Hillary Clinton’s advantage over Bernie Sanders has shrunk to its smallest of the 2016 campaign, with Sanders building a double-digit lead on honesty and trustworthiness and negating Clinton’s onetime strength in connecting with voters’ priorities.
Clinton still leads in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll in trust to handle individual issues – with the exception of regulating banks and other financial institutions – as well as on electability. She’s also aided by broad support from non-whites and by her association with the Obama administration, given the president’s vast popularity within the party.
Overall, Clinton leads Sanders nationally by 55-36 percent among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents who are registered to vote. Her support is at a new low (albeit by a single point); Sanders’ is at a new high, up 8 percentage points from last month, led by a 17-point gain among independents. Clinton’s 19-point lead is down from 31 points last month, a previous low of 26 points in November and a vast 52-point advantage in July.
Clinton’s single greatest vulnerability has worsened in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates: Sanders now leads by 12 points, 48-36 percent, in being seen as more honest and trustworthy, vs. 6 points last month and an even split in October. Should Clinton emerge as the nominee, it’s an issue the Republican candidate likely will repeat at every chance.
Further, the candidates are virtually even, 47-43 percent, Clinton-Sanders, on who “is closer to you on the issues,” down from a 17-point Clinton lead just last month. And it’s close (Clinton +7) on who’d do a better job “bringing needed change to Washington.”
Fortunately for Clinton, “change” is less a Democratic than a Republican mantra this year. She prevails on other attributes and, especially, trust to handle key issues – often by very wide margins. Consider:
• Clinton leads Sanders by 18 points in trust to handle the economy, 21 points on handling health care, 29 points on immigration issues, 37 points in trust to handle terrorism and 41 points in trust to handle a major international crisis.
• She holds a 28-point advantage, 58-30 percent, in being seen as having the better personality and temperament to serve effectively as president. And her lead widens to 39 points – 65-26 percent – in having the better chance to win in November.
The changes in honesty and trustworthiness, and in being close to voters on the issues, are broadly based. Also, notably, there’s not much of gender gap in the current race – Clinton leads Sanders by 22 points among women and by 16 points among men. A bigger gender gap has been apparent in the past, but inconsistently.
Regardless, the candidates’ support profiles indicate why Iowa and New Hampshire might not be the best places to gauge their strength nationally. Clinton leads Sanders by a broad 67-28 percent nationally among non-whites vs. a virtual dead heat among whites, 45-43 percent. Whites accounted for 93 percent of Democratic caucus participants in Iowa and 95 percent in the party’s New Hampshire primary in 2008 vs. 65 percent across all primaries in which exit polls were conducted that year.
Furthermore, Clinton leads Sanders by 59-33 percent among Democrats, while it’s 49-43 percent, Sanders-Clinton, among independents who lean toward the Democratic Party. Independents accounted for 44 percent of Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire in 2008 vs. just 19 percent across all primaries that year.
Sanders also does better with liberals – 53-43 percent, Sanders-Clinton – compared with moderates, among whom Clinton has a 21-point advantage. Liberals accounted for more voters in Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008 – 54 and 56 percent, respectively – than their share across all Democratic primaries, 47 percent.
Sanders, further, does best with young adults – 54-40 percent, Sanders-Clinton, combining the last two ABC/Post polls for an adequate sample size. That moves to an even split among registered voters in their 30s, but then opens up to a wide Clinton lead – 65-23 percent – among those age 40 and older. Under 30s had higher turnout in Iowa in 2008 than anywhere else. And voters age 40+ accounted for 71 percent of the Democratic primary turnout overall.
Additionally, 57 percent of Clinton supporters say they’ll definitely stick with her; this slips to 46 percent among Sanders supporters.
As noted in our analysis of the GOP contest, Donald Trump is boosted in his party by his outsider status; 54 percent of leaned Republicans are looking for a candidate from outside the political establishment, and they’re a hugely pro-Trump group. The opposite holds true for Clinton: 80 percent of leaned Democrats, instead, are more interested in a candidate with experience in how the political system works – and Clinton leads Sanders by 2-1 among registered voters in this group, 64-31 percent. Sanders leads, 56-19 percent, among those looking for an outsider (again combining the last two ABC/Post polls), but there are far fewer of them.
Clinton also is helped by her association with Obama, who’s back to a 50 percent job approval rating overall, aided by his best rating in three years on handling the economy. Obama’s overall job rating soars to 83 percent among leaned Democrats, and among strong Obama approvers in the party who are registered to vote, Clinton leads Sanders by 62-33 percent. That compares with 45-48 percent contest among “somewhat” approvers of Obama, clear evidence why Clinton has been wrapping herself in the president’s cloak.
In a similar result, Clinton does best – 67 percent support, to Sanders’ 29 percent – among registered leaned Democrats who are satisfied with the way the government is working. But they account for just 36 percent of this population; her support drops to 49 percent, and Sanders’ rises to 40 percent, among those who are either dissatisfied or angry about the government.
A statistical analysis identifying the strongest independent factors in Clinton’s support cements these points. It finds that desiring a candidate with political experience is the single strongest factor, followed by being older, being non-white and being moderate (or conservative) as opposed to liberal. Strongly supporting Obama is another independent factor in backing Clinton.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Jan. 21-24, 2016, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 1,001 adults. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the design effect, for the full sample; 4 points for all registered voters; and 5.5 points for registered leaned Democrats. Partisan divisions are 34-23-34 percent, Democrats-Republicans-independents.
The survey was produced for ABC News by Langer Research Associates of New York, N.Y., with sampling, data collection and tabulation by Abt-SRBI of New York, N.Y. See details on the survey’s methodology here.