Poll Analysis: Kerry Takes Lead and Momentum Away From Dean

Times Poll Director

Before the Iowa caucus on January 19th former Vermont Governor Howard Dean was the presumptive Democratic nominee — he had front runner status in the polls, lots of endorsements from well-heeled Democrats such as Al Gore and Senator Tom Harkin from Iowa (and a near endorsement from former president Jimmy Carter) and was the candidate with the most money in his coffers.

What a difference a caucus makes. The bounce out of Iowa was huge for the winner — Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. Kerry’s surge in Iowa has helped build his momentum in New Hampshire and now is leading all of his Democratic opponents, according to a new Los Angeles Times poll.

If the election were held today, New Hampshire Democratic likely voters would support Kerry with 32%, almost twice that of Dean at 19% and retired General Wesley Clark at 17%, and more than twice that of North Carolina Senator John Edwards at 14%, Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman at 6%, Congressman Dennis Kucinich at 1% and the Reverend Al Sharpton with less than one percent of the vote. One in ten are still undecided. The poll’s results include interviews taken after Thursday night’s debate. No candidate scored a home run in the debate, nor did any candidate strike out. Sixty-two percent of the voters polled before the debate watched the debate on Friday and virtually none of them changed their mind about their choice for president.

Although roughly four out five voters said that the Iowa caucus did not play a role in their decision to vote for a candidate, a fifth said it did play a role (9% said it played a major role and 11% said it played a minor role). Among the voters who said that the caucuses played some role in their decision making, Kerry and to some degree, Edwards were the beneficiaries. More than two out of four voters who said the caucuses helped play a role in their decision backed Kerry, while nearly three out of 10 supported Edwards. Put another way, roughly two out of four Edwards voters said the Iowa caucus played a major or minor role in their decision to vote for the N.C. senator, while almost a quarter of Kerry voters said the caucus helped in their decision as well. (13% of Dean supporters also said Iowa helped in their decision.)

Certainty of vote

Three out of five likely Democratic primary voters said they are certain of their candidate, while about two out of five could vote for someone else. (In a Times pre-caucus Iowa poll, the same share of voters were uncertain about their candidate.) The Dean supporters are more sure of their candidate than the voters of the other candidates, while Edwards support is the softest. More than seven out of 10 Dean supporters are certain they will vote for him, compared to 60% for Kerry and 57% for Clark. Just 44% of Edwards supporters are sure of their vote.

Some voter groups and their candidate preference

New Hampshire voters can vote in the Democratic primary if they are registered as Democrats or if they are not in any party, but declare on primary day that they want to vote in the Democratic primary. If they are not registered to vote, they can register on primary day and declare which primary they want to vote in.

More than a third of voters who consider themselves Democrats are supporting Kerry as are three out of 10 self-described independents.

The fortunes are now reversed in the Granite State. Dean was leading in earlier polling by most polling organizations (before the Iowa caucus) much with the help of attracting voters who were registered as independents, more affluent, more educated and younger. Dean is still attracting these groups, but Kerry has taken a bite out of them to elevate him to first place status. For instance, Kerry’s support crosses all income levels. those respondents with household income of less than $40,000 — 32% for Kerry, 19% for Clark, 17% for Dean and 15% for Edwards; those households with income between $40,000 and $60,000 — Kerry gets the backing of 32% of voters, Dean receives 20%, Clark gets 18% and Edwards receives the support of 13% of voters; voters with household earnings of $60,000 or more — Kerry earned the support of 34%, followed by Dean at 19%, Clark at 17% and Edwards at 15%.

There doesn’t appear to be a gender gap — both men (31%) and women (34%) are supporting Kerry, while women split between Dean, Clark and Edwards for second place. Men are somewhat divided over Dean and Clark.

Union households — are somewhat divided over Kerry (27%) and Dean (25%).

Age plays a small role — with the younger voters (18–44) supporting both Kerry (30%) and Dean (26%). Clark gets the support of 15% of younger voters. Surprisingly, the 18–29 year olds are splitting their vote between Kerry and Dean (although this group is small).

Voters with less than a college degree are very supportive of Kerry (39%), while those earning a college diploma or more are split between Kerry (27%), Dean (25%), Clark (19%) and Edwards at 15%.

Men who are less than 45 are supporting both Kerry at 28% and Dean at 27%, while older men are more inclined to go with Kerry (31%). Women who are less than 45 are also backing both Kerry (31%) and Dean (26%), while older women are solidly behind Kerry (36%).

