Feeling the Bern: New Hampshire narrowly goes for Sanders

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders won the New Hampshire Democratic Primary, holding off a strong challenge from former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. The two were also atop the leaderboard in last week’s Iowa caucuses.

Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar capitalized on a strong debate performance to place third in New Hampshire, ahead of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Klobuchar’s strong debate performance appeared to move the needle, as she led among late-deciding voters. Buttigieg also got a significant boost from his Iowa performance, getting better than a quarter of late deciders.

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Much like in Iowa, more New Hampshire voters preferred a candidate promising fundamental change than one who would restore the political system to its pre-Trump state. That spelled trouble for Biden in particular, whose core pitch to voters centered on a return to the politics of the Obama era.

Voters who wanted fundamental change broke heavily for Sanders (34 percent), while “restore” voters primarily split between Buttigieg (28 percent) and Klobuchar (28 percent) rather than the former vice president (16 percent).

Some of the push for fundamental change may be economic. Less than two-in-ten primary voters (17 percent) said they are getting ahead financially, and an overwhelming majority think the country’s economic system is unfair to most people.

Voters who think the economy is unfair preferred Sanders (30 percent) – including 41 percent of those who think the economy is very unfair.

Those who think things are generally fair opted for Buttigieg (28 percent) and Klobuchar (24 percent).

When asked which Democrat would do the best job handling the economy, voters gave Sanders a narrow edge over Warren, followed by billionaires Mike Bloomberg (who was not on the ballot in New Hampshire) and Tom Steyer. Buttigieg rounded out the top five.

In a sign of how difficult a night it was for Biden, only 7 percent thought he was best suited to handle the economy, and only half of New Hampshire voters would be satisfied if he were the eventual nominee.

More voters would be satisfied with Warren, Klobuchar, Sanders, or Buttigieg as the nominee. However, dissatisfaction lurks under the surface: more than four-in-ten Sanders voters would be dissatisfied with Buttigieg and five-in-ten would be dissatisfied with Klobuchar. Roughly half of Buttigieg and Klobuchar’s supporters would be dissatisfied with Sanders. 

In addition to being dissatisfied with one of the more moderate candidates as the nominee, Sanders supporters also showed signs of frustration with the primary process in general – an indication that the scars of 2016 have not faded. Six-in-ten Sanders supporters lacked confidence in the Democratic Party’s process for selecting a nominee.

The reverse was true among primary voters overall: six-in-ten were confident that the process would be fair. Nearly seven-in-ten of each other candidate’s supporters were confident.

Concerns about electability may well have shaped the contours of the New Hampshire vote. Nearly half felt nominating a woman or someone over age 75 would make it harder to win against Trump in November, and six-in-ten felt similarly about nominating a very liberal or gay candidate.

While six-in-ten think nominating a gay candidate could prove challenging in November, voters were less concerned about Buttigieg’s relative lack of experience. Half of voters say having the right experience is very important in their nominee – but far more cite other candidate qualities. The ability to defeat Donald Trump in November tops the list, followed by strong leadership skills.

Candidate Strengths

Sanders rode to victory by winning an outright majority of the primary’s most liberal participants, and nearly as many voters under age 30. Voters without a college degree were a major source of strength, and he benefitted from his unsuccessful 2016 run and subsequent campaign organization: more than half of those who knew who they would support all along went for the senator from Vermont.

Voters seeking fundamental change, those who favor a single-payer health care system and the cancellation of student debt, and those who feel the economy is very unfair to most Americans were core groups for Sanders as well.

While Sanders was buoyed by high support among select groups of voters, Buttigieg’s second-place finish was driven more by the breadth of his appeal than by its depth. He performed similarly among men and women, young and old voters, those with and without a college degree, and those living in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

The former mayor of South Bend was stronger among moderate and conservative New Hampshire voters than among liberals and got more than a quarter of the vote among those who decided in the past few days. Indicative of his strength in the more moderate lane, Buttigieg’s support tended to come from those seeking a restoration of the political system and voters who oppose Medicare for All, the cancellation of student loan debt, and marijuana legalization.

Klobuchar’s rise from fifth in Iowa to third in New Hampshire was fueled by older, college-educated, and more moderate voters. There was significant overlap between Klobuchar and Buttigieg among late deciders and on policy issues as well – Klobuchar supporters tended to oppose single-payer healthcare, student loan forgiveness, and legalizing marijuana use.

Warren failed to break the 20 percent mark with any demographic group, and Biden was under 15 percent with all except for men over age 65 (15 percent) and “restore” voters (16 percent). National polling indicates Biden’s strongest support comes from African American voters, but the vast majority of New Hampshire primary voters are white.

Issues and Policies

Health care and climate change were – by far – the top issues as voters headed to the polls, with the economy a distant third. 

Nearly seven-in-ten voters backed the single-payer or Medicare for All approach to health care advocated by Sanders and Warren. Almost nine-in-ten favored changing the system to include a public option (the Buttigieg / Klobuchar approach).

Primary voters were also largely aligned in their support for taxing the use of carbon-based fuels (80 percent) and legalizing marijuana (78 percent), and a solid majority (62 percent) supported eliminating student loan debt for most Americans.

New Hampshire voters who thought the recently-completed impeachment process would hurt Democrats in 2020 outweighed those who thought it would help by seven points. Warren and Biden voters were more likely to think impeachment would help the party than hurt it, while Buttigieg and Klobuchar supporters felt the opposite – and Sanders voters were evenly split.

Methodology

The Fox News Voter Analysis, conducted in partnership with the Associated Press, provides a comprehensive look at voting behavior, opinions and preferences as America votes. The New Hampshire survey is based on surveys of the New Hampshire electorate conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago the week before the primary, concluding as polls closed. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The survey is based on interviews with a random sample of registered voters drawn from the state voter file. The margin of sampling error for the 3,111 voters is estimated to be plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. Full methodology statement here.