According to the new VPR Poll, the race for governor is wide open because roughly two thirds of Vermonters are undecided about which candidate they want to support. Despite this uncertainty, on the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott enjoys a huge lead over businessman Bruce Lisman.
And on the Democratic side, the lack of solid support for the two announced candidates could mean that additional candidates will enter the race.
The VPR Poll was made possible by the VPR Journalism Fund. Explore the full results here.
The results of the VPR Poll clearly show that very few Vermonters are focusing on the 2016 race for governor. Sixty-six percent say they are not paying very much attention to the contest.
The poll, which was conducted by the Castleton Polling Institute from Feb. 3 to Feb. 17, has a margin of error of 3.3 percent.
Institute director Rich Clark says he's not surprised that this open governor's race is not attracting much public interest at this time.
“There is no narrative to contend with yet for any of these candidates,” Clark says. “And they'll be writing that in the months after Town Meting Day has passed and they get their campaigns in higher gear."
On the Democratic side, 19 percent of the respondents selected former state senator Matt Dunne as their choice and 11 percent chose former Transportation Secretary Sue Minter. That left 69 percent in the "not sure" or "neither candidate" column.
Retired Middlebury College political science professor Eric Davis says this means that the Democratic field is wide open for others to jump in, including former state Sen. Peter Galbraith, former Wardsboro Rep. John Moran and House Speaker Shap Smith.
“Neither of these candidates seem to be generating substantially greater amounts of enthusiasm than the other one,” says Davis. “So it seems to me like there would be room for another candidate to come in, it's certainly not too late."
On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott faces businessman Bruce Lisman. In this contest, about half of the people were ready to select a candidate and by a margin of 44 to 4 percent they chose Scott.
Davis thinks Lisman has a major challenge in his campaign to win the GOP nomination.
“For Bruce Lisman to persuade those core Republican voters that they should in effect abandon somebody who's been in office for a long time, who's well known around the state, who is thought of as a potential winner, for someone who's never held public office before -- that's a difficult sell,” says Davis.
The feelings of many voters can be well summed up by Joe Bergamo, one of the Vermonters polled. Bergamo says he really hasn't heard much about the candidates running for governor.
"Some of the people, yes, but again I'm not ready to make any further comments on that, just because I'm not educated enough at this point,” says Bergamo.
Darcy Hamlin, another person polled, describes herself as an independent who leans Democratic. She says she's still sizing up the candidates and hasn't made up her mind. She's most familiar with Phil Scott:
"Phil Scott's more of a moderate, so unless he decides to pander to the more conservative right,” Hamlin says, “he's somebody I might consider.”
Independents make up the largest block of voters in Vermont and the poll shows that 70 percent of people in this group are undecided when it comes to supporting a candidate in the governor's race.