The decision by Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategists to begin airing $2 million worth of TV ads this week assumed added importance in the wake of a new poll showing that the former secretary of state leads Sen. Bernie Sanders by only six percentage points in New Hampshire.
The WMUR Granite State Poll, conducted July 22 to 30, shows Clinton leading Sanders, the Vermont socialist Democrat, by a margin of 42 percent to 36 percent among self-described Democrats and independents, while Vice President Joe Biden drew five percent. Former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb brought up the rear with one percent each.
Clinton has been losing ground in New Hampshire since May when a previous WMUR poll showed her leading Sen Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), 51 percent to 20 percent, and Sanders snagged only 13 percent. Sanders appears to have picked up much of Warren’s support after the liberal democrat decided not to run.
But with a margin of error in the poll of plus or minus six percentage points, it’s possible that at this point Clinton and Sanders are locked in a statistical dead heat – or that Clinton could be doing a lot better than the poll results suggest.
Clinton continues to lead in the national polls despite a series of controversies surrounding her family’s personal finances and her use of a private email server while she was secretary of state. However, her negatives are high and many Democrats and independents say they question her honesty and integrity as a leader. The Washington Post reported yesterday that the FBI has begun investigating the security of Clinton’s private email server after intelligence community officials expressed concern about whether some sensitive material might have been compromised through this setup.
Clinton scored a critical victory against Barack Obama in the 2008 New Hampshire Democratic primary that kept a faltering campaign alive and she is counting on early victories next year in Iowa and New Hampshire to solidify her position as the unquestionable Democratic frontrunner. However, Clinton has been hurt by a steady drumbeat of negative media reports, while Sanders – from neighboring Vermont -- has steadily chipped away at her lead in the Granite State with his attacks on Wall Street billionaires and calls for economic equity for the middle class.
When asked in the latest New Hampshire poll who they considered the least honest candidate, 31 percent named Clinton while only three percent chose Sanders. The new poll shows that Sanders tops Clinton in terms of favorability among New Hampshire voters, 59 percent to 54 percent.
Yet voters appear to be pragmatic in trying to sort out the race. Sixty-nine percent of those surveyed picked Clinton as the candidate most likely to win the 2016 Democratic primary. Only 17 percent thought Sanders would go on to win the nomination.
A potential wild card in all of this, of course, is Biden, who reportedly is pondering a late entry into the Democratic primary contest. While his showing in the latest poll is modest, that could change if he decides to jump into the Democratic race. For now, at least, his approval rating in New Hampshire is quite strong, with 63 percent of Democratic voters approving of him and 25 percent disapproving.
The University of New Hampshire Survey Center polled 276 likely 2016 Democratic primary voters for the WMUR survey—including 156 self-described registered Democrats and 96 self-described registered independents.