With the New Hampshire primary three weeks away, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders leads former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by 9 points, according to a Suffolk University poll of likely voters in the Granite State Democratic primary. Sanders (50 percent) led Clinton (41 percent), with former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley at 2 percent and 6 percent undecided.

Sanders, as a longtime Vermont neighbor, is perceived to be a sort of hometown favorite and has opened up a large lead in the counties bordering his home state. He leads Clinton 58 percent to 32 percent in the north and west regions. The three remaining regions combined showed a much tighter race.

Statewide, Sanders enjoyed an 80 percent favorable–12 percent unfavorable rating, while Clinton was viewed favorably by 71 percent of voters and unfavorably by 23 percent.

Despite Sanders high favorability, likely Democratic voters are more aligned with Clinton on gun control (Clinton 44 percent–Sanders 30 percent) and believe she would have the best chance of defeating the Republican nominee come November (Clinton 60–Sanders 27 percent).

“Familiarity and favorability are winning the day for Bernie Sanders,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “But given voters’ thoughts about the gun control issue and who is more likely to win in November, the Clinton campaign might gain by pointing out Sanders’ vulnerabilities in these areas.”

Sanders fares better when it comes to the issue of trust. Asked which of the three major Democratic candidates is the most trustworthy, respondents chose Sanders by a 15-point margin: 51 percent to Clinton’s 36 percent. And while 26 percent of likely Democratic voters said they were bothered by Clinton’s use of private email as secretary of state, 71 percent said that it is not of concern.

Vice President Joe Biden is not running for president, but when voters were asked if he should jump into the race 17 percent said he should, while 76 percent disagreed.

The poll found that a small number of voters who said they were likely to vote in the Democratic primary could be motivated to switch to the Republican ballot. Nearly 7 percent said John Kasich’s candidacy could persuade them to vote in the Republican primary, while 6 percent were considering Donald Trump, and 3 percent former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. When respondents were asked if they sometimes agree with what businessman and front-runner Trump is saying, 20 percent said they concur with some of the things he is saying, while 75 percent do not.

“Even when some voters plan to select a ballot that doesn’t include Trump’s name, they seem to have him and his declarations on their minds,” said Paleologos.

History

In the 2014 New Hampshire general election, the final Suffolk University poll predicted a 3-point win for Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen over Republican Scott Brown; Shaheen won by 3 percent. In the last contested Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire in 2008, both Suffolk University bellwether polls correctly predicted a Hillary Clinton win, while all other polling indicated a comfortable win for Barack Obama.

Methodology

The statewide survey of 500 likely New Hampshire Democratic presidential primary voters was conducted Jan. 19-21, 2016, using live telephone interviews and a split sample of landline and cell phone numbers. The margin of error is +/-4.4 percentage points at a 95 percent level of confidence. Marginals and full cross-tabulation data are posted on the Suffolk University Political Research Center website. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310, dpaleologos@suffolk.edu.