New University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB Poll of New Hampshire Voters Finds Sanders Ahead of Democratic Field

Poll shows high degree of fluidity, however, as 61% of respondents say their votes may switch before they enter the booths on Feb. 11
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AMHERST, Mass. – Bernie Sanders holds a five-point lead over Joe Biden in what has become a four-candidate race in the New Hampshire Democratic primary, according to a new University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB Poll released today.

The Vermont senator carries the support of 25% of likely primary voters, with 20% of voters indicating they would support the former vice president. Elizabeth Warren places third in the new poll with 17% support, and Pete Buttigieg rounds out the front-runners with 12%. No other candidate polled exceeded 5% support. The poll found a high degree of potential fluidity before voters actually head to the polls on Feb. 11, however, as 61% of respondents indicated a possibility of voting for someone other than their preferred candidate.

“As the nation turns its gaze away from the cornfields of Iowa to the mountains of the Granite State, New Hampshire’s Democratic voters are poised to once again support one of their region’s own, as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has emerged as the frontrunner in the state’s primary, but his victory is by no means assured,” says Tatishe Nteta, director of the University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB Poll and associate professor of political science at UMass Amherst. “A whopping two-thirds of the state’s Democratic electorate indicated that there is a chance that they may vote for an alternative candidate on Election Night. Unlike the 22-point landslide that Sanders enjoyed in the 2016 New Hampshire primary, this race looks like it will go down to the wire.”

Sanders appears to have the most stable block of potential voters, as 58% of those who said they support him responded that they were not willing to switch their candidate preference. Warren and Biden voters were equally split on whether their votes might change – 56% and 57% of their supporters indicated a possible willingness to switch – and 78% of Buttigieg’s supporters said they were willing to switch their vote to another candidate.

When those who indicated a willingness to switch candidates were asked about their top alternate choice, Sanders was the top option for 22% of respondents, followed by Warren and Buttigieg – each with 16% – and Biden at 15%. Tom Steyer was the only other candidate to break double-digits as a first alternate choice at 12%.

Defeating Trump is Key Among Democratic Voters

The ability of a candidate to defeat President Trump in November’s election is the most important quality for poll respondents, with 36% saying electability is paramount, while 21% indicated a preference to have the nominee represent their views on issues, and 19% believe honesty and trustworthiness should be the nominee’s most important quality.

When asked which candidate they believed was most likely to defeat Trump, regardless of their personal preference, 31% responded Biden would most likely unseat the incumbent in November. Twenty-three percent said Sanders had the best chance to beat the president, and 14% said they believed Warren was the party’s best chance to retake the White House. No other candidate registered in double-digits.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Each Candidate

“Each of the leading Democratic candidates is viewed as having distinctive strengths and weaknesses,” says Jesse Rhodes, associate director of the poll and professor of political science at UMass Amherst. “Warren is lauded for her intelligence, passion and progressive views, but she is also viewed by some New Hampshire Democratic primary voters as less than fully trustworthy. Biden is viewed as a very experienced politician, but some also perceive him as out of touch in today’s political climate. Sanders’ greatest asset is the perception that he is an authentic and passionate progressive, while at the same time, some of these primary voters view him as curmudgeonly and eccentric. Finally, positive perceptions of Buttigieg’s intelligence and honesty are balanced with concerns that he lacks the experience and gravitas to serve as president.”

“One shocker from this poll is how many who voted for Sanders in 2016 have migrated to other candidates in 2020,” says Raymond La Raja, associate director of the poll and professor of political science at UMass Amherst. “The field is larger, of course, and Sanders retains a loyal core of 42% of these voters, but Warren picks up 18% of former Sanders supporters and Buttigieg gets 12% of them.”

“Still the Party of Obama”

The poll also asked a number of non-candidate specific questions. When asked who best represents the future of the Democratic Party, former President Barack Obama was the clear leader at 28%, with Sanders placing second at 18%. Among the presumed “next generation” of Democratic party leaders, Buttigieg is seen as the future of the party by 10% of respondents and 6% say New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez best embodies the ideals and values of the party.

“This is still the party of Obama,” La Raja says, “and while it is unlikely that he will endorse a candidate, any signs of favoritism toward a candidate may go a long way in helping Democratic voters choose their nominee.”

VP Choices and Issues

Presented with a potential pool of vice-presidential choices, with the preferred presidential nominee excluded from the list, a four-way tie emerged among the poll’s respondents between Warren, Buttigieg, Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Interestingly, the presidential nominee front-runners, Sanders and Biden, have only 4% and 5% support as VP selections, indicating a win-or-go-home mentality among the party’s electorate.

Finally, the poll surveyed voters on the issues of presidential campaign financing and impeachment. With the debate between small-dollar, grassroots funding versus big-money support from large donors recently gaining focus during the Democratic debates, 56% of New Hampshire voters support the idea that the Democratic nominee should seek some or a lot of support from large donors in order to defeat President Trump, while only 30% say the candidate should eschew large donations.

And as the impeachment trial wraps up in the Senate, the respondents of the poll expressed overwhelming support of convicting Trump and removing him from office, with 86% calling for the president’s removal.

This University of Massachusetts Amherst / WCVB Poll of 500 registered New Hampshire voters was conducted Jan. 17-29 by YouGov. YouGov interviewed 523 respondents who were then matched down to a sample of 500 to produce the final dataset. The respondents were matched to a sampling frame on gender, age, race and education, based on known characteristics of Democratic Party primary voters from the New Hampshire voter file and the 2018 Cooperative Congressional Election Study. The matched cases were weighted to the sampling frame using propensity scores. The matched cases and the frame were combined, and a logistic regression was estimated for inclusion in the frame. The propensity score function included age, gender, race/ethnicity, years of education, and region. The propensity scores were grouped into deciles of the estimated propensity score in the frame and post-stratified according to these deciles.

The margins of error within this poll are 5.3% for all likely Democratic primary voters, 6.4% for likely Democratic party-registered voters and 9.4% for likely independent voters.

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