Vermonters will play their part in the presidential primary contest on Town Meeting Day March 1, and for many voters, impressions of candidates' personal integrity and experience are an important factor.
A new VPR poll conducted by the Castleton Polling Institute shows likely voters favor Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side. Republicans have a more crowded field. But the national front runner, Donald Trump, has the lead here as well.
The VPR Poll was made possible by the VPR Journalism Fund. Explore the full results here.
Among those polled was Joe Bergamo of Bethel. While candidates rise and fall in the polls as voter opinions change, Bergamo's presidential preference has been set since the start.
"I feel that Bernie Sanders is honest. As far as running a country, it always involves a lot of people, it's a job way too big for one person, and I think starting with someone that has some integrity is the way to begin," Bergamo says.
Two thirds of the VPR Poll respondents said they were likely to vote in the Democratic primary and nearly 80 percent said they would probably vote for Sanders. Bergamo was among them. He feels Sanders has integrity, which would inform his approach to the issues he would face if elected.
"His general attitude about fairness is what I notice, and I think other things will come from that," says Bergamo, who is a self-employed equipment repairman.
Darcy Hamlin of Braintree, another poll respondent, is not exactly in the Sanders column, but she hasn't ruled him out either. "Bernie is very liberal and there are some of his positions that I think lean too far to the left," she says.
In spite of that, Hamlin, a state worker, has voted for Sanders for Congress and Senate, and while she believes in a strong social safety net, she's worried about his approach. "I don't believe that we should become a welfare state. I think sometimes he takes his positions leaning to the side where the expectation of personal responsibility no longer exits," Hamlin says.
Hamlin also admires Hillary Clinton, citing her composure and experience. As a result, Hamlin has yet to make up her mind about who she'll support in the March primary. "I think I'm going to make my decision when I walk into the voting booth," she says.
Phyllis Forbes of Randolph is more certain of her choice. She says Clinton is the most qualified person running. "I've liked her in everything she has done. She's done her homework, she's smart, she looks at issues, takes a measured approach," Forbes says.
While she wouldn't vote for Clinton based strictly on gender, Forbes feels electing a woman president would be significant. "[When] I went to college I was a political science major," she says. "I never thought about entering politics because I was a girl. When you think about it, what does that do for the country when girls say, 'I can run for president'?"
It's no surprise that VPR Poll results are a departure from national polls in the Sanders-Clinton race. On the Republican side, however, they aren't so different.
Donald Trump leads among like GOP voters, with just over 33 percent saying they support him. Last week, a Vermont Edition caller named Robert summed up his support this way: "I voted Democratic last election. I was in college and there was different stuff going on the in the world back then. Now I think Donald Trump is right on point with everything that we're trying to get accomplished in this country," he said.
Linda McGinnis of Dorset, who describes herself as a political independent, says she's not impressed with Trump, but one Republican candidate has emerged as her preference. "The one I like the best is probably the one least likely to make it. That's Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who has done wonders for Ohio in this current economy which is 'farshtunken,'" says McGinnis. "He's very self-effacing, he's not calling anyone names and liars and threatening lawsuits or any of that garbage and I really wish the country was listening more to him."
The VPR Poll shows Kasich with 14.1 percent support from likely Republican voters, just behind second-place Marco Rubio and within the poll's margin of error. But those numbers could change. Among those likely Republican primary voters, more than half said they might change their minds by March 1.
The VPR Poll is made possible by the VPR Journalism Fund.