January 21, 2016
Wow. I don’t care if this is an outlier. I don’t care if Bernie has home field advantage. I don’t care the actual New Hampshire primary will almost definitely wind up closer than this individual CNN/WMUR poll, especially if some Sanders supporters get overconfident and stay home.
Martin O’Malley was the two-term Governor of Maryland. He’s the only candidate born after the Truman Administration. He has impeccable liberal/progressive credentials. He’s free of scandal. One percent.
Baltimore and Freddy Gray do not help. There are times when I think certain forms of corrugated cardboard have more personality. The current GOP governor of his very blue state is presently more popular than O’Malley ever was. One percent.
Twelve months ago, nobody took Bernie seriously. He was Ralph Nader 2.0, not the next Hillary Slayer. WMUR took a poll in late January/early February 2015:
They tried again in late April/early May:
Sanders was already a longtime resident of neighboring Vermont. He was already benefitting from a demographically-friendly New Hampshire. There was already an absence of credible Hillary challengers. Nobody thought Joe Biden was running yet.
Something happened in June
This is when Bernie started becoming a national story, when the media noticed large crowds, like 20,000 people, turning out to hear the ancient socialist. At this point it was still a curiosity. Nobody was worried about email servers. Nobody was waiting for Joe Biden.
Until recently, September was Hillary’s worst stretch. She hadn’t fixed her messaging. Biden was a real possibility. Bernie was getting his largest and best press attention. Here’s where they stood:
You notice they only total 76%. Biden was included in polling at this point. As we know, Hillary recovered quite a bit in October, and the terrorist events of November shifted the race to a balance between national security and the economy on the Democratic side (more towards national security for the GOP).
The CNN/WMUR team weighed in just after Thanksgiving:
She’d stabilized due to the above factors. Bernie was only leading in New Hampshire, and even that depended on the pollster. WMUR is a local TV station that often relies on partnering with others to conduct the surveys. The most recent few are with CNN, some of their previous efforts used the University of New Hampshire.
The methodology is not identical. CNN-affiliated polls have shown a lean towards Sanders and Donald Trump so far, as they tend to assume voters who say they will participate in the primary process will, regardless of past record. Since both Bernie and The Donald are relying on voters who aren’t always part of the process, this makes a huge difference.
You should normally assume the CNN polls are a best-case scenario (or close to it) for each. That is, best case scenario if the election was at the time of the poll. Especially for Trump, CNN polling under ideal circumstances has often mirrored where other polls with more restrictive sampling will land in a few weeks.
At this point, instead of dismissing them as outliers, we instead need to regard them as near-term ceilings, what would happen if the rosy scenario is in fact the correct one. With that in mind, the newest poll, adjusted to what it would mean outside of New Hampshire, portends a very interesting next few months.
New Hampshire is to Bernie what Iowa was to Obama. A neighboring state, with a mild home-field advantage. Being a Vermonter doesn’t hurt, but candidates like John Kerry and Mitt Romney who were on TV all the time in the Boston market, one that overlaps Southern New Hampshire, are at a bigger advantage.
It’s better to be able to campaign close to home. It’s better to have some regional commonality, but Bernie doesn’t represent Massachusetts in the Senate. He doesn’t have the same edge Paul Tsongas did in 1992, or Governor Michael Dukakis in 1988. Ed Muskie was from Maine. That didn’t help him very much with George McGovern in 1972.
The Vermont thing is a thing. It means Subaru drivers and weed consumers (not mutually exclusive) like Bernie. This is extremely helpful, but at least as much in Oregon as New Hampshire. Let’s check a few of the other questions in the poll and then we’ll get back to applying it nationally.
Who’s stronger on the economy:
In June, Hillary led this question 35/28. An additional several months of exposure has strongly benefitted Bernie. This is something to keep in mind when thinking about how he might do in some of the later voting states if he can keep the contest going.
Who’s can better handle ISIS?
