who voted for Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 (5 percent each) showing the same levels of support for each Republican candidate in their potential Senate campaign matchups against the incumbent.

When asked about national issues, especially immigration, New Hampshire voters lean much more to the left. Fifty percent of New Hampshire voters oppose a federal bill that would provide funding for construction of a wall along the Mexican border, with 42 percent strongly opposing such a bill. Only 42 percent show any support federal funding of the border wall, with 32 percent expressing strong support. The only demographics showing majority support for funding the wall were Trump voters (89 percent), Republicans (86 percent), conservatives (82 percent) and voters with education levels of high school diploma or less (51 percent).

“Unsurprisingly, President Trump’s vocal support for the construction of a border wall has resonated with the states’ Republican and conservative voters, as large majorities of both groups are in lockstep with the President on this issue,” says Tatishe Nteta, associate professor of political science and director of the UMass Poll.

There is even stronger across-the-board support for granting permanent legal status to DREAMers, immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents. Fifty-four percent of those polled said they support providing these individuals permanent legal status, while only 31 percent oppose such a bill. Only 14 percent indicated strong opposition to giving DREAMers legal status, with just 50 percent of conservatives and 52 percent of Trump voters against the bill. No other demographics expressed a majority opposition to a bill granting DREAMers legal status.

“While the issue of funding a border wall has become a divisive issue among voters in the Granite State, a clear majority of voters in New Hampshire across demographic and politics groups are in favor of providing legal status to children brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents,” Nteta says. “In a time of rampant polarization on the issue of immigration, the DREAM Act looks to be a policy that most voters in the state can agree upon.”

Asked about the current direction of the country, 59 percent responded that the U.S. is currently on the wrong track, while only 23 percent said the country is on the right track. The only demographics who hold a positive view of the country’s current course were Trump voters (75 percent), conservatives (66 percent) and Republicans (64 percent). No more than 39 percent (high school or less education level) of any other demographic in the poll responded that the country was on the right track. Only 9 percent of all poll respondents said they were unsure about the direction of the country.

New Hampshire voters hold a much better view about the direction of their state, with 46 percent indicating that they believe the state is on the right track. Thirty percent said the state was on the wrong track and 24 percent were unsure.

“Roughly 60 percent of New Hampshire voters say the country is on the wrong track, even though they are far happier about what is going on in their own state. Their own lives are not so bad in New Hampshire, but they are worried nonetheless about what is happening to the country,” La Raja says.

The UMass Poll, conducted online by YouGov Feb. 7-15, has a margin of error of 4.8 percent among registered voters. The final dataset included 600 registered adult New Hampshire voters, of which 337 were likely Democratic voters and 263 were likely Republican voters. Established in 2010, the UMass Poll has provided political polling for Massachusetts, New Hampshire and national races.

Complete topline results and crosstabs for the UMass Poll are available for download HERE.