WBUR Poll Shows Clinton, Hassan With Slight Leads Over Republican Opponents

May 18, 2016

A new WBUR poll of likely New Hampshire voters shows Democrat Hillary Clinton with a slight edge over Republican Donald Trump. In the state's U.S. Senate race, the poll also found Democrat Maggie Hassan with a small lead over incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte. For more on this poll, we turn to Steve Koszela, president of the MassINC polling group, which conducted the survey. He spoke with NHPR's All Things Considered host Peter Biello.

Steve, your poll shows Clinton with 44 percent of  likely voter support in New Hampshire. Trump has 42 percent. Why is this race so close?

It is very close, and I think one of the things that’s driving it is that neither of the candidates is very popular. So when you look at support and who voters like, who they have a favorable opinion of, only about a third have a favorable opinion of Trump, and only a third have a favorable opinion of Clinton. So neither one is a wildly popular candidate.

Your poll looked specifically at favorability, and you found that Sen. Bernie Sanders has a much greater favorability rating than either of those two candidates.

Yes, that’s right. While Clinton and Trump are so to speak underwater—in other words, many more view them unfavorably than favorably—Bernie Sanders is the opposite. He is still very well-liked. He’s got 55 percent of voters we talked to viewing him favorably. Thirty-four percent give him an unfavorable rating. So he actually is quite popular and as a result if he were the nominee—if you match him up against Donald Trump—he has a comfortable lead.

The poll also took a look at whether Mitt Romney would stand a chance as a third-party candidate. Mitt Romney ran against President Obama in the 2012 election. What did the poll find?

This comes from the idea that some Republicans have been exploring—whether or not putting another Republican candidate in there is viable. To their way of thinking, Donald Trump doesn’t represent how they see the Republican Party or what it stands for. And Mitt Romney is one of the ones that’s been talked about. So we put him in the poll against Trump and Clinton to see how that race would shake up.

What we found is that Mitt Romney is not the same as your random fringe/spoiler candidate. He polls 21 percent when matched up against Trump and Clinton, whereas Trump polls 33 and Clinton 37. So yes, he’s behind, but it’s not, you know, two or three or four percent. He does have a pretty high level of support.

The other interesting thing about his support is that it comes a bit more from Trump. He does hurt Donald Trump a little bit more, but he also hurts Hillary Clinton. And that’s one thing I think, you know, when these Republican groups are looking at a third-party candidate they should consider. It may not be just Donald Trump that another Republican or right-leaning candidate could potentially take votes from.

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan is challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte. Hassan has a two point lead. What accounts for that narrow margin?

This one is also very close. And it’s a similar set of dynamics in some ways. In the presidential and at the Senate race, we have a large gender gap. Women tend to go to the Democrat, for Hillary Clinton, and Maggie Hassan. And for the Republican, Ayotte and Trump, you see a margin among men that’s favorable toward the Republican. So it’s a similar set of demographics driving both.

The other thing we looked at is whether Donald Trump is going to be a drag on Kelly Ayotte. This is another idea that’s been under discussion is that down-ballot races on the Republican side would be hurt by Donald Trump. What we see is that Kelly Ayotte’s not disproportionately hurt by the presence of Donald Trump on the ticket. That’s not to say that she won’t eventually be, but at the moment, she really doesn’t lose a whole lot of votes due to her saying that she’ll vote for Donald Trump.

We also asked a similar question about Hassan and Clinton and found a slightly smaller impact even there. So Kelly Ayotte may lose a few more votes, but given how close it is, there’s really not enough evidence to say that Ayotte is being hurt by Donald Trump.

We’re six months away from the general election. How much stock should people put in surveys like this one?

What these surveys show is where people are right now, not necessarily where they will be, even though there is some relationship between what the polls show and where they’ll end up. The reason surveys now are interesting is because it shows how the race begins. So there was an idea, for instance, that once Donald Trump was out of the primary and matched up against a Democrat that suddenly you’d see the Democrat winning by a landslide margin nationwide and cleaning up the swing states and so forth. But what we’re seeing now is a very conventional party map. New Hampshire is in play. Florida, Pennsylvania—lots of places that were close over the last few elections are close again. I think that’s what polls at this point do. They set the stage and show people what the shape of the race is to come.