Hillary Clinton holds a 2-to-1 national lead over Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, enjoying a wide advantage on handling terrorism while trailing her rival narrowly on honesty, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
Clinton receives 59 percent of the support among Democratic-leaning registered voters, while 28 percent back Sanders. Clinton’s standing changed little from the 60 percent received a month ago, while the Vermont senator’s support dipped from a high of 34 percent in November. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley stands at 5 percent, compared with 2 percent in October.
Clinton’s current national lead is reminiscent of where she stood eight years ago, when a Post-ABC poll showed her leading then-Sen. Barack Obama by 28 points. Then, as now, polls in the two earliest states — Iowa and New Hampshire — both showed a closer race, particularly in Iowa.
But parallels between 2008 and today may be limited. In 2008, after Obama won the Iowa caucuses, African Americans united behind him over Clinton, supporting him by an average of 82 percent to 15 percent across all primary contests where exit polls were conducted. So far this year, Sanders has struggled to make inroads among African American Democrats. Clinton is leading 71 percent to 19 percent over the two most recent Post-ABC surveys.
Sanders’s support among white voters has helped make him competitive in those first two overwhelmingly white states, but his mixed support among African American and Hispanic voters, who make up a larger portion of the electorate in states with later contests, creates a substantial obstacle for him to overcome.
In addition, Clinton has secured extraordinary support from Democratic lawmakers for her candidacy. An outright majority of Democratic senators and House members have endorsed Clinton’s candidacy, unprecedented in modern nomination cycles. Just two of Sanders colleagues have endorsed his candidacy.
The latest shift in focus to terrorism and national security after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., plays to Clinton’s strengths, although a plurality of Democrats say the economy is the most important issue to them. More than 6 in 10 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (64 percent) say Clinton would better handle the threat of terrorism. That compares with 26 percent who give Sanders the edge.
Clinton also leads Sanders by 17 percentage points on which candidate is closest to them on issues and by 13 points on understanding people’s problems, with results little changed from October.
Honesty represents Sanders’s clearest opening against Clinton. The poll found that 44 percent of Democrats say he is more honest and trustworthy than Clinton while 38 percent choose Clinton over Sanders. Among Democrats who currently support Clinton, 6 in 10 say she is the more honest while about 2 in 10 choose Sanders; the rest rate them similarly or have no opinion.
Demographically, Sanders’s support is concentrated among liberal and white Democrats, but The Post-ABC poll finds his advantage among both groups has fallen in the past month.
In November, Sanders led Clinton by a 21-point margin among Democratic voters under age 40, but the new poll finds younger Democrats splitting between him and Clinton. Among liberal Democrats, Sanders trails Clinton by 22 points, with her expanding her 7-point edge in November. It is not clear why those numbers have shifted.
National polls are not always reliable predictors of early state voting. Recent state polls highlight the differences. In Iowa, a Des Moines Register-Bloomberg Politics poll released last weekend found Clinton leading by 9 percentage points among likely voters in the state’s Feb. 1 caucuses. In New Hampshire, whose primary will be held Feb. 9, Sanders led by 10 points in a CNN/WMUR poll this month.
In South Carolina, Clinton held a commanding 44-point lead among likely voters in an early December Fox News poll. In late 2007, she and Obama were competitive with each other there, but she eventually lost the state by a wide margin, in large part because of Obama’s 78 percent to 19 percent support among African American voters. In the latest survey, she leads Sanders 82 percent to 11 percent among black voters.
The Post-ABC poll was conducted Dec. 10-13 among a random national sample of 1,002 adults reached on conventional and cellular telephones. Overall results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The error margin is plus or minus 5.5 points among the sample of 377 Democrats and Democratic-leaning registered voters.