Men with less than a college degree are solidly behind Kerry (40%), while men with a college degree or more are narrowly dividing their votes among the top four candidates; women with less than a college degree are strongly supporting Kerry like their male counterparts, while women with more education are divided between Kerry and Dean.

Issues facing the Democratic candidates

The most important issue voters want to hear discussed by the candidates is healthcare at 36%. And primary voters think that Kerry is the candidate to help the nation’s healthcare situation. Among those who cite this issue, 31% say they would vote for Kerry, followed by Dean at 21% and Clark at 20%. Economy edged out Iraq as the second most mentioned issue. More than a fifth (22%) cited economy, while 20% cited the Iraq war and its aftermath. Kerry was supported by voters who considered both these issues as most important.

Half of the voters said they will vote for a candidate that agrees with them on the issues, while 43% would vote for a candidate that has a good chance of beating the incumbent president. The elderly (65 and over) is the only age group that said they would vote for a candidate they believe can win in November.

Qualified to be Commander-in-Chief: Surprisingly, nearly two out of five voters think Kerry would be the most qualified to become commander-in-chief, compared to a quarter who think Clark is. Voters in all age groups, except the 18–29 year olds, are more inclined to think the senator from Mass. would excel as commander-in-chief, as well as voters of all education levels and voters in all income groups. (Although the 18–29 year old group is a small base, these voters think Dean, Clark and Kerry all equally would make good commanders-in-chief.)

Change the way things are done in DC: Kerry and Dean are both considered the candidates that would bring substantial change to the way things are done in Washington DC. The younger voters (less than 45 years old) think Dean is the conduit for change, while the older voters split on this issue between both Dean and Kerry. The less affluent voters (household income less than $40,000) believe Kerry could substantially change things in Washington, while the more affluent voters (household earnings of more than $60,000) believe Dean could shake things up in D.C. Nearly three out of ten male voters are more inclined to say that Dean is the candidate to bring change to Washington (27%), while nearly a quarter of women voters believe it is Kerry and more than a fifth believe it is Dean.

Nearly three out of five voters prefer a nominee who would only repeal provisions of the tax cuts affecting wealthy families, while 32% of voters want to repeal all of the tax cuts, including provisions to cut middle-class taxes in order to pay for expanding access to healthcare. A plurality of voters (45%) would also prefer a nominee who believes that trade agreements like NAFTA will hurt the U.S. economy and take jobs away from the American people, while 31% would prefer a nominee that believes in trade agreements like NAFTA because they feel the treaties would benefit the U.S. economy and generate more jobs. More than seven in 10 voters prefer a nominee that supports civil unions between same-sex couples. (These results are not much different than what was found in a Times poll before the Democratic Iowa caucus.) Three-fifths of voters prefer a candidate that opposed the war in Iraq, while 29% prefer a candidate that favored the war. Edwards supporters are divided over this issue (44% prefer a candidate who favored war in Iraq vs. 49% who opposed war), while more than four-fifths of Dean supporters, 70% of Clark supporters and 55% of Kerry supporters prefer a candidate who opposed the war. But voters are pragmatic and most of them would vote for a candidate who held a different position than theirs on the war, but who shared the same beliefs they have on most other issues.

President Bush and right track

Results shown in a Times poll before the Iowa caucus, shows similar opinions about President Bush’s job performance and the direction of the country. Both state’s Democratic voters rate President Bush’s job performance as abysmal and think the country is seriously off on the wrong track. In the Iowa poll, four out of five Democratic caucus goers thought the country was headed in the wrong direction, and more than 4 out of five of these voters disapprove of the way President Bush is handling his job, In this current poll of New Hampshire Democratic likely voters, nearly three-quarters of voters think the country is seriously off on the wrong track and almost the same share disapprove of the way the president is handling his job

Almost two-thirds of voters agreed with the statement, “Democratic leaders in Washington have failed to stand up aggressively enough to President Bush.” And not surprisingly, more than seven out of 10 of Dean supporters agreed with this statement, including 58% who strongly agreed.

How the Poll Was Conducted

The Los Angeles Times Poll contacted 2,683 adults in New Hampshire, including 1,176 likely Democratic primary voters, by telephone Jan. 20–23. The last day of interviewing was conducted after the debate held on Thursday night and that included 260 likely Democratic voters. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in New Hampshire. Random digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and unlisted numbers were contacted. The entire sample of adults was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age and education in the state. The margin of sampling error for likely Democratic primary voters is plus or minus 3 percentage points; for voters interviewed after the debate, it is 6 points. For certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented.

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