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If the presidential election were held today between the apparent Republican nominee, Donald Trump, and the Democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, the outcome would be very close. That's according to a new WBUR poll (topline, crosstabs) of likely New Hampshire voters.
According to the survey, Clinton leads Trump 44 percent to 42 percent among likely Granite State voters, with about 7 percent still undecided.
The new WBUR poll is consistent with several recent surveys from around the country that suggest the general election race would be competitive.
The reason this race is so close is that both Clinton and Trump are exceptionally unpopular across New Hampshire.
"Very few people like either of them by comparison to other presidential candidates," said Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group, which conducted the WBUR survey.
It found that just 35 percent of New Hampshire voters have a positive view of Clinton; only 33 percent feel that way about Trump.
And what's particularly striking: Both candidates are viewed unfavorably by 58 percent of likely New Hampshire voters.
"So lots more people have a negative impression about them than a positive impression," Koczela said.
By contrast, Democrat Bernie Sanders' numbers are just the opposite: 55 percent view him favorably, while 34 percent view him unfavorably.
And according to the poll, if Sanders were the Democratic nominee, he'd beat Trump today decisively in New Hampshire — by 16 points, 54-38.
This is an argument that Sanders continues to make in his campaign: Poll after poll suggest that he'd fare far better against Trump than Clinton.
Koczela says a big reason for this is the gender gap between Trump and Clinton pretty much disappears with Sanders.
"Where Clinton was trailing by 17 points among men, Sanders and Trump are essentially even," Koczela said. "Sanders does a bit better among women, but the big difference is that the gap among men just disappears."
What N.H. Voters Say About The Presidential Race
On Main Street in Nashua, New Hampshire, earlier this week, Scott Bennett, a Democrat from Amherst, explains why he's supporting Clinton.
"First off, Trump does not seem qualified to be president for tonal reasons and background," Bennett said. "He just doesn't seem ready at this point to be president of the United States. That seems straightforward."
So Bennett says he'll vote for Clinton — but not with an abundance of enthusiasm.
"Do I feel positive about Hillary? I don't think she's a great candidate. I don't think she has the warmth that a lot of politicians can demonstrate, but I would certainly say that she's qualified to do it," Bennett said.
In the WBUR poll, more than half of likely voters say Clinton treats people with respect and dignity, while only one in five feel that way about Trump. More voters see Clinton as capable of improving America's standing in the world than Trump. But more regard Trump as a tough negotiator, more likely to create jobs and economic growth.
That last issue — the economy — is why Tom Bellanger, a Republican from Brookline, New Hampshire, says he supports Trump.
"And the other is that I think we've lost all of our respect abroad, and I think we need someone in there that shows that we do what we say and say what we mean," Bellanger said. "I'm not sure he is that guy, I just hope and pray he is. I do like his candor. I don't like his over-the-top candor. I think it's totally unnecessary for him to speak the way he does, to degrade and belittle and talk down to people."
The WBUR poll also asked voters about the possibility of Mitt Romney entering the race as a third-party candidate.
Romney has been a leader in the Republican-led Stop Trump movement. The poll found that in a three-way match-up, Romney gets 21 percent — but pushes Clinton 4 points ahead of Trump, 37 to 33.
A little further down Main Street, Dave Tiffany from Hollis and Linda Kipnes from Hudson held signs that said, "End The War — Bring Our Troops Home." They both support Sanders.
"Because he's the only one who's not corrupt, totally corrupt, like Hillary Clinton — warmonger! She backed the war in Iraq and then lied about why she did it," Tiffany said.
Clinton did vote for the war, but now says she made a mistake. Even so, Tiffany says he won't support her in November, and will write in Sanders.
But Kipnes feels differently.
"I actually support Bernie Sanders also, but I will vote for Hillary if it's Hillary versus Trump — and I understand the point that we're tired of voting for the least bad, but I'm really afraid Trump will win, and certainly she's way better than Trump would be," Kipnes explained.
This is one of the big questions about the coming months: How many Sanders supporters will rally behind Clinton, assuming she wins the Democratic nomination? According to the WBUR poll, three quarters of Sanders supporters say they'll support her — like Kipness. But a quarter of them say they won't — like Tiffany. Ten percent say they'll vote for Trump.
Koczela says it remains to be seen how they'll feel come election day.
"It depends to a certain extent how Bernie Sanders approaches the next couple of months," the pollster said. "You know, how long does the race go on? Is there really a visible coming together, and do Bernie Sanders' supporters get behind that idea? But at the moment, there are a lot of Sanders' supporters who haven't decided necessarily to vote for Clinton."
They could provide a crucial margin of support for Clinton — particularly in a contest that today appears close.
The survey is the latest among a number of polls from key battleground states that show a small Clinton advantage in what appears to be a tight race that's following many of the same contours of the 2012 election.
The WBUR poll also found a close race for the Senate in New Hampshire.
Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan is just 2 points ahead of the Republican incumbent, U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, in a key race that could decide which party wins — or retains — control of the Senate in November.
Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story used polling data that did not include undecided voters to describe a match-up between Romney, Clinton and Trump. The post has been updated.
This article was originally published on May 18, 2016.
This segment aired on May 18, 2016.
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