New Hampshire Democrats want to beat Trump but can't agree on how, exit polls show

The town of Windsor, New Hampshire, has been using the same paper ballot box for 130 years and election officials say it's one of the safest ways to vote.

Posted: Feb 11, 2020 5:47 PM
Updated: Feb 11, 2020 10:15 PM

Democratic voters turning out for Tuesday's New Hampshire primary say they are looking for a candidate who can beat President Donald Trump over one who agrees with them on the issues by a roughly 2-to-1 margin, according to early exit polls conducted for CNN.

Six in 10 Democratic voters in New Hampshire prioritize a nominee who can beat Trump. Yet Democrats seem split over what qualities a candidate ought to have.

Just over a third say that they sought a candidate who could bring needed change, while about the same amount said they were seeking one who could unite the country. Far fewer prioritized finding a candidate who cares about people like them, and the share who said they were looking for a fighter landed in single digits.

View CNN's live coverage of the New Hampshire primary

Almost 2 in 5 New Hampshire Democratic voters who prefer a nominee who can bring about needed change voted for Sen. Bernie Sanders, far more than any other candidate. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sanders lead among those who prioritize a candidate who can unite the country, with each drawing around 3 in 10 voters in that group.

Among voters who prefer a nominee who can beat Trump in November over someone who they agree with on the issues, over a quarter voted for former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg, 1 in 5 for Klobuchar, 1 in 5 for Sanders, 1 in 7 for former Vice President Joe Biden, and around 1 in 10 for Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Still, more than 8 in 10 who voted today say they plan to vote for the Democratic nominee in November regardless of who it is, while just 1 in 8 say they won't.

Liberals vs. moderates

Sanders leads among New Hampshire voters who consider themselves 'very liberal' in ideology, with around half of the group voting for him. Warren follows with fewer than 1 in 5 of this group, and Buttigieg at 1 in 7.

But the balance of the electorate has shifted since 2016. In 2020, 'very liberal' voters made up about 1 in 5 voters, down from 26% in 2016. Moderate voters were up to just over a third in 2020, from 27% in 2016.

Klobuchar and Buttigieg lead among moderate Democrats, around 3 in 10 for Klobuchar and a quarter for Sanders, still a close race. Less than 1 in 5 in that group voted for Sanders and 1 in 10 voted for Biden.

Klobuchar drew around a third of white college-educated women, followed by over 1 in 5 for Buttigieg, and slightly less for Sanders. White women without degrees were split between Buttigieg and Sanders. For white men, those without college degrees strongly supported Sanders (over a third), while around a quarter of those with degrees supported him, followed by Klobuchar and Buttigieg.

Democratic voters are angry

Eight in 10 New Hampshire Democratic primary voters are angry at the Trump administration, the highest share of voters from the non-incumbent party who are angry stretching back to 2000, according to CNN exit polls. Six in 10 Republican primary voters were angry at the Obama administration in 2016, and 40% were angry in 2012. Meanwhile, 62% of Democratic primary voters were angry at the Bush administration in 2008, and 46% were angry in 2004.

Almost 6 in 10 of Tuesday's voters say that impeachment hasn't made any difference to Trump's reelection chances, while one in five say it has hurt him and fewer say it has helped.

About 6 in 10 who turned out to vote in Tuesday's primary say they made up their minds since the beginning of February, including nearly half who say they decided on their candidate just in the last few days. That's double the 25% who decided in the final few days in 2016, and, in early data, the highest in exit polling back to 2000.

About half overall say the most recent debate -- held in New Hampshire on Friday night -- was an important factor in deciding their vote for president.

And early exits indicate that only about 1 in 8 are first-time Democratic primary voters, down slightly from 16% in 2016 and 19% in 2008.

Turnout was expected to be high heading into the primary. According to the most recent CNN tracking poll conducted by University of New Hampshire, 74% of adults in New Hampshire said they were extremely or very interested in the 2020 primary election and a similar three-quarters said they would definitely vote.

The eventual Democratic nominee for president has taken first or second place in the New Hampshire primary in every race since 1968.

Health care is the top issue

More than one-third of Democratic voters going to the polls in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary said health care was the most important issue in determining their vote.

Sanders was the clear favorite among this group, garnering support from more than three in 10. Buttigieg and Klobuchar each attracted 1 in 5 of these voters, while Biden was the pick of 1 in 10. Warren, who has also campaigned on health care, landed in the single digits among this group.

Just under two-thirds of voters supported a single-payer system -- with Sanders attracting more than one-third of those voters and Buttigieg nearly a quarter.

Climate change followed, with about 3 in 10 naming it their top concern. About 2 in 10 rated income inequality as tops and 1 in 10 named foreign policy.

The early exit polls also indicate majorities of Democratic primary voters turning out today support more liberal policy positions designed to address both health care and income inequality.

Support for a Medicare-for-All-style health care plan, where a single government plan provides coverage for all Americans and replaces the current system of private health insurance, has divided the top candidates in the race for much of the campaign. But almost 6 in 10 New Hampshire Democratic primary voters today said they would support such a government plan, 4 in 10 were opposed.

About two-thirds said they would be in favor of making tuition free at public colleges and universities, a plan that has likewise divided the top candidates.

Several residents who voted in Manchester told CNN that health care was their top priority and influenced their vote.

Moe Abdel, a 24-year-old pharmacist, said he supports 'Medicare for All.'

'I see firsthand a lot of people who struggle to pay for their prescription drugs, especially older people on fixed incomes,' said Abdel, who declined to specify whom he voted for.

Health care also emerged as the most important issue for choosing a nominee among Iowa Democratic caucusgoers earlier this month, according to the entrance polls conducted there. Two in five Iowa caucus participants chose health care, and about 1 in 5 said climate change, while fewer chose foreign policy or income inequality.

Health care has been at the forefront of the campaign since the beginning, but the party is split between radically overhauling the nation's health insurance system or taking smaller steps.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent, has led the fight to create Medicare for All. It would essentially replace private insurance, providing sweeping benefits at no cost to patients.

But its price tag -- estimated at around $32 trillion over 10 years -- has spooked many people, providing a line of attack by rivals former Vice President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

While Sanders has acknowledged he'd have to raise taxes on the middle class, he hasn't laid out specifically how he would cover the tab.

Providing a detailed financing plan for Medicare for All may have contributed to the decline of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren's popularity. Her poll numbers took a nose dive after she laid out a proposal in November that called for states, employers, corporations and the wealthy to pay for the single-payer system, which she also supports.

Meanwhile, moderates such as Biden, Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar favor building on the Affordable Care Act. They would add to the Obamacare exchanges a government-backed public option, which would presumably have lower premiums and would compete with the private insurers. They would also boost federal subsidies so more people could afford coverage.

The CNN Exit Poll was conducted by Edison Research for the National Election Pool. Results are based on interviews conducted throughout the day with 1,947 randomly selected Democratic primary voters at 45 wards in New Hampshire. Results for the full sample have a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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