Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have much bigger problems ahead than her expected loss to Sen. Bernie Sanders in Tuesday’s New Hampshire Democratic primary.
After leading Sanders nationally for more than a year by whopping double digit margins, a new Quinnipiac University nationwide survey released on Friday shows the two rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination in a virtual dead heat among Democratic voters – 44 percent for Clinton to 42 percent for Sanders, with 11 percent undecided.
The startling findings suggest that Sanders -- the self-described democratic socialist from Vermont who is calling for a revolution in spending on health care, education and other programs for the middle class -- has overcome a 30-point Clinton advantage since late December.
Other polls suggest that Clinton continues to perform better than Sanders nationally, although she has clearly slipped in recent months. According to the Real Clear Politics cumulative polling averages, Clinton still leads Sanders by 13 points, 50 percent to 37 percent
The poll also further undercuts the Clinton camp’s assertion that Clinton would be far more electable than Sanders in the general election, and that a Sanders’ candidacy would jeopardize the Democrats’ hold on the White House and preservation of much of the Obama administration legacy.
Sanders does better than Clinton in hypothetical matchups with the three leading Republican candidates -- Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida -- according to the Quinnipiac University survey of 1,125 registered Democratic and Republican voters conducted Feb. 2 to 4.
For instance, while Clinton would top Trump in a head-to-head race, 46 percent to 41 percent, Sanders would beat Trump, 49 percent to 39 percent. Clinton would tie Cruz, 45 percent to 45 percent, in a matchup, while Sanders would edge him, 46 percent to 42 percent.
And in a race against Rubio, who scored a surprisingly strong third place finish in Monday night’s Iowa GOP caucuses, Clinton trails, 48 percent to 41 percent, while Sanders would tie the Florida senator, 43 percent to 43 percent, according to the poll.
What’s more, with a huge following among younger voters and progressives, the 74-year-old Sanders enjoys the highest favorability rating among the top tier candidates in either party, 44 percent to 35 percent, while Clinton and Trump are saddled with the highest negative ratings.
Clinton, the former first lady and New York senator, continues to command widespread voter respect for her experience and readiness to serve as commander-in-chief. But she continues to be dogged by controversy over her handling of sensitive emails during her four years as secretary of state, and Sanders has aggressively criticized her for accepting $675,000 in speaking fees from Goldman Sachs.
Sanders and Clinton sparred over the electability question Thursday night during their first one-on-one Democratic presidential debate since former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley dropped out of the race this week.
Sanders cited previous polling showing that he would do better than Clinton against the Republican nominee. He also argued that he would be better than Clinton in exciting the Democratic base and assuring a big turnout in November.
"Democrats win when there is a large voter turnout, when people are excited," he said during the 90 minute debate in New Hampshire sponsored by MSNBC. "Our campaign, up to now, has shown that we can create an enormous amount of enthusiasm from working people, from young people, who will get involved in the political process."
Clinton, by contrast, argued that voter enthusiasm during the early primary contests will mean far less in the fall than a candidates’ experience and ability to withstand harsh Republican attacks and “the spotlight.” Until recently, Sanders’ proposals for major tax increases, a “Medicare for all” national health care program, free college tuition and expanded Social Security benefits have received relatively little scrutiny by the media or his political rivals.
"I've been vetted -- there's hardly anything you don't know about me," Clinton said, adding that the Democratic nominee will face “the most withering onslaught.” She went on to say that: "It's not so much electability. It is who the American people believe can keep them safe, can get the economy moving again."