This is almost identical to when CNN asked the same question right after Paris and San Bernardino. The difference is how voters weight the importance of the two above issues:
Now: Jobs/Economy 26%, Foreign Policy/National Security 13%
Early Dec: Foreign Policy/National Security 23%, Jobs/Economy 18%
A decent chunk of voters think Hillary is better on one thing, Bernie on the other. It’s natural to think they would shift depending on which issue is more in the news and on their mind. We can’t predict whether voters in April and May (let alone February or March) will think more about a possible recession or new terror attacks, but it will matter which, if either, it is.
There’s nothing wrong with Hillary’s rating. It’s very comparable to how Republicans view Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, the two most widely popular GOP contenders. Bernie is on another plane.
He’s not this popular yet with minority voters, something many commentators will point to. But he has very low unfavorable numbers. It’s just many voters of color haven’t made their mind up yet.
The trick and challenge for Hillary is to go negative before those undecided voters can frame a positive opinion of him, without horrifying his Caucasian fan club. To progressive whites, attacking Bernie is worse than shooting Bambi. Keep in mind how progressives feel about guns these days.
There’s another reason for extreme Clinton caution. Likely Dem primary participants were asked which Dem candidate was least trustworthy:
Hillary’s team is attempting to push a narrative that Bernie’s health care plan aims to throw away Obamacare and replace it with something that will never get through Congress. Sanders says this is not so, that he helped write the existing plan, voted for it and only aims to complete the generations-old Democratic dream of providing universal health care.
Most voters are not going to read the respective policy proposals on a candidate website. They won’t do a regression analysis to see how many Democrats would need to win in 2016 to provide enough votes for what Bernie wants to do. They’ll lean in the direction of who they trust.
Saying Bernie isn’t interested in protecting health care is like insisting Trump doesn’t care if China wins. Perhaps you can argue he’s being slightly naïve. Having a candidate who isn’t known for honesty attempting to convince left-leaning voters that Sanders is being knowingly reckless…..I’m glad that’s not my task.
We need to adjust for the following:
New Hampshire is open to voting from Independents, many other states are not.
There is at least some home-field advantage.
Other states have many more non-white voters.
Especially on March 1, many states vote at once, he won’t always have the same coverage he has in New Hampshire.
Many states have a higher percentage of older voters, fewer college students, etc.
CNN has an optimistic turnout scenario.
There are a couple examples of states where Bernie needs to deal with all of the adjustments above. North Carolina and Florida both vote on March 15, along with Illinois, Missouri and Illinois. Those states have the majority of their population in major media markets. Sanders will struggle to have the same mindshare he has in New Hampshire.
Neither state (nor the others voting that day) is near Vermont. Florida has a disproportionate share of older voters, who are still lining up with Hillary. Both states have a higher than average share of non-white voters. The Florida primary is completely closed to Independents, North Carolina, less open than New Hampshire.
As you might expect, Hillary is leading. By a lot. A new Florida Atlantic University poll has her ahead 62/26. Meanwhile, according to PPP, Hillary leads 59/26 in North Carolina. PPP tends to lean towards Hillary, but again, the idea is to pull away the advantages in the New Hampshire poll and look at bad to worst case scenarios.
We can see that under ideal circumstances, Bernie leads by 27. Under something like the reverse, he trails by 36 and 33. It’s dangerous to assume any degree of precision here, but a rough eyeball guess has Hillary a little ahead overall. She’s doing far better in national polls, where favorable surveys have her up 25, and unfavorable ones ahead by single-digits.
Until we institute a national primary day, national polls are irrelevant. What does matter is her ideal situation being only a little bigger advantage than his. Remember, these polls were taken (mostly) before the most recent debate, before the Bernie has a chance narrative fully kicked in (you can argue it still hasn’t), before the latest bit with the emails.
While this latest New Hampshire poll doesn’t even guarantee Bernie will win New Hampshire (if he loses Iowa and CNN’s turnout estimates are garbage, all bets are off), it does indicate he has a much higher ceiling than previously imagined. Several weeks ago, I wrote a similar post about a similar Trump poll.
Though we still need to wait on the actual voters, my comments at the time about Trump now seem conservative. Keep that in mind.