A VPR poll of 579 likely voters suggests that Hillary Clinton will carry Vermont easily in this year’s presidential race, but it’s unclear whether she’ll provide the electoral lift to Vermont Democrats that Barack Obama delivered in the previous two presidential cycles.
The VPR Poll, conducted between Sept. 29 and Oct. 14, shows Clinton with a 45 percent to 17 percent lead over Republican Donald Trump. It’s an even wider margin than the lead Clinton enjoyed in the last VPR survey, in July, and means she’s poised to take the three electoral votes up for grabs in Vermont.
Clinton’s advantage comes as a result of voters like Patricia Warren, who has sized up a lot of politicians over her 81 years. Warren says she’s open to any candidate, regardless of party label.
“I will vote maybe one column, it depends on what it is and who it is, maybe Democrat. And the next one, I might pick out a couple of Republicans,” Warren says.
Warren says she’s missed voting in only one election her entire life, and the Windsor resident says she long ago decided who will get her vote for president in 2016: Hillary Clinton.
“I think that she will do a few things and not be losing her temper. It scares the daylights out of me, Trump does,” Warren says.
Warren she says struggles to understand the 17 percent of likely voters in Vermont who, according to the poll, will be casting a ballot for Trump.
“I don’t think he has the knowledge, not only just the temperament,” Warren says.
Clinton may enjoy a massive lead over her Republican counterpart in Vermont. But voters here aren’t anywhere near as enthusiastic about Clinton as they were about Obama in 2012 and 2008, or even John Kerry in 2004.
Obama won 67 percent of Vermont’s vote in each of the last two presidential cycles – more than 20 points higher than where Clinton is now polling.
“You know, you think of my students, you think of the millennials, who have just not been won over by the Clinton campaign,” says Rich Clark, director of the Castleton Polling Institute, and a professor of political science at Castleton University. “And so I think there is a ceiling on Clinton as well. In Vermont it’s a higher ceiling than Trump has, but there is that ceiling.”
And that ceiling might have an effect on how down-ticket races play out at the statewide and local levels.
Clark says the presidential coattail phenomenon is a real and potentially decisive factor in elections.
“And it affects one party far more than the other, it affects the Democrats,” Clark says. “And Barack Obama brought in voters who hadn’t been there before who tended to go Democrat.”
But the electoral lift in 2016 might not be so hefty.
“You have to have a popular presidential candidate to have coattails, and that may not be the case with the two candidates we have with the major parties right now,” Clark says.
If results of the VPR Poll are any indication, Trump will get about half as much support in Vermont as Mitt Romney did in 2012. Still, there are plenty of Trump supporters in the Green Mountains, even if some have signed on reluctantly.
Burlington resident Gary Smith says for him, the decision is about which presidential candidate is less worse.
“Looking on one hand at the morality issues, on the other hand dishonesty, lying and cheating issues,” Smith says.
Weighing those factors, Smith, a retired IBM worker, has come down in favor of Trump. Smith says Trump is far from the perfect candidate.
“But he’s the best we got,” Smith says. “I think he’s the most capable we got to run the country like a business, make some changes.”
Smith says he’ll cast a far more enthusiastic vote for Republican gubernatorial candidate Phil Scott. And while Vermont Democrats have tried hard to tie Scott to Trump and national Republicans, pollster Clark says he isn’t sure the message will resonate.
“I think the fact that Phil Scott has separated himself from Donald Trump really kind of takes away that relationship to a larger extent,” Clark says. But Trump also won’t offer Scott much in the way of presidential coattails, at least judging by Trump’s dismal numbers in the VPR Poll.
And while Democratic candidate Sue Minter will look to maximize the benefit of presidential politics on her campaign, Scott will be trying to minimize the damage to his.
Vermonters may not be as enthusiastic about their choices for president as they have in years past, but the race certainly has their attention. The poll found that three-quarters of likely residents are following news about the presidential race either “very closely” or “somewhat closely” to the race. Only 56 percent say the same about the race for governor.
Trump manages to win only slightly more than half the votes of likely voters who identify as Republicans, or lean Republican. Clinton, meanwhile, has 77 percent of the vote among Democrats, or people who lean Democratic.
Independents have little taste for either candidate, according to the poll: 10 percent of likely independent voters say they’ll vote for Trump; 5 percent say they’re voting for Clinton.
A significant number of voters say they aren’t voting for either candidate.
Libertarian Gary Johnson wins 4 percent of the vote, according to the VPR Poll, and Green Party candidate Jill Stein takes 3 percent. Sen. Bernie Sanders, who isn’t even on the ballot, gets 4 percent of the vote. And 13 percent of respondents say they’ll vote for someone other than Clinton, Trump, Johnson, Stein or Sanders.
Ten percent of likely voters surveyed say they’re still undecided.