Is Sanders' Striking Success in New Hampshire a Sign of a National Political Shocker in the Making?

The latest New Hampshire Democratic primary poll indicates not only a current reality in that state, but an underlying and far more important national trend, a trend exhibited in N.H. that has bearing more broadly throughout the country, and that shows U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders already well on the road toward locking up the Democratic nomination, barring any future game-changing disclosures about one or both candidates, which are always possibilities in any political contest, and can never be ruled out. The same poll also shows Sanders performing more strongly against any Republican than Hillary Clinton would. This is not the way things looked to most prognosticators back on April 30th when Sanders started his campaign.


On June 1st, I bannered, “My Prediction: Bernie Sanders Will Win the White House,” based upon the early indications being clear, even then, that he would have a higher net-favorability rating from likely Democratic Presidential primary voters than Hillary Clinton. (The same analysis, from many polls, indicated also that Sanders would likely beat any Republican candidate in the general election.) Whereas far more Democrats at that time were familiar with Clinton than with Sanders, and therefore Clinton scored far higher in the national polls then than he did (and so she was presumed to be the contest’s front-runner), the determinant of the future trendline  for any candidate is net-favorability ratings, especially comparing “strongly approve” versus “strongly disapprove,” which ratios tend to be, especially at such an early stage in a contest, a far better predictor of the contest’s ultimate winner than are the sheer poll-numbers at such a time. What the latest New Hampshire poll, taken now near the end of the contest in N.H., shows, is that the campaign in New Hampshire, as it is nearing its end, is increasingly displaying a strong edge over Clinton that Sanders has on this most crucial of all ratios, which is propelling him toward a substantial margin of victory in this, the first, primary state.

The CNN/WMUR New Hampshire Primary Poll, sponsored by WMUR-TV and CNN, and conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, randomly surveyed New Hampshire adults and found 420 who indicated that they intended to vote in the Democratic Presidential primary on February 9th. Here are the results:

More than nine in ten (91%) likely Democratic Primary voters have a favorable opinion of Sanders, only 7% have an unfavorable opinion of him, 2% are neutral, and 1% don’t know enough about him to say. Sanders’ net favorability rating is an almost unheard of +84%. 

Former Secretary of State and 2008 New Hampshire Primary winner Hillary Clinton also continues to be popular in the state – 65% of likely Democratic Primary voters have a favorable opinion of Clinton, 26% have an unfavorable opinion of her, 9% are neutral, and 1% don’t know enough about her to say. Clinton’s net favorability rating is +39%. 

Sanders’ net favorability rating has steadily increased over 2015 from +34% in February to +67% in September to +84% in the most recent poll. Clinton’s has eroded through the same period, from +74% in February to +44% in September, and remaining at +39% in the latest CNN/WMUR poll. 

The trendlines are starkly indicated in the following, from this N.H. poll:

“Sanders is the most electable Democrat as measured by net electability, the percentage who support a candidate minus the percentage who would not vote for that candidate under any circumstances. Sanders net electability score is +56%, while Clinton’s net electability score is +19%, and O’Malley’s is -26%. Clinton’s net electability rating has been declining over the past year while Sanders’ has continued to increase.”

What this crucial fact means is: the more that voters get to know about Sanders, the more they approve of him, whereas the more that they get to know about Clinton, the less they approve of her. (As regards O’Malley, voters still can’t see any reason for him to be running, other than self-aggrandizement.)

Regarding the general-election contest in N.H., a later headline that same day, January 20th, was based upon the same poll, but included the results also from Republican voters, the 413 who were planning to vote on February 9th in the Republican primary, and the headline was “WMUR poll: Sanders is New Hampshire’s favorite general election candidate: Vermont Democrat fares better against top Republicans than Hillary Clinton.” That result showed:

In a match-up of the current New Hampshire frontrunners in each party, Sanders leads Republican businessman Donald Trump, 57 percent to 34 percent, with 6 percent favoring another candidate and 3 percent undecided. Independents favor Sanders, 55 percent to 33 percent.

Clinton leads Trump, 48 percent to 39 percent, with 10 percent supporting another candidate and 3 percent undecided. Independents favor Clinton 43 percent to 34 percent.

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who jumped to second place in the latest WMUR/CNN New Hampshire Primary Poll of Republican candidates, trails Sanders, 56 percent to 33 percent, with independents favoring Sanders, 56 percent to 24 percent.

Clinton has a much smaller lead over Cruz, 47 percent to 41 percent, with independents slightly favoring Cruz, 39 percent to 33 percent.

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