According to a new VPR Poll, an overwhelming number of Vermonters say they plan to vote for Sen. Bernie Sanders in the state's Democratic presidential primary on Town Meeting Day. The poll also shows that Republican Donald Trump holds a two-to-one margin over several of his competitors in the GOP primary.
It shouldn't come as a great surprise that Sen. Sanders is leading former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in his home state. But the size of his lead is a surprise to some political observers. In the VPR Poll, Sanders led Clinton by 78 percent to 13 percent of likely voters in the Democratic primary.
The poll was conducted by the Castleton Polling Institute between Feb. 3 and Feb. 17. The final sample includes a total of 895 responses and has a margin of error of 3.3 percent.
The VPR Poll was made possible by the VPR Journalism Fund. Explore the full results here.
Richard Clark, the director of the institute, says Sanders' popularity runs across every demographic group.
"Ninety five percent of those 18-to-44 [year olds] were saying that they're going to vote for Bernie," he says. "It drops down to 70 percent among those 65 and older, but still a commanding lead across all age brackets."
On the Republican side, Donald Trump led the GOP field with roughly 33 percent of the vote, followed by Marco Rubio and John Kasich at 14 percent each. Clark isn't surprised by Trump's popularity in Vermont.
"I think Vermont has that independent streak that having the nomenclature of establishment candidate isn't going to sway a lot of Vermont voters," he says.
The poll also shows that the GOP race is still very fluid. Roughly half of all people who plan to vote in the Republican primary say they might change their mind before March 1. Clark says it's clear that many voters want to wait to make a decision until just before primary day, likening the process to ordering a meal at a restaurant.
"I go into a restaurant and I have a vague inkling of what I might like, but I can make my choice when the waiter comes to my table," he says. "I don't really have to nail down anything before then."
Norwich University political science professor Megan Remmel says Sanders' strong victory in New Hampshire has convinced many of his supporters in Vermont that he now has a reasonable chance of winning the Democratic nomination.
"I think there is this idea of, 'Not only do we like him as our own senator and sending him to D.C., but we are now genuinely starting to think that this could actually go somewhere, that he really could be a player in the long term of both this particular presidential race and in Democratic politics more long term,'" Remmel says.
The poll also shows that Donald Trump doubled his support in Vermont in the week following the New Hampshire primary, and this support came at the expense of Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz.
Remmel thinks this could be Trump's path to victory.
"I think he is starting to make these in-roads that might slowly but surely peel off some voters from other Republican supporters," she says. "And in the hopes that if he were actually to be the nominee, he could pull some of the more moderate voters or independent voters and have them for the Republican candidate in the fall," she says.
The poll also indicates that far more Vermonters plan to vote in the Democratic primary than the Republican primary on Town Meeting Day.
The VPR Poll was made possible by the VPR Journalism Fund.