Presidential Politics: Biden Leads in UMass Amherst Poll of New Hampshire Voters One Year Before Primary Voting

Likely Democratic Voters Comfortable with Seasoned Veteran
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AMHERST, Mass. — A year out from the New Hampshire presidential primary, former Vice President Joe Biden, who has yet to declare whether he will run for president in 2020, is the early preferred Democratic nominee among likely Democratic primary voters in the Granite State, according to a new poll released today by the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

When asked which candidate they would support if the Democratic presidential primary were held today, 28 percent of likely Democratic voters supported Biden, followed by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont with 20 percent, Sen. Kamala Harris of California with 14 percent of voters, and 9 percent of voters indicting their support for Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Fourteen percent of voters were undecided.

Detailed information on the poll, including crosstabs, can be found here.

“With a roster full of fresh, young faces vying to be the Democratic Party’s nominee, New Hampshire’s Democratic primary voters seem more comfortable handing the reins to a seasoned veteran,” says Tatishe Nteta, associate professor of political science and director of the UMass Poll. “While early, our results suggest that this race is Joe Biden’s for the taking. The question is whether he wants it or not.”

Jesse Rhodes, associate professor of political science and associate director of the UMass Poll, agrees that New Hampshire voters are putting more stock in the familiar with Biden. “While Biden hasn't officially entered the race, the fact that he is a known quantity gives him a big advantage over less-familiar candidates like Kamala Harris or Beto O'Rourke,” Rhodes said. “It also gives him an advantage over other more familiar candidates like Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, who many Democrats might like on the issues but fear is too liberal to win in a head-to-head contest with Trump."

Biden is the preferred candidate among most demographic groups in the state, garnering the strongest support among likely Democratic voters who identified as moderates at 39 percent. He also had strong support among older voters, women, with voters whose income is between $40,000 and $100,000, and with voters with a high school education or less.

“Almost 40 percent of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters think Biden has the best shot at winning,” says Raymond La Raja, professor of political science and associate director of the UMass Poll. “No one else comes close. And this appears truer among women than men, which is surprising given the field of qualified women candidates.” 

Biden is also viewed by New Hampshire voters as the candidate who can beat President Trump in 2020, with 39 percent indicating that he is the candidate most likely to defeat Trump in the general election, followed by Sanders at 12 percent, Harris at 8 percent, and Warren at 6 percent.

"A year out from the 2020 New Hampshire primary, the state's Democratic primary voters are in a very pragmatic mood and are focused on finding a candidate who they believe is best positioned to defeat Trump in the presidential election,” said Rhodes. “Right now, this pragmatism is encouraging them to gravitate to what is familiar and Joe Biden, a popular former vice president, is fitting the bill.”

The poll also asked voters if they would be willing to vote for a different candidate, and 82 percent of voters said they would support another candidate. When their initial preferred candidate was excluded from the list of candidates, Harris topped the list of second choices at 28 percent, followed by Biden at 26 percent, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey at 24 percent, Warren of Massachusetts at 22 percent and Sanders at 21 percent.

“The California candidate, Kamala Harris, may not be very well known to the New Hampshire electorate yet, but voters are clearly taking her seriously as a potential second choice if their first doesn’t win,” said La Raja.

The ability to beat President Trump is the top quality that the poll respondents said they are looking for in a 2020 Democratic candidate, with 33 percent saying that is their priority. Another 22 percent said their top quality was being honest and trustworthy, while 20 percent said they are looking for a candidate who best represents their views on the issues.

“While some argue that the Democratic Party is undergoing an ideological civil war, the one issue that brings all corners of the party together is their desire to select a candidate that will defeat President Trump in 2020,” said Nteta.

When asked which Democratic candidate they would not be willing to vote for in a general election, 26 percent of voters pointed to Warren, followed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at 23 percent and Sanders with 21 percent. 

“In a year in which Democrats in New Hampshire have loudly declared that they will vote for the candidate that will defeat President Trump in the general election, Senator Warren has work to do in order to convince the state’s Democratic electorate that she is indeed the person that will win the election on November 3, 2020,” added Nteta.

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