WBUR Poll: N.H. Voters Think Clinton Won Debate

Sep 30, 2016

The first presidential debate on Monday and since then, we’ve been waiting for polls to tell us what a broad, random sample of likely voters thought about how the two major party candidates for President did. One poll is now out from WBUR that found in New Hampshire the debate was a net positive for Democrat Hillary Clinton. The poll also looked at the race for US Senate and Governor. Steve Koczela, president of MassINC Polling Group, spoke with NHPR's Peter Biello.

We’ve been hungry for some insight into who did better in Monday night’s presidential debate: Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. What did the WBUR poll find?

Yes, a few polls at the state level came out today. This one in New Hampshire found Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by seven points. That’s in keeping with a couple of other state-level polls, which have shown her with a small but bit better lead than she had going into the debates, where it looked like she was sliding downward and on an almost irreversible decline. That decline seems to have stopped and perhaps even come back up a couple points since the debate.

The poll also asked about voters’ feelings on each candidate’s fitness to be president. What did it find?

I think that’s one of the things that explains why Clinton’s continued to lead in New Hampshire in our polling. It really hasn’t changed that much since August, in terms of that particular rating. Hillary Clinton is seen as fit by about half of voters, Donald Trump by about a third. So Clinton’s got a margin there.

The real problem for Trump is, while a third see him as fit to be president, 62 percent say he’s not fit to be president. That’s not a good number, and that’s one of the things that’s really holding him back.

Overall, Steve, if likely New Hampshire voters had to choose now, who would they choose now, according to the poll?

Right now, it’s Clinton. There’s still time to go, and I think the slices of the electorate that analysts will be looking at in the next month or so will be both the few undecideds that are left. You know, we’ve got between four and eight percent, depending on how you ask the question.

Then there are other groups that say they’re voting for [Libertarian Party Presidential Candidate Gary] Johnson and [Green Party Presidential Candidate Jill] Stein right now. As Election Day approaches, voters who say they were planning to support a third-party candidate will gravitate back toward the two major-party candidates. So if that happens, then that could also produce some movement.

Let’s move onto the race for Senate, which is between incumbent Republican Kelly Ayotte and Democrat Maggie Hassan. How are they doing?

This is the latest in a series of polls that have showed it very close. Some have Ayotte up a couple points, some have Hassan, and this is another one of those. We have Hassan with 48 percent, Ayotte with 46 percent. Just about as close as it could possibly be.

And in the race for Governor between Democrat Colin Van Ostern and Republican Chris Sununu, who has the edge?

Yes, we found Chris Sununu with the edge, which is interesting, because what it shows is that a lot of people are going to split their ballots or at least they’re planning on it right now. Both Sununu and Ayotte are counting on it—the idea of splitting where you vote for the Democrat for the top of the ticket but perhaps a Republican for senate or for governor. There’s potentially a fair amount of that going on in the down-ballot races.

But as we spoke about in our last conversation, Van Ostern has much, much less name recognition than Chris Sununu, who comes from a New Hampshire political dynasty, I guess you could say.

And that’s certainly where the risk would be. It’s the thing to keep your eye on as the next five or six weeks go by. Both of these candidates will become much better known and the question is: Will Colin Van Ostern’s numbers go up or go down as voters get to know him better.

He’s got pretty good numbers when it comes to voters who do know about him or do have an opinion of him. The ratio of favorable to unfavorable views is pretty good. But there are still just a lot of people in the categories of people who have never heard of him at all. So as those numbers come down, whether those people grow to like him or dislike him will tell you a lot about where this race may end up.

A little more than a month to go before the election. How much stake should people put in any one poll?

The best thing to do is see how a specific poll relates to other polls done at the same time. I don’t mean you need 15 New Hampshire polls to tell if any of them are accurate, but the body of polls that have come out over the last few days all tend to point in the same direction.

That being that Hillary Clinton is the clear favorite in the debate. Lots of national polls, a couple state polls all showed the same thing as far as that goes.

They all show Hillary Clinton stopping the decline that she’d been experiencing. So I think when you have a consistent story like that, you can give the poll you’re looking at a lot of weight. If it seems like it’s way outside what anyone was expecting and shows a much different story than anybody else, then I think you probably want to wait and see if something else comes out that shows the same kind of result.