CNN Poll: New Hampshire Democrats see Biden as party’s best shot to hold White House

New Hampshire’s likely Democratic primary voters still mostly plan to vote for President Joe Biden, even though his name won’t appear on their primary ballots in January, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire. And most of those likely Democratic primary voters say Biden represents the party’s best shot at winning next year’s presidential election.

While perceptions of Biden’s performance remain broadly negative in New Hampshire, Granite Staters’ views of the front-running Republican challenger, former President Donald Trump, are generally worse.

Among adults in New Hampshire, Biden’s job approval rating (44% approve to 55% disapprove) and favorability (34% favorable, 53% unfavorable) remain in negative territory, and about two-thirds see the country as heading off on the wrong track. Just 42% approve of his handling of the economy, and 40% approve of his handling of the Israel-Hamas war. Majorities offer a poor assessment of Biden’s physical and mental fitness (58%) and ability to understand the problems of people like them (53%).

But Trump fares worse on every personal attribute tested in the poll except for physical and mental fitness. New Hampshire residents are 37 points more likely to call Trump’s temperament poor than they are Biden’s, 21 points more likely to rate the former president’s honesty and integrity negatively, and 10 points more likely to say Trump’s policy positions on major issues and decision-making abilities are poor. Nearly two-thirds (63%) say they have an unfavorable view of Trump overall, 10 points higher than Biden’s unfavorable number.

New Hampshire residents largely see decisions to prosecute Trump as legitimate and mostly believe that he has likely committed a crime in one or more of the dozens of charges he’s facing as part of four different cases. While few Republicans in the state believe Trump has committed criminal wrongdoing, 62% of all adults in New Hampshire say that Trump has probably committed at least one crime across the indictments he faces, and 68% say it’s at least somewhat likely that he will be convicted in at least one case. A 58% majority say the decisions to prosecute Trump were mostly or fully legitimate. And should the former president both be convicted of a crime and win another term in office, 61% think the conviction would have at least a somewhat negative effect on his ability to serve.

The write-in primary

All told, 65% of likely Democratic primary voters in New Hampshire say they will write in Biden’s name, 10% say that they will vote for Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips and 9% say they will vote for author Marianne Williamson. And 86% of Biden’s supporters say they have definitely decided to vote for him, suggesting little room for any primary challenger to top the sitting president. By contrast, just 17% of those not planning to back Biden say they’re similarly set in their decision.

New Hampshire’s presidential primary will take place on January 23, Secretary of State David Scanlan announced Wednesday, ahead of any other Democratic nominating event and in violation of the Democratic National Committee’s rules for scheduling primaries. Under state law, New Hampshire must hold its primary before any other state’s primary.

Anticipating that violation, Biden did not file to be a candidate on the ballot, and voters in New Hampshire’s Democratic primary will only be able to vote for the incumbent president by writing his name in. Most likely Democratic primary voters (77%) say they knew before taking the survey that Biden’s name would not appear on the ballot, and 87% say they feel voting in the Democratic primary is at least somewhat important regardless of Biden’s status in the race. Likely voters age 50 and older are about 30 percentage points likelier than younger voters to rate their vote as “very” important, with female voters 21 points likelier than men to say their ballot will be of top importance.

While most New Hampshirites overall say they support the law requiring that the state’s primary being held before other primaries (66%), there are some signs in the poll that Democrats in the state are less committed to the first-in-the-nation primary than others. While 78% of Republicans and 81% of independents say they support New Hampshire’s law requiring the primary to be held ahead of other, similar contests, just 52% of Democrats express that sentiment.

Phillips, who joined the presidential race last month, has yet to attract a substantial following in New Hampshire, or even to generate widespread awareness of his candidacy. Just 5% of likely Democratic primary voters say it’s probable that he will emerge as a serious challenger to Biden, and 41% report that they had not even heard that Phillips was running until they took the survey. Only 10% would be satisfied should he become the nominee, and almost three-quarters (74%) say they don’t know enough about him to have an opinion or are neutral about him.

How Democrats see Biden

Likely Democratic primary voters broadly say they would be satisfied should Biden lead the Democratic ticket in 2024 (72% either enthusiastic or satisfied), and 54% say the Democratic Party has a better chance to win with Biden as their nominee than with someone else.

But the degree of positive sentiment toward Biden varies within the likely Democratic electorate. Just 10% of likely primary voters younger than 50 say they’d be enthusiastic about Biden being nominated, compared with 41% of those age 50 and older. Enthusiasm for Biden is lower among men (19%) than among women (30%), and lower among self-described progressives (20%) and moderates (28%) than among self-described liberals (41%).

The results of the survey also highlight some of Biden’s other strengths and weaknesses among his party’s base. An 84% majority of likely Democratic primary voters approve of his overall job performance, and 80% approve of his handling of the economy, while a notably smaller 59% majority approves of his handling of the war between Israel and Hamas.

Asked to name their biggest concern about Biden as a candidate, most likely Democratic primary voters (56%) mention his age, far outpacing the share who express concerns about his electability (7%), his performance governing (5%) or his ability to unite the party (5%). Only about half, 49%, rate Biden’s level of physical and mental fitness as “good” or “very good,” with a similar 52% giving him positive marks for his communication skills. By contrast, more than 7 in 10 give him positive ratings for his policy positions, decision-making, honesty and temperament.

Alternatives to the front-runners

Even with both major party front-runners facing largely negative public images, independent or third-party candidates who have either launched campaigns already or are frequently mentioned as possible contenders don’t appear to have built up a strong following in New Hampshire.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who dropped a Democratic primary bid last month in favor of an independent run, is deeply underwater among Granite Staters, with 15% holding a favorable opinion of him and 48% an unfavorable one. He’s rated positively only by Republicans (27% favorable to 18% unfavorable); by contrast, independents (47% unfavorable to 20% favorable) and Democrats (74% unfavorable to 4% favorable) lean deeply negative.

Cornel West is broadly unknown – 69% say they either don’t have an opinion or are neutral about the progressive activist – and viewed negatively by those who do have an opinion (7% favorable, 25% unfavorable). And Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who has stoked speculation of a third-party presidential run, is viewed unfavorably by about half of New Hampshirites (49%) while only 8% say they have a favorable view of him. Among Democrats in New Hampshire, views of Manchin are further negative (66% unfavorable to 2% favorable).

The CNN New Hampshire poll was conducted online November 10-14 by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center. Results among the full sample of 1,946 New Hampshire adults drawn from a probability-based panel have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.2 percentage points. Likely Democratic primary voters were identified through survey questions about their intention to vote. Results among 785 likely Democratic primary voters have an error margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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