WBUR Poll: In Mass., Clinton Edges Sanders, While Trump Leads Big

A WBUR poll finds Hillary Clinton leads her presidential primary rival, Bernie Sanders, among likely Democratic voters in Massachusetts. Here, Sanders and Clinton are seen before a Feb. 11 debate in Milwaukee. (Tom Lynn/AP)
A WBUR poll finds Hillary Clinton leads her presidential primary rival, Bernie Sanders, among likely Democratic voters in Massachusetts. Here, Sanders and Clinton are seen before a Feb. 11 debate in Milwaukee. (Tom Lynn/AP)

 Updated February 26, 2016, 8:00 am

As Massachusetts prepares to vote in the state’s presidential primaries this coming Tuesday, a new WBUR poll shows Donald Trump holds a hefty lead among likely Republican voters (topline, crosstabs).

Trump has 40 percent of the vote, with Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio battling for second place with 19 percent each, and Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in fourth place at 10 percent.

WBUR poll - likely Republican voters

The race is much closer between the two Democrats (topline, crosstabs).

Among likely Democratic voters, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is ahead of Vermont U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders by 5 percentage points — 49-44 — just outside the survey’s 4.9 percent margin of error.

WBUR poll - likely Democratic voters

“Voters who are looking for experience — someone with the right experience to be president, is how we phrased it — then you’re very likely to be with Clinton,” said Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the survey. “And if you’re looking for someone who can bring real change to the political system, that’s a Sanders voter.”

Clinton is more trusted on foreign policy, working with Congress and keeping America safe. Sanders wins among voters most concerned with income inequality and reforming the campaign finance system.

Both candidates are very well liked — especially Sanders, whose favorability numbers rival those of President Obama and Pope Francis.

Many Clinton supporters are backing her because of her experience.

“She’s my choice because I think she’s the most qualified candidate in either party,” said state Rep. Ruth Balser, a Democrat from Newton. “I’m also working hard for her because I have always hoped to see a woman president in my lifetime, and she’s my best shot at that goal.”

The WBUR poll finds age and gender gaps in the Democratic contest. In Massachusetts, Clinton leads by 21 points among female voters — with a 41-point margin among women over the age of 50. Younger voters favor Sanders by a wide margin. And he leads by about 15 among men.

Greg Henderson, of Dorchester, used to work for the city of Boston — so, he says, he knows something about “a rigged system.” Consistent with the WBUR survey, Henderson is backing the candidate he believes can shake up that system and bring real change.

“This is a revolution,” Henderson said. “So if [Sanders] can get to the general election, he can win it. I know he can.”

But getting to that general election means winning primaries and delegates, and Paul Feeney, director of Sanders’ Massachusetts campaign, acknowledges that winning this state is important.

And Feeney says, just a few months ago, polls had Sanders trailing Clinton by 25 points in Massachusetts. Now, it’s a close race.

“There’s going to be a dogfight in Massachusetts, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “I don’t think either side is going to have a landslide victory here. But there’s no doubt about it, Massachusetts is very important. There are a lot of delegates at stake. This is a campaign that’s going to be a slog for every single delegate between now and the convention.”

Trump Tops On All Issues

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives for a caucus night rally Tuesday in Las Vegas. Trump won the state handily and is well ahead of GOP rivals in Massachusetts, according to the WBUR poll. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump arrives for a caucus night rally Tuesday in Las Vegas. Trump won the state handily and is well ahead of GOP rivals in Massachusetts, according to the WBUR poll. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

On the Republican side, if anyone is to stop Trump from rolling to the nomination, it appears it will not be the voters of Massachusetts.

“Throughout the cycle, the question has been: Who can stop Donald Trump, and where and when, and what kind of state will it take?” pollster Koczela said. “Is it liberal Massachusetts? Is it a conservative southern state? Where are the voters where another candidate could possibly win? And what we see — it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be Massachusetts.”

Trump wins among Republicans and independents likely to vote in the state’s GOP primary. He carries men and women. He leads among all age groups and all income groups, and in every part of Massachusetts.

Among respondents, Trump is seen as the best candidate to reform the immigration system, to handle foreign policy challenges, to improve the economy and create jobs, and to improve American standing in the world. Likely GOP voters also see Trump as the best candidate to work with Congress to get things done, and to keep America safe.

“I really deeply feel that he believes that our country is in trouble,” 75-year-old independent voter David Barry, a retired military man who lives by himself in Hyannis, said of Trump. “Our country is starting to sit on the sidelines and watch the game.”

Rubio and Kasich are tied for second in the WBUR survey.

“I like [Rubio] because he speaks about the future,” said 75-year-old independent voter Louis Perullo, of Peabody. “He’s young. He’s got the right values. He talks about not knocking down other people like the Republicans in their circular firing squad.”

Nationally, Rubio has been trying to make this a three-person race between himself, Trump and Cruz. But voters of Massachusetts are keeping Kasich in the mix, according to the poll.

“I think Donald Trump is scary,” said 50-year-old independent voter Susan Hoffman, of Andover, an attorney with a nonprofit hospital corporation who describes herself as a fiscal conservative and is supporting Kasich. “I think Marco Rubio is disingenuous, a politician/actor, and I think Ted Cruz is an obstructionist.”

Fifty-nine percent of likely voters in the Republican primary say they want a president who can bring real change to the political system. Only 25 percent say they want someone with the right experience to be president.

Massachusetts voters head to the primary polls Tuesday. Eleven other states also vote that day.

The live telephone survey was conducted Sunday through Tuesday — 418 likely Democratic primary voters were polled, and 386 likely Republican primary voters were polled.

This story contains reporting from WBUR’s Fred Thys and Anthony Brooks. WBUR’s Benjamin Swasey contributed reporting. Listen to Fred and Anthony’s Morning Edition features below.

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