Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and businessman Donald Trump continue to hold leads in their respective parties as presidential primary season picks up, according to a recent Suffolk University/USA Today national poll of likely voters.

Clinton leads Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders 50 percent to 40 percent among Democrats and Democratic leaning-voters, with 10 percent still undecided. This is a significant change from a Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll taken two months ago, when Clinton led Sanders by 27 points (56 percent to 29 percent).

On the Republican side, Trump (35 percent) holds a solid lead over Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (20 percent) and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (17 percent). Trailing behind are Ohio Gov. John Kasich (7 percent), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (6 percent), and neurosurgeon Ben Carson (4 percent), with 12 percent undecided.

"The New Hampshire primary was more than just the allocation of a few party delegates from a small state. As voters digest the results, we are finding shifts in national opinion from coast to coast," said David Paleologos, director of Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “What happens next week in Nevada’s caucuses and the South Carolina primaries also will have an impact.”

The national matchups show prospects for a nail-biter in November. Hypothetical contests showed Rubio (48 percent) over Clinton (42 percent) and Kasich (49 percent) leading Clinton (38 percent). Like her matchup with Rubio, Clinton’s theoretical races against Cruz and Trump are within the margin of error, with Cruz leading 45 percent to Clinton’s 44 percent and Trump ahead 45 percent to 43 percent.

Sanders fares slightly better against the four Republican frontrunners in hypothetical matchups—all well within the margin of error. Sanders (44 percent) leads Cruz (42 percent) but lags behind Rubio, 46 percent to Sanders’ 42 percent; Kasich 44 percent to 41 percent; and Trump 44 percent to 43 percent.

“Bernie Sanders is closing the Democratic primary gap and is stronger than Hillary Clinton in the general election,” said Paleologos. “On the Republican side, John Kasich's strong second-place showing has made him more appealing in the general election than Marco Rubio, who faltered in the Republican debate leading up to New Hampshire. Donald Trump continues to gain and is within the margin of error against both Sanders and Clinton in the general election."

In another scenario that included former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, 37 percent of voters said they would vote for Trump, 30 percent for Sanders, and 16 percent for independent Bloomberg.

A majority of those polled (52 percent) said that they prefer a presidential candidate with government experience, and 32 percent want a “fresh face.” And, in an election year during which former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is considering a third-party candidacy, 54 percent said that they believe a third party or multiple parties are necessary to represent Americans’ political views.

Fear factor

Voters were asked to categorize their feelings about potential nominees as enthusiastic, satisfied, dissatisfied or scared. Thirty-eight percent said they would be “scared” if Trump were nominated, as opposed to 39 percent who would be satisfied or enthusiastic; 33 percent said they would be scared about Clinton, compared to 42 percent who would be satisfied or enthusiastic; for Sanders, 28 percent said scared and 46 percent satisfied or enthusiastic.

Zika virus

Thirty-seven percent of voters said they are not at all or not very concerned about the potential for the spread of the mosquito-borne Zika virus in the United States, compared with 26 percent who say they are very concerned and 35 percent who say they are somewhat concerned.


The nationwide survey of 1,000 voters was conducted Feb. 11-15 using live telephone interviews of households where respondents indicated they were very or somewhat likely to vote in the 2016 general election. The margin of error is +/-3 percentage points at a 95 percent level of confidence. The margin of error for the Democratic primary/caucus subset of 319 likely voters is +/-5.5 percentage points. The margin of error for the Republican primary/caucus subset of 358 likely voters is +/5.2 percentage points. 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,