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Poll: Sanders leads in New Hampshire, but half of voters remain uncommitted

Sanders appears to be in the lead in New Hampshire, but a new poll finds 30 percent of voters haven’t yet settled on a candidate.

Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders cheer at a post-caucuses event in Des Moines, Iowa.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Two days after he claimed victory in the chaotic Iowa caucuses, a new CNN/University of New Hampshire poll finds Sen. Bernie Sanders leading the pack of Democratic primary candidates in New Hampshire.

With the state’s first in the nation primary just three days away, pollsters found Sanders to have the support of 28 percent of likely Democratic voters, up from from 25 percent in January.

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg came in second in the poll, with 21 percent; former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren came in third and fourth, with 11 and 9 percent support, respectively. It is important to note, however, the margin of error is 5.1 percentage points.

The survey was taken from February 4-7, beginning the day after the Iowa caucuses, and ending just before Friday’s New Hampshire Democratic primary debate, according to CNN.

Buttigieg’s increase in support — up 6 percentage points from January — corresponds with a 5 percentage point drop for Biden, suggesting that they are competing for similar voters. It also reflects a dynamic that was revealed in the preliminary Iowa caucuses results, which saw Buttigieg narrowly securing the most state delegates, and Biden coming in a surprising fourth by most metrics.

That finish may have hurt Biden with New Hampshire voters looking to November’s general election. CNN’s poll found the number of voters who believe that Joe Biden can beat Donald Trump in the general election has nearly halved since July 2019, and is down 16 percentage points from January.

Overall, Sanders is now the candidate New Hampshire voters are most sure can beat Trump — with 29 percent saying they believe he has the best chance of winning the general election. Biden is now second with 25 percent, and Buttigieg third, with 15 percent.

Half of voters remain uncommitted, but Sanders’ lead shows a shoring up of his base

Sanders’s lead has not only increased, but his support among the demographic usually considered to be his base — young people and left-leaning Democrats — showed significant growth since CNN’s January New Hampshire poll; the senator’s level of support among those under 45 increased by 8 percentage points, while his support among self-described progressives went up by 10 percentage points.

Some of those gains among progressives may have come from an erosion of support for Warren, who experienced a 6 percentage point drop in support among that group from January, pollsters found.

Although that loss in support may be worrying for the Warren campaign, there is still an opportunity to pick up last minute voters, according to the results of the survey.

Less than 72 hours out from New Hampshire’s primary, many New Hampshire voters are still undecided, the pollsters found, with 30 percent saying they’ve yet to decide and 19 percent responding that they have an idea who they’ll vote for, but are still weighing their options.

Given this poll was taken ahead of Friday’s debate, candidates’ performances on that stage could color how voters view them. Sen. Amy Klobuchar in particular was praised as having a strong debate, and as Vox’s Ella Nilsen has reported, she has committed significant resources to New Hampshire — an effort Nilsen found appeared to be paying dividends, particularly with respect to poaching Biden supporters.

The poll did find, however, that New Hampshire voters who favor Biden are pretty sure they’ll vote for him on Tuesday, with 67 percent saying they wouldn’t change their minds — and equal number of Sanders supporters said the same. Warren supporters were less sure, with only 44 percent saying they’ll definitely vote for her, and 53 percent of Buttigieg backers responding they were solidly behind their candidate.

Again, it’s important to note this poll’s margin of error — and the large number of undecided voters it found — mean tallies on Tuesday could differ from the pollsters’ results. It is, however, in line with what other pollsters have found recently, and candidates are responding in kind.

Biden, for instance, has indicated that he doesn’t expect to improve much. In his opening comments at Friday’s debate, he set low expectations for his performance this week.

“I took a hit in Iowa, and I’ll probably take a hit here,” he said. Biden finished fourth in Iowa.

Saturday, however, he did attempt to strike a more positive tone, telling supporters in New Hampshire, “Look, the reports of our death are premature.”

How true that is remains to be seen, but barring any Iowa-esque snafus, the nation will know for sure who’s won and who’s lost in New Hampshire by Wednesday.

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