Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is gaining traction against front-runner Hillary Clinton in the kickoff presidential primary state of New Hampshire, while former Rhode Island senator and governor Lincoln Chafee is still an asterisk, according to a new public opinion survey of Democratic voters.
The poll, by Suffolk University, shows Clinton leading Sanders with 41 percent, while Sanders captured 31 percent. Vice President Joe Biden, who has not announced his candidacy, was at 7 percent, while former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley registered 3 percent. Chafee and former Virginia U.S. Sen. Jim Webb aren’t factors at all eight months before the primary; both came in at one percent.
``Most political observers felt that Hillary Clinton’s large lead among Democratic voters would eventually shrink a bit over time,’’ said David Paleologos, director of the university’s Political Research Center in Boston. ``But in New Hampshire right now, the lead has shrunk a lot, and this is a much different Democratic primary than we are seeing in other states so far.’’
While Clinton has a solid lead among women voters and among voters in southern and central New Hampshire communities near the Massachusetts border, Sanders showed strength along the communities near the Connecticut River that border his home state of Vermont. Sanders led 47 percent to Clinton’s 26 percent in the five counties of northern and western New Hampshire and in rural Carroll County.
There is also a fairly wide gender gap, with Clinton leading among women, 47 to 28 percent over Sanders. Yet she trails Sanders among men, 35 to 32 percent. Another sign of Sanders traction – while Clinton holds a 10-point lead statewide, she is up on Sanders by just three percent among voters who stated they ``know both’’ candidates.
The survey of 500 likely Democratic primary voters was done between June 11 and June 15. The margin of sampling error is 4.4 percent. The Suffolk researchers have a track record in the Granite state, including correctly predicting the margin of victory for Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen over Republican Scott Brown in the 2014 general election.
The poll shows that Clinton is having difficulty connecting with the state’s more liberal voters. Clinton led Sanders among self-identified moderates, 46 to 26 percent, but the contest is tied among those who identify as liberal.
``Don’t underestimate the power of the progressive nerve network,’ pushing Sanders, said Paleologos. He said Clinton is leading statewide ``because more voters have never heard of Sanders.’’