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Sanders, Biden lead tight pack of front-runners in Suffolk/Globe New Hampshire poll

Former Vice President Joe Biden (left) and Bernie Sanders.
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Former Vice President Joe Biden (left) and Senator Bernie Sanders.

Senator Bernie Sanders has the slimmest of leads among a knot of four top presidential contenders, with Senator Elizabeth Warren dropping to the rear of the top tier amid significantly weaker support among men than she enjoyed two months ago, according to a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll of likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters.

The survey found Sanders, who won the New Hampshire Democratic primary in 2016, with 16 percent support. Former vice president Joe Biden had 15 percent, former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg had 12 percent, and Warren had 10 percent — all within the poll’s margin of error.

The other candidates were in single digits.

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Overall, the survey found an unsettled race just three weeks ahead of the first-in-the-nation primary, with nearly one in four likely primary voters undecided on which candidate they will support. Nearly half of those who have settled on a choice said they remain open to changing their minds before Feb. 11.

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The muddled nature of the New Hampshire field could give a boost to whomever emerges victorious in Iowa’s Feb. 3 caucuses, possibly helping to tip vacillating Granite State voters toward a newly evident front-runner. The Real Clear Politics polling average places Biden at the front of the pack in Iowa, but shows a tight four-way race among the same candidates as New Hampshire.

While Warren saw a four-point drop from the last Suffolk/Globe poll, in November, Biden gained three points. Support for Sanders and Buttigieg was essentially unchanged.

“It’s highly fluid,” said David Paleologos, director of Suffolk’s Political Research Center, which conducted the poll. “Right now, it appears that one of the top four candidates will be the eventual winner. And the question is: Who will have the momentum at the right time, who will peak at the right time?”

Fueling Warren’s drop was a loss of support among men. Just 4 percent of male respondents said she was their first choice, compared to 13 percent of men in the earlier Suffolk/Globe poll. Her support among women remained steady at 14 percent, compared to 15 percent of women in the November poll.

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It’s unclear why Warren’s support among men has eroded. Follow-up interviews with respondents suggested some male voters found her politics too liberal.

“I don’t like giving away stuff for free,” said Christopher Larochelle, 37, a firefighter and registered Democrat from Pembroke, citing Warren’s support for “free college,” and the unfairness when people like him have worked hard to pay off their own hefty student debt loads.

Larochelle said he plans to vote for Sanders, whom he supported in 2016 — though he thinks the Vermont senator is leaning “a little too far left on his policies” this time around.

“I like Bernie Sanders because I’ve always been with Bernie Sanders,” Larochelle said.

Dave Nichols, 61, an out-of-work technology trainer, sees a gender dynamic at work, even in his own views. Warren is an effective communicator, but she comes across as a scold at times, he said.

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“It strikes me as woman-splaining,” said the Londonderry resident and self-described Never Trumper and onetime Republican who will be voting in the Democratic primary for the first time this year. “There is a certain way a man can put down a woman without thinking about it. . . . A woman can do it too [with an attitude of] ‘You don’t have the emotional intelligence to understand this as well as I do.’ ”

Nichols said billionaire Tom Steyer, who had just 3 percent in the poll, is his current favorite. His second choice is Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who had 5 percent in the poll.

Despite Warren’s weak support among men, the overwhelming majority of likely voters, 78 percent, said they believe a woman can win the Electoral College vote to defeat Trump.

During the last debate, Warren sought to capitalize on questions about the political fortunes of women, turning them into an argument for her own electability. She said prior to the debate that Sanders had told her a woman couldn’t beat Trump — which Sanders denied saying.

The Suffolk/Globe poll suggests the incident didn’t help either candidate, with results showing it may have hurt cross-over support for each. Thirty-two percent of Sanders’ voters would pick Warren as a second choice, down from 36 percent in November. For Warren supporters, 22 percent would choose Sanders as their second choice, down from 28 percent in November.

The survey of 500 likely Democratic primary voters —taken Wednesday through Sundayafter the Warren-Sanders dust-up over gender — found that anxiety about electability colors the campaign.

More than a third of those polled said they feel in their gut that President Trump will be reelected.

“There’s a pretty large fan base for President Trump across the United States, and I’m just afraid he’s going to be reelected because there’s so many people out there who really like him, unfortunately,” said Susan Chuvala, 58, of Concord. She knows quite a few of them personally — educated, intelligent people, she said.

Meanwhile, the registered Democrat remains undecided on which candidate to support. “There’s a lot of candidates, and so far I’m unimpressed by any of them,” she said.

Paleologos, the pollster, said the surprisingly high number of Democrats who believe Trump will prevail should worry party leaders.

“Most Democrats can’t even utter the words that ‘Donald Trump will be reelected,’ ” he said. So the fact that so many would admit it to a pollster has to be a concern for the Democratic National Committee, Paleologos added.

“You don’t want any members of your team thinking you’re going to lose the big game,’ he said. “If a third of your team doesn’t think you can win, what then?”

Trailing the top quartet was entrepreneur Andrew Yang with 6 percent, a two point rise from November, followed by Representative Tulsi Gabbard and Klobuchar, both with 5 percent, according to the survey. Steyer had 3 percent. Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado, former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, and former representative John Delaney all had 1 percent support or less.

Despite the bunched-up nature of the front-runners, the poll found the depth of support inconsistent.

Sanders supporters, for example, are much more committed than those who are backing anyone else in the field — a finding consistent with the November survey.

In the new poll, 60 percent of Sanders voters said their minds are firmly made up to support him, while 48 percent of Buttigieg supporters and 47 percent of Warren supporters feel the same way. Biden supporters were the least loyal, with just 39 percent saying they had firmly decided to back him.

And between the two leading progressive candidates, the survey found that likely voters see Sanders as more progressive on the issues that matter to them than Warren by a large margin — 53 percent to 19 percent.

But Sanders supporters showed the lightest devotion to party. Seventy-six percent of Sanders backers said they would vote for the Democratic nominee if it was someone other than their candidate became the nominee, compared to 92 percent of Warren supporters and 82 percent of Biden and Buttigieg supporters.

Among other notable findings in the poll:

 When it came to voters’ second-choice pick, Buttigieg came in first, with 15 percent of likely voters choosing him, with Warren close behind with 14 percent.

 Even though former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg isn’t on the New Hampshire ballot, 70 percent of likely voters have seen his ads. But all that spending doesn’t seem to be gaining him much traction: 54 percent of likely voters said the ads were either “not at all convincing” or “not very convincing.”

 Sixty-nine percent of respondents said they were “very worried” or “somewhat worried” that the United States and Iran could get into a full-blown war.

The poll was conducted by live operators who called landline and mobile phones. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Victoria McGrane
can be reached at victoria.mcgrane@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @vgmac.