Democrats Evenly Split Over Clinton, Sanders in Bloomberg Poll

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Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton speaks during the AIPAC conference in Washington on March 21, 2016.

Photographer: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
  • Sanders trusted on defending middle class, reining in Wall St.
  • Clinton stronger on foreign policy, security experience

More than halfway through a nomination race that she entered as the clear favorite, Hillary Clinton finds herself deadlocked with Bernie Sanders among Democrats.

Even after more than two dozen primaries and caucuses in which Clinton’s amassed a commanding lead in votes and in delegates needed to win the nomination, a Bloomberg Politics national poll found that Sanders is the first choice of 49 percent of those who have voted or plan to vote in this year’s Democratic contests, while the former secretary of state is preferred by 48 percent.

Read the questions and methodology here.

The collection of enthusiastic first-time voters, those under 35, men, and self-described independents that he’s leaned on to win in states like New Hampshire and Colorado are keeping Sanders in the race, as is his message singularly focused on addressing income inequality.

By a more than 2-to-1 ratio, Democratic primary voters say Sanders would fight harder than Clinton for the middle class and do the most to rein in the power of Wall Street. Nearly six in 10 say the Vermont senator cares the most about people like them, and 64 percent see him as the most honest and trustworthy candidate. Just a quarter of voters said that of Clinton.

“It comes down to this: Bernie Sanders is the one Democrats see as looking out for them -- meaning he will build a stronger middle class at the expense of Wall Street,” said J. Ann Selzer, whose firm conducted the poll. “They trust him to do it. In the end, Hillary Clinton has a trust problem.”

Matthew Slater, a 26-year old retail manager from Gulfport, Mississippi, said he doesn’t view Clinton “as believable and authentic.”

“Seeing the issues that Hillary Clinton has flip-flopped on, has once supported and is now against or the other way around, I don’t believe in her,” Slater said. “I don’t really trust her.”

The survey also signaled some trouble for Clinton in holding on to Sanders supporters in November. In general-election match-ups, Sanders holds a 24-point edge over Donald Trump, a 12-point lead over Ted Cruz, and a 4-point advantage over John Kasich among likely general-election voters. Clinton, by contrast, trails Kasich by 4 percentage points. She would carry a sizable lead into a contest against Cruz, where she holds a 9-point advantage, and Trump, whom she beats by 18 points.

The poll found some encouraging signs for Clinton as the Democratic race moves into its second half. She leads Sanders 50 percent to 47 percent among those yet to vote in a Democratic primary or caucus, an indication that her drive toward the Democratic nomination won’t be impeded. She has 1,690 of the 2,383 delegates needed to become the party’s nominee to the 946 that Sanders has amassed, according to Associated Press estimates on Wednesday.

The voting groups that Clinton has relied on to dominate in primaries and caucuses continue to be her biggest advantage. She leads Sanders by 27 percentage points among voters over 35, by 18 points among those who identify as Democrats, and by 15 points among women.

She’s also rated more highly than Sanders on presidential characteristics. More than half say she has the better temperament to be president and would work most effectively with Congress. Almost three in five say she knows the most about how to get things done, and half say she’d be better at managing the economy, 10 points better than Sanders.

Clinton may also benefit from the shifting focus to foreign policy in the wake of Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in Brussels, which killed at least 31 people. Asked which candidate can best combat Islamic terrorism, Clinton bests Sanders by a more than 3-to-1 ratio.

Six in 10 Democratic primary voters say she has the most appropriate life experience to be president, and she’s favored 56 to 31 percent over Sanders when voters are asked who would be better with dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Sixty percent said it bothered them that Sanders has little foreign policy experience.

Jane Martin, a 57-year-old from St. Louis who participated in the poll, said Clinton’s foreign policy experience was one of the top reasons she’s backing her over Sanders.

“She’s done a really good job as secretary of state,” Martin said in a phone interview. “I do like Bernie Sanders and some of the things he’s suggesting, but I don’t think he has the same experience.”

Clinton also may benefit from warming views of President Barack Obama, with whom she’s closely aligned herself during the campaign. 

The president’s approval rating among all Americans hit 50 percent in the poll, up six points from November. His favorability rating is up nine points from November and, at 57 percent, at its highest point since December 2009. More than half of likely or past Democratic primary voters who cast a ballot in 2012 for Obama -- 55 percent -- said they were backing Clinton.

More than half the country -- 54 percent -- approve of his handling of the vacancy left by recently deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and 62 percent say Republicans in the Senate are wrong not to hold hearings on the nomination.

Nearly half of all Americans -- 49 percent -- say the president is doing a good job on the economy, up 5 points from November. And 46 percent approve of Obama’s handling of health care, his highest marks since 2010.

The national poll of 1,000 adults was conducted March 19-22 by Selzer & Co. of West Des Moines, Iowa. The overall sample has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, while the subgroup of 311 Democratic primary voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.6 percentage points. The subgroup of 815 likely general-election voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

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