CONCORD, N.H. — When Justin Desfosses was on the hunt for a candidate to support in this presidential primary, there was one person he didn’t consider: Hillary Clinton.
“Not at all,” said the 35-year-old comic book store manager. Desfosses listed the reasons why he favors Senator Bernie Sanders over the former secretary of state while helping customers in his store: He tells it straight, she panders; he’s in touch, she’s not; he’s genuine, she’s not.
For all the talk of Sanders’ unique charisma and connection with voters, there are Democratic voters such as Desfosses who “Feel the Bern” — a Sanders’ campaign catch-phrase — for reasons beyond the candidate from Vermont. Recent polls show a significant portion of Sanders’ supporters in New Hampshire are cold toward Clinton and the problem is getting worse for her.
Sanders, who was once considered a long-shot candidate but now has a sizable lead over Clinton in New Hampshire, has seen his popularity rise with state voters. For example, a poll released last month by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center showed Sanders’ favorability jumped to 91 percent, with only 7 percent of likely Democratic voters saying they held an unfavorable view of the senator.
The same poll showed Clinton’s favorability dip to 65 percent, with about 26 percent of Democratic voters saying they had an unfavorable opinion of her. The UNH poll also asked which candidate would people “not vote for under any circumstance?” The response: 14 percent said Clinton and 4 percent said Sanders.
“More Sanders’ voters dislike Clinton than Clinton voters dislike Sanders,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. His poll showed that 41 percent of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters were “not too likely” or “not at all likely” to vote for Clinton on Feb. 9, compared with 26 percent of voters who had the same responses when asked about Sanders.
Another recent poll of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters showed that 95 percent say Sanders “gets it.” The CBS News survey showed 60 percent said Clinton understands what people are feeling.
While pollsters agree Sanders has perhaps unprecedented approval ratings, their reasons why are varied — and reach beyond his populist appeal and even his own candidacy.
Some point to age, saying younger generations want to see a political paradigm shift and find Clinton unpalatable. Others say Sanders is doing more to attract disengaged or first-time voters. And then there are those who say gender plays a role, with more moderate Democratic men protesting Clinton by choosing Sanders.
“She’s a got a man problem,” said Suffolk University pollster David Paleologos, pointing out that his most recent poll showed men favoring Sanders, 67 percent to 25 percent. “There are a mix of people who are ideologically left, on the one hand, who are particularly tuned into his issues like climate change and single payer health care. Then he’s also got other men who are more conservative and whose intentions are more anti-Hillary Clinton than pro-Sanders.”
Clinton’s campaign said that she, unlike Sanders, has been subject to months of attack ads and still “Hillary Clinton continues to be the person that Democrats trust to get the job done and deliver real results for Granite State families,” Julie McClain, Clinton’s New Hampshire spokeswoman, said in a statement underscoring a different subset of poll questions – which candidate can get results.
And Clinton does have a well of support in New Hampshire, which has been known as Clinton Country since 1992, when her husband made a comeback in his own presidential bid. In 2008, Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire primary by a two-point margin, breathing life into her faltering campaign, although she eventually lost the nomination.
In that campaign as well, Clinton sustained similar criticism on her character. In a pre-primary debate in 2008, she was asked about voters who did not think she was likable. “I don’t think I’m that bad,” she responded, to which President Obama quipped, “You’re likable enough.”
Voters have their own opinions, with many touting her experience but saying it’s simply not enough to win their vote in the primary. Even then, many Democrats said they would eventually support Clinton if Sanders did not win the nomination.
‘I don’t hate her. But something there is spiritually lacking.’Albert LaChance, a Bernie Sanders supporter, on Hillary Clinton
“I just like him,” Tom Smith, a small-business owner in Concord, said. And although Sanders “appeals” to Smith, who considers himself an independent voter with Democratic tendencies, the 58-year-old said he’s not completely committed — “yet.” He is, however, completely opposed to Clinton.
“I don’t like Hillary Clinton at all,” Smith said from behind the counter. When asked why, he said, “Oh, geez. We don’t have long enough to talk. Let’s not even go there.”
Albert LaChance, of New Boston, gladly went “there” as his wife tried to hurry him into the waiting car, a huge “Bernie 2016” in the back window.
“I don’t hate her. But something there is spiritually lacking,” he said, calling Sanders honest and saying he likes the campaign’s focus on economic justice. “Like you could feel Obama, you can feel Bernie. You don’t feel Hillary.”
Sanders’ “people-powered movement” resonates with Willow Mauck, owner of Willow’s Plant-Based Eatery. He’s inspiring young people, including herself, to get involved in the political process, the 30-year-old said.
“I’m actually going to phone bank for him,” she said.
Mauck demurs when asked what she thinks about Clinton, pausing and saying “hmm” and “uh” several times before answering: “I’m all for a woman president, but it’s not about a woman president.”
Mauck’s neighbor, Rachel Ward, didn’t tap dance around her disapproval of Clinton.
“I don’t personally like her,” the 42-year-old single mother of two said. “I don’t trust her.”
Sanders’ campaign, she said, is about empowering middle-class families, making “big banks” pay their share. “And I really love the sound of college being paid,” she added.
To Ward, Sanders is “pretty amazing;” Clinton, not so much.