A new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll of likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters shows a tight, four-way contest, with Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on top but statistically tied with Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., and former vice president Joe Biden.
It has been decades since this many candidates have jostled for the lead so soon before a New Hampshire presidential primary. On Monday, longtime New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner officially scheduled the vote for Feb. 11.
The survey found Sanders, who won the New Hampshire primary in 2016, leading the field with 16 percent, including those who lean toward the candidate. Warren had 14 percent, Buttigieg had 13 percent, and Biden had 12 percent. All other candidates, including former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who jumped in the race this month, were in single digits.
The poll suggested little about this race is set in stone. Twenty-one percent of likely voters were undecided. When those who chose a candidate were pressed, more than half said they might change their minds before the primary, while only 43 percent said their minds were made up.
While support for Sanders and Warren was essentially unchanged from the last Suffolk/Globe poll in August, Biden lost 9 percentage points, while Buttigieg gained 7 points.
“The narrative is changing in New Hampshire,” said David Paleologos, director of Suffolk’s Political Research Center, which conducted the poll.
Earlier, he said, people were talking about a battle for progressive voters between Sanders and Warren.
“Now, add to that the war between Buttigieg and Biden,” Paleologos said.
Since the last Suffolk/Globe poll, older voters in particular have shifted. Among voters over 65 years of age, Biden dropped from 28 percent in August to 12 percent today, while Buttigieg has vaulted from 2 percent to 17 percent and now leads the field among seniors.
Buttigieg also leads the field among voters 56-65, among whom he has 22 percent support.
One voter who switched from Biden to Buttigieg is Michael Mahany, 61, of Chester, a self-described moderate Democrat who works in sales.
“I had pretty high hopes for Joe Biden. I wanted to like him and vote for him because of his time with the Obama administration and I thought he had the experience,” said Mahany. “But he just hasn’t had his stuff together, and he just hasn’t stepped up in the debates and I am not sure he ever will now.”
While Mahany said that compared to the field, he doesn’t think Buttigieg has the experience to be president, he’s willing to give the 37-year-old mayor a chance. “He is pretty idealistic and wants to get the country back together. He has really stepped out from the pack,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sanders’ support remains strong with younger voters. He leads among those 45 and under. In fact, nearly one out of three voters in the 18-35 age group are with Sanders, nearly double his statewide average.
But among the statistically tied frontrunners, not all support is the same. Sanders, for example, has much more committed supporters than anyone else in the field.
In the poll, 64 percent of Sanders voters said their minds are firmly made up to support him. But just 37 percent of Biden supporters, 36 percent of Warren supporters, and 30 percent of Buttigieg supporters feel the same way.
While the Suffolk/Globe survey found Sanders topping Warren, the Massachusetts senator was ahead of him in eight out of the last nine previous polls taken in the Granite State.
Trailing the Sanders-Warren-Buttigieg-Biden quartet was Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii with 6 percent. Last month, Hillary Clinton accused the congresswoman of being a Russian plant to eventually run as a third-party candidate next year and take votes away from the Democratic nominee. The comment ended up boosting her support and she is now in fifth place.
The survey found Gabbard does better among men and moderates. And far more than any other candidate, her supporters said that if Gabbard doesn’t become the nominee, they will consider voting for Trump or for a third-party candidate.
“I liked Tulsi more after Clinton attacked her,” said Mark Gold, a 58-year-old computer consultant who lives in Concord. “The Democratic Party appears to like to manipulate things for their preferred candidate and I think that demonstrated she is different.”
Trailing Gabbