Buttigieg surges to second with likely voters a day before primary

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Contact: Christine Gillette, 978-934-2209 (o), 978-758-4664 (c), or Christine_Gillette@uml.edu or Nancy Cicco, 978-934-4944 or Nancy_Cicco@uml.edu

Just one day before the New Hampshire Democratic primary, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has the lead among those vying for the party’s nomination, but 40 percent of likely voters say they could still change their mind, according to a new poll released today by the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion.

Sanders is leading by eight points, with the support of 25 percent of likely voters in the Democratic primary. Sanders, who won the 2016 New Hampshire Democratic primary, is up 2 percent in today’s poll over the results of the poll issued Feb. 3 by the UMass Lowell Center for Public Opinion. A week ago, Sanders was in a race too close to call with former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, as all three were within four points of each other and the margin of error of the Feb. 3 poll. As of today’s poll, Sanders has expanded his lead and is solidly in first place.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg has vaulted past Biden and Warren into second place, with 17 percent, up five points since a week ago. Biden, who was just a point behind Sanders Feb. 3 with 22 percent, has dropped eight points into fourth place with 14 percent. Warren is in third place, but is down from 19 percent to 15 percent.

“We are now looking at a race with a leader. After the chaos surrounding the Iowa caucus, Bernie Sanders has emerged as the candidate to beat in a state he won by more than 20 points in 2016. But Mayor Pete Buttigieg is on the rise and received the biggest post-Iowa bump,” said Joshua Dyck, director of the Center for Public Opinion and an associate professor of political science. “With Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren trending downward, the question is, does Mayor Pete have enough time and can he woo enough of the soft support away from other candidates to catch Bernie?”

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who was tied last week with businessman Tom Steyer, has climbed two points to 8 percent to hold fifth place on her own. Steyer has dropped 1 point since last week to 5 percent. U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is down 1 point to 4 percent, businessman Andrew Yang is up 1 point to 3 percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick remains at 1 percent.

Among women polled, Sanders has the most support, with 29 percent, followed by Warren with 17 percent, Buttigieg with 14 percent and Biden with 9 percent. Sanders’ support among women likely primary voters is stronger than among men who are likely voters, 20 percent of whom said they support him, behind Biden and Buttigieg, both of whom garnered 21 percent, and Warren at 12 percent. More on how each candidate performed in the independent, nonpartisan poll – including by likely voters’ age, income level and their second choices for candidates – is available at www.uml.edu/polls.

Even with the shifts in support for candidates over the last week and Sanders solidifying his lead, four in 10 likely Democratic primary voters still say they could change their mind and vote for a different candidate, virtually no change since the Feb. 3 poll.

“Normally, electorates grow in certainty as the election nears, but both the percentage of those who said they could change their mind and that there is no change since a week ago suggests a high degree of instability for an election that will take place in one day. New Hampshire primary voters appear to be living up to their reputation of waiting until the very end to decide,” said Dyck.

Sanders’ base of likely voters who support him remains the most stable, with 87 percent (a one-point change from Feb. 3) saying they will definitely vote for him and only 13 percent saying that they could change their mind. Among Buttigieg voters, 53 percent (down from 71 percent a week ago) say they could still change their mind, while 42 percent of Biden voters (up 10 percent) and 41 percent of Warren voters (up 3 percent) say they could vote for another candidate. Nearly two-thirds, 65 percent (up from 58 percent a week ago), of Klobuchar voters also say that they could still change their mind.

Likely Democratic primary voters changed their minds over the last week about who they think will win the party’s presidential nomination. Sanders now leads with 30 percent, up six points over a week ago. The percentage of likely voters who think Biden will get the nomination has dropped 19 points since Feb. 3 from 42 percent to 23 percent. Buttigieg has gained nine points, going from 3 percent to 12 percent while Warren has dropped to 7 percent (down one point). No other candidate received higher than 2 percent.

The survey found that 41 percent of likely voters feel Biden would best continue the legacy of former President Barack Obama; Buttigieg is in a distant second at 13 percent. Forty-four percent said they think Obama – who has an 86 percent favorability rating among those polled – would support Biden in a primary, but 65 percent said they feel Obama should not endorse a presidential candidate.

“Joe Biden has been running from Day 1 as Barack Obama’s successor and someone who can beat Trump. While New Hampshire Democratic primary voters view Biden positively and associate him with Obama, Biden has lost their confidence that he can win the nomination and beat Trump in a general election. The fundamentals are still there for Joe Biden, but his campaign can’t, to borrow a Trumpism, seem to close the deal. To these voters, Biden just doesn't look like a winner,” said John Cluverius, associate director of the Center for Public Opinion and assistant professor of political science.

Given the high degree of polarization in the country and the competitiveness of elections, supporting political candidates can sometimes strain personal relationships. Thirty percent polled reported their attitudes about Trump had strained relationships, but only a small percentage said so about their support for a Democratic candidate.

“There are some potentially good signs in this poll for Democrats concerned about whether the party will be able to unify. Very few voters, only 3 percent, report that supporting a candidate in the Democratic nominating contests has caused strained relationships for them with friends or family. This is a good reminder that some of the intra-party fighting that plays out on social media platforms like Twitter is not real life,” said Dyck.

The nonpartisan poll of 440 likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters was independently funded by the University of Massachusetts Lowell, which has more than 13,000 students, alumni and employees from the Granite State. The Center for Public Opinion presents events and polling on political and social issues to provide opportunities for civic engagement, experiential learning and real-world research.

The survey was designed and analyzed by the Center for Public Opinion and fielded by YouGov from Feb. 4 through Feb. 7. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 6.5 percent. Detailed poll results – including topline and full methodology – are available at www.uml.edu/polls.

UMass Lowell is a national research university located on a high-energy campus in the heart of a global community. The university offers its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality educational programs, vigorous hands-on learning and personal attention from leading faculty and staff, all of which prepare graduates to be leaders in their communities and around the globe. www.uml.edu