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A new WBUR poll out Thursday (topline, crosstabs) finds that with less than three weeks before primary day, a large share of New Hampshire's undeclared voters have yet to make up their minds about who to vote for — or even which party to support.
New Hampshire's undeclared voters — those who aren't registered as Democrats or Republicans and can choose either ballot on Election Day — represent over 44 percent of the state's voters, more than either political party. They are notoriously independent and play a crucial role in picking the winners.
"And a lot of them, about a third, still haven't made up their mind," said Steve Koczela, president of The MassINC Polling Group, which conducted our survey. "That to me is the thing that could still cause the biggest change."
Koczela says New Hampshire independents vote much differently than Republican or Democratic partisans, often switching between parties from election to election. This is partly because they're allowed to, while party members can only vote in their own primaries. And it helps explain that famous "independent" reputation of New Hampshire voters.
"So independents in New Hampshire really are just that — or at least a large chunk of them really are independent and could go either way," Koczela said.
Charles Sielicki, a retiree who lives in East Hampstead, New Hampshire, is a good example. He's an undeclared voter who leans Democratic and likes Bernie Sanders. But he says this time he might choose a Republican ballot and vote for John Kasich.
"His approach is different than the rest of them, for some reason," Sielicki explained. "The other candidates are always attacking Obama, even though he's not running for a third term. The way I interpret it, it's just all hate, you know?"
Sielicki says he'll probably vote Democratic in the general election, but he's thinking seriously of supporting Kasich in the primary to vote against Donald Trump.
"For me, I can't stand the guy," Sielicki said of Trump. "I mean, he doesn't tell Americans anything."
Elizabeth Tibbets, of Goffstown, is another independent. Tibbets leans Republican and likes Kasich, Chris Christie and Jeb Bush. But she says that next month she might choose a Democratic ballot.
"If I was going to go to the Democratic primary, I'd probably go for Bernie Sanders," Tibbets said. "I'm seeing more and more of him, and Bernie seems to be for the little guy."
Tibbets and Sielicki are representative of another top line from our poll: It found that the two candidates that New Hampshire independents like the most are Kasich and Sanders. In fact, they're the only two candidates who independents view favorably overall. In the case of Sanders, almost twice as many independents view him favorably as they do Hillary Clinton.
Koczela, the pollster, says his poll suggests that the more independents Sanders and Kasich can attract, the better they'll do on Election Day.
"Candidates basically want one of two things: They either want to do well among independents or they want independents to vote in the other contest," Koczela said. "For instance, the Clinton campaign knows that Hillary Clinton does less well among undeclared voters. They would prefer to see undeclared voters vote on the opposite side. Bernie Sanders is the opposite. He doesn't do quite as well among Democrats, so the more independents the better for him."
Same goes for Kasich on the Republican side. Koczela says if lots of independents show up, including those more moderate fence-sitters, Kasich is basically tied with Trump among independents, 19 to 20 percent — and he's 6 points ahead of Bush and 7 points ahead of Ted Cruz.
That could provide a huge boost to Kasich's campaign. On the other hand, Kozcela explained: "If you have only the most conservative of the independents show up that day, there you have Donald Trump with quite a considerable lead over John Kasich."
In that scenario, Trump beats Kasich by 15 points.
So Kasich and Sanders both want independents to choose their respective party's ballot — which means, in a sense, they're running against each other.
On the other hand, the Democrat Clinton, and the more conservative Republicans — including Trump and Cruz — will do best if fewer independents turn out and choose their party's ballot.
As ever, New Hampshire's famously independent undeclared voters will have a lot to say about the outcome of next month's primary.
This segment aired on January 21, 2016.
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