New Hampshire has been very good to the Clintons, making Bill Clinton the "comeback kid" in its 1992 primary and helping Hillary Clinton to a badly needed victory after Barack Obama won Iowa in 2008. And Hillary Clinton is a strong favorite there again this year -- as she is nearly everywhere.
But as we enter the 2016 campaign, it's worth remembering that New Hampshire likes to surprise us. And there are plenty of reasons to keep an eye on the Granite State when it comes to Clinton's supposed "inevitability" as the Democratic nominee.
Despite vast coverage of Clinton's dominance in lining up for a presidential run, three in four likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters in a new WMUR Granite State Poll say they're "still trying to decide" who they'll vote for in the state's 2016 primary. Just 7 percent say they've "definitely decided."
The widespread lack of commitment in the poll, conducted by the University of New Hampshire, is unsurprising roughly one year before voting. But it is a reminder there's ample room for volatility in a Democratic race which thus far has looked like a looming Clinton rout. People are at least open-minded.
Between the courting of top strategists and Democratic donors, polls asking how Democrats would vote "if the election were held today" have found Clinton dominating other hopefuls. Indeed, 58 percent in the same sample of Democrats said they would support Clinton today, with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) in a distant second at 14 percent and Vice President Biden at 8 percent. This does not imply much hemming and hawing, but the "still trying to decide" number assures she hasn't put the Democratic nomination on ice just yet (nor should we expect her to have done so).
The lack of final decision is not itself worrisome for Clinton; voters simply don't decide this early. At this point in 2011, the Republican field was in a very similar situation, with 78 percent of Republican likely voters in February 2011 survey still trying to decide who to support -- even as Mitt Romney held a 30-point lead over other potential contenders in a state he wound up dominating in 2012. Romney won by 16 points over Ron Paul, smaller than his initial edge but still a no-doubted from the beginning.
But the survey offers other clues as to Clinton's vulnerabilities among primary voters and makes clear Democratic voters are not thrilled about their options so far. Fewer than one in five Democrats say they're "very satisfied" with the choice of candidates for the Democratic nomination (18 percent); 63 percent take poll choice equivalent of "meh," saying they are "somewhat satisfied." And despite nearly six in 10 preferring her to other Democrats, just 32 percent say she is the most likable and 31 percent say she's the most believable. No other candidate, though, beats her on these attributes.
The rest of the poll is gravy for Clinton's prospects, and bodes particularly poorly for Joe Biden, one of her strongest potential rivals. More than eight in 10 have a favorable impression of her (83 percent) and just 9 percent are unfavorable -- by far the best favorable-unfavorable margin (+74). Others like Warren and Sanders are similarly well-liked by those who know them, but aren't as well-known.
Biden's image is weaker according to the poll. His favorability margin is a modest +23 (53 percent favorable/30 percent unfavorable), which far weaker than Warren or Clinton and worse than surveys by the same pollster in October and July (+32 and +47 favorability margins, respectively.) Biden is less popular in New Hampshire than Iowa, where a Des Moines Register/Bloomberg Politics poll found a 78/20 percent favorable/unfavorable split on general impressions.
The poll underscores how much Clinton's candidacy banks on other Democrats failing to make strong impression ahead of primaries this fall, and the importance of maintaining her own positive image. When New Hampshire voters do begin to decide, she'll want voters' opinions to look a lot they do right now.
The WMUR Granite State poll was conducted on landline and cellular phones Jan. 22 to Feb. 3 among a random sample of 297 likely voters in the 2016 New Hampshire Democratic primary. The margin of sampling error is 5.7 percentage points.
Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.