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Clinton, Sanders Ahead of Trump, Cruz in Bay State

TUESDAY, APRIL 12, 2016 - 12:00 AM Polling Institute

Clinton’s favorability is down while Sanders’ favorability is up in latest survey

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders hold healthy leads in Massachusetts general election match-ups against businessman Donald Trump and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, according to the latest telephone survey from the Western New England University Polling Institute.

The statewide survey of 497 registered voters, conducted April 1-10, found Clinton leading Trump by 36 percentage points – 62 percent to 26 percent – and Cruz by 33 percentage points at 63 percent to 30 percent. Sanders led Trump and Cruz by 47 points each, 70 percent to 23 percent against Trump and 71 percent to 24 percent for Cruz in the latest survey.

Clinton’s advantage over Trump has not changed significantly since the Polling Institute’s last measure of the race in a survey conducted Oct. 1-8, 2015, when Clinton led Trump 64 percent to 27 percent among registered voters. Sanders’ margin over Trump, however, has grown by 12 points since the October survey, when Sanders led Trump by 35 points, 63 percent to 28 percent. The Polling Institute included Cruz in its general election matchups for the first time in the April 2016 survey.

Tim Vercellotti, director of the Polling Institute and a professor of political science at Western New England University, noted that there has been little suspense surrounding general election results for the presidency in Massachusetts in recent years. But the magnitude of the leads for Clinton and Sanders are somewhat larger than what voters have been accustomed to for Democratic candidates in recent election cycles.

Democratic presidential nominees have carried Massachusetts by margins of 23 to 27 percentage points in each cycle since 2000. Vercellotti noted that one would have to go back to 1996, when Democrat Bill Clinton won the state by 33 points, to find a lead similar to that which Hillary Clinton currently holds in the latest survey. One would have to go even further back to 1964, when Democrat Lyndon Johnson carried Massachusetts by 53 points, to find an advantage larger than that currently held by Sanders over Trump and Cruz.

Vercellotti pointed out that the survey results are not necessarily a prediction of what will happen in the November election. “Rather, these findings are simply a reflection of the current state of the race,” he said. “The data show deep discontent among Massachusetts voters when it comes to the leading candidates for the Republican nomination.”

Only 18 percent of voters hold a favorable view of Trump, down four points from the October 2015 survey, while 75 percent view him unfavorably, up seven points from October. The latest survey’s margin of error is plus or minus four percentage points.

Breaking down the results by party registration, only six percent of Democrats hold a favorable view of Trump, while 92 percent hold an unfavorable view. Even among Republicans, 51 percent hold an unfavorable view, and 43 percent hold a favorable view. Only 12 percent of women view Trump favorably, while the same is true of 25 percent of men.

Cruz fared only slightly better in the survey, with 18 percent of voters viewing him favorably, and 66 percent unfavorably. Only 10 percent of Democratic voters hold a favorable view, and 79 percent an unfavorable view. Among Republicans, Cruz is viewed favorably by 34 percent and unfavorably by 40 percent. Sixteen percent of women view Cruz favorably, while the same is true for 21 percent of men.

Further evidence of the Republican candidates’ difficulties in Massachusetts surfaces in the matchups against Clinton and Sanders. In each matchup about one-fifth of Republican voters said they would support the Democrat – either Clinton or Sanders – over the Republican – either Trump or Cruz – if the election were held now.

Vercellotti said this amount of cross-party support by Republican voters for Democratic presidential candidates provides an interesting comparison to voter preferences in 2012. In a Polling Institute survey in late February and early March 2012, eight percent of Republican voters said they would cross party lines to support President Barack Obama over former Governor Mitt Romney. However, in the same survey, 23 percent of Republicans said they would back Obama in a hypothetical matchup against conservative former Senator Rick Santorum.

“A certain amount of cross-party voting can be expected, but Republicans in Massachusetts seem more inclined to move away from their party if the nominee appears to be out of the party’s mainstream,” Vercellotti said.

While voters in general expressed unfavorable views of the Republican candidates, opinions about the Democratic candidates moved in opposite directions in the latest survey compared to the October 2015 poll. Clinton’s standing declined, while Sanders’ ratings improved considerably.

Clinton’s favorability rating dropped by six points, to 46 percent, and her unfavorability rose five points to 46 percent. The biggest shift by party occurred among Democratic voters, with Clinton’s favorability dropping 12 points, from 76 percent in October to 64 percent in the April survey. Her rating among women dropped slightly, by four points, to 57 percent, while 33 percent of men held a favorable view, down eight points from 41 percent in October.

“Although Clinton narrowly won the Massachusetts Democratic primary on March 1, her standing among voters here has declined in recent months,” Vercellotti said. “The race for the Democratic nomination may be taking a toll on voters’ views of her.”

Sanders’ favorability rose significantly in the latest survey compared to the October results. Sixty-three percent of voters view him favorably, up 15 points from October, while 27 percent view him unfavorably, up four points. Sanders saw his standing jump 12 points among Democrats, to 76 percent favorability, and 15 points among unenrolled voters to 62 percent. Among Republican voters, 27 percent view Sanders favorably, up 14 points from October, while 67 percent view him unfavorably, a 13-point increase from October.

Men and women had different assessments of Sanders in the latest survey. Sixty-eight percent of men viewed Sanders favorably, a 27-point-increase from October, while 59 percent of women viewed him favorably, up by only four points in the latest survey. Sanders’ unfavorability among women rose 16 points, to 28 percent, from October to April, while his unfavorability among men dropped 11 points to 26 percent.

Vercellotti pointed out that while Sanders’ standing has improved, he started out as less well known in Massachusetts compared to Clinton going into the primary and caucus season. In the Polling Institute’s October 2015 survey, 20 percent of voters said they did not have an opinion of Sanders and another eight percent said they had not heard of him. In the latest survey, eight percent said they had no opinion of Sanders and the percentage that had not heard of him dropped to zero. Only six percent of voters said they had no opinion of Clinton in the October survey, and that number was unchanged in April. The percentage indicating they had not heard of Clinton was zero in both surveys.

Even with Clinton’s drop in favorability, her steady lead over Trump indicates that a portion of voters who view her unfavorably are still willing to vote for her. Polling results showed that among voters who expressed an unfavorable view of Clinton, 30 percent still would vote for her in a race against Trump, while 52 percent of those voters would back Trump. Among that same group of voters, 32 percent would vote for Clinton in a matchup against Cruz, while 58 percent would support the Texas lawmaker. Thirty percent of voters who hold an unfavorable view of Sanders also said they would back him in races against Trump or Cruz.

“Favorability can be relative when it comes to voting,” Vercellotti said. “Sometimes choices come down to which candidate you dislike the least, as opposed to which candidate you like the most.”

When asked who they thought would win the presidency in November, 53 percent of voters said Clinton, while 14 percent said Trump and seven percent said Sanders. Twenty-two percent responded “don’t know.”

Voters’ levels of enthusiasm about the 2016 presidential election diminished slightly in the latest survey. There were small fluctuations in the percentage of voters who said they were extremely or very enthusiastic about the general election. The largest shift occurred among those who said they are “not at all enthusiastic,” at 15 percent, up eight points from the October survey.