A new poll from the Boston Herald and Franklin Pierce University shows Bernie Sanders beating Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire for the first time, drawing 44 percent support to her 37 percent. It's best not to overinterpret the findings of a single poll, but here are some broader thoughts on the state of the Democratic race right now:
- Until this poll was released yesterday, Hillary Clinton had led every single New Hampshire primary poll that had been conducted since 2013, according to HuffPostPollster. She'd also led every single poll of Democrats nationally, in Iowa, and in South Carolina. So the first early state poll ever to show Sanders ahead is a significant milestone.
- Having said that, this is just one poll. Again, check out HuffPost Pollster for the broader context of recent New Hampshire polling, most of which has shown a clear movement toward Sanders but Clinton still leading. This newest poll could be the first sign that Sanders has now passed her, or it could be an outlier. We'll need more data to have a better idea.
- The surge in support for Sanders looks somewhat less impressive when you take into account that many older polls offered Elizabeth Warren as an option and many newer polls do not. Much of the support Warren was drawing seems to have moved over to Sanders, as Philip Bump wrote here.
- Still, Sanders seems to have surpassed that level in newer polls (none ever showed Warren beating Clinton), and the poll does make clearer than ever that Sanders — not Martin O'Malley, not Jim Webb, and not Lincoln Chafee — is now the frontrunner's main challenger.
- Despite a finding that a plurality of Democrats want Joe Biden to enter the race, I do not see this poll as good news for the vice president. After a great deal of media hype about his potential presidential bid, he managed to get a mere 9 percent of the vote. That is not a strong performance and seems to demonstrate yet again that very few Democrats want Joe Biden to be their presidential nominee. Unless most of Sanders's supporters are purely motivated by anti-Hillary Clinton animus (and I certainly don't think they are), it's difficult to imagine them abandoning Sanders for Biden, an establishment figure whose policy views look a whole lot like Clinton's.
- This result certainly makes Hillary Clinton's earlier-than-expected decision to start airing TV ads in Iowa and New Hampshire make a lot more sense. Her team has likely seen similar numbers in internal polling, and chose to start airing positive ads to help burnish her standing in both states.
- As I wrote when I visited Iowa with Sanders last year, New Hampshire and Iowa both seem to be very favorable states for him. Rural and white, they resemble Vermont demographically. And they're small, which means investment in organizing can pay big dividends. His unusually energized activists can make a difference in the low turnout caucuses, while New Hampshire, a neighbor to Vermont, has sometimes shown a willingness to vote for iconoclasts. (It should be noted that Clinton still has a big lead in Iowa polls.)
- After that, though, the road ahead is much more difficult for Sanders. It's tougher for organizing to move the needle in the big primary states that will award a great deal of the delegates. And Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats are very different from national Democrats, most notably because they're much less racially diverse. Clinton is far more popular than Sanders among black voters in particular, as this striking Washington Post chart shows:
Winning New Hampshire would be great for Sanders, but to present a serious challenge to Clinton outside of small white states, Sanders will have to increase his appeal to the nonwhite voters who are increasingly important to the Democratic coalition. This is Sanders's biggest problem, as Jonathan Allen wrote in June, and the biggest question mark about his stronger-than-expected campaign is still whether he can manage to do something about it.