The Budding Five-Way Race

By Jim Ellis

July 16, 2019 — We’ve seen an interesting trio of polls released over the past week that tested the New Hampshire Democratic electorate all within the same relative time span. The cumulative result produced three different leaders and found the top five candidates all within striking range of the top position.

As we reported last week, Change Research simultaneously conducted polls in three of the first four voting states, including New Hampshire, which, as we know, hosts the first primary election on Feb. 11. Though the state is small and has only 24 first ballot delegates to the Democratic National Convention, the primary is an important contest because front runners failing to meet early expectations often find themselves initiating a downward spiral.

Change reported that their June 29-July 4 New Hampshire survey results (420 likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters) projected Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to be ahead of the pack, but through a very slim margin. It’s not particularly surprising to see him leading here when we recall that he took 60 percent of the New Hampshire primary vote over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

The top candidates scored 26-24-14-13-13 percent in this first Change Research Granite State poll in the person of Sanders, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, ex-Vice President Joe Biden, and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), respectively.

This week, Change is back with an updated New Hampshire survey, and this time uses a much larger polling sample (July 6-9; 1,084 likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters). Now, the research organization projects Sen. Warren to be the leading candidate, with a commensurately small advantage, 22-20-19-15-13 percent over Sanders, Biden, Harris, and Buttigieg.

Since the margin between Sanders and Warren is equivalent when both are forecast as leaders, the order is largely irrelevant. Basically, the Change data is suggesting that the two are tied with the other three lurking closely behind.

But Change now finds itself with an unofficial polling partner that arrives at an entirely different standing. New Hampshire’s St. Anselm College went into the field (July 10-12; 351 likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters) and finds Biden atop the group, with 21 percent voter preference. Anselm then reports Sen. Harris, fourth in both of the Change Research surveys, to be capturing second place, as Sen. Warren closely follows while Mayor Buttigieg and Sen. Sanders fall back.

The numbers behind Biden’s 21 percent are 18-17-12-10 percent, meaning the top three are virtually tied. The surprise here is how poorly Sanders fares, which is inconsistent with other previously released New Hampshire data from multiple polling firms. Whether the St. Anselm’s survey is an outlier remains to be seen, but the possibility certainly exists.

Looking further at the St. Anselm’s result, we see that the polling sample of 351 likely Democratic primary voters is the smallest of the compared polls, which would yield the highest error factor. Therefore, the St. Anselm’s study may be the least reliable of the three.

What we are learning from these cumulative surveys is that New Hampshire, at least today, appears to be a wide-open primary for the five top Democratic candidates. Looking at the numbers and seeing the relatively even split, it is conceivable that four candidates could be in the delegate apportionment mix.

If so, then the leader, when using the Change survey with the largest sampling universe, would win only approximately seven delegate votes, with the others, however the order might finish, to be awarded six, six, and five convention tallies.

If these numbers were to hold through the mid-February primary, the New Hampshire vote would become relatively insignificant from a delegate acquisition perspective, but could set the tone for what might become a serious multi-candidate race potentially leading to an open contested national convention a year from now in Milwaukee.

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