Hillary Clinton may be facing much more of a fight than she expected in New Hampshire.
A new poll from Suffolk University is the second in two days to show Bernie Sanders surging among the state's primary electorate — it shows him just 11 points behind the frontrunner. Another poll from Morning Consult, released Monday, showed Sanders 12 points behind Clinton.
Taken together, these two polls show a huge improvement from how Sanders has done in every other poll of the state so far. In polls taken before this week, he'd been mired in the mid-teens — now he's topping 30 percent, and Clinton has fallen to the low 40s.
What's going on? Sanders does have the advantage of being from a neighboring state, but that didn't do much for him in polls a couple of months ago. It seems that instead, Democratic voters in the state are hearing what Bernie Sanders has to say — and liking it.
As I wrote a couple weeks back, Sanders's decades of activism against the influence of the wealthy presents an appealing contrast for many progressives — one that seems tailor-made to sap enthusiasm for Clinton, in a way that a head-to-head race between Clinton and Martin O'Malley wouldn't.
A Sanders surge in New Hampshire certainly doesn't mean Clinton's likely to lose the nomination. As Dylan Matthews writes, "There's a history of upset wins in the New Hampshire primary by insurgent candidates who wind up going nowhere." Interestingly, though, Iowa could also be advantageous for Sanders. Rural and white, both of those first two states in the caucus and primary process resemble Vermont demographically. Sanders is used to winning over voters like them. Iowa also has a strong streak of left-wing economic populism, which plays to Sanders's strengths.
Yet candidates who perform well in small, somewhat idiosyncratic states sometimes flounder when they have to compete on a much bigger stage. Winning the support of national and local party organizations is important to win larger states, when many are having primaries at the same time. Also, it's not yet clear whether Sanders can win the support of black and Hispanic voters, since he's never had to do so before.
Still, this is unmistakably good news for Sanders and his supporters. Though few expect him to win, it's now clear that he's broken away from the other little-known candidates in the Democratic field — and that his message will get lots of attention in the months to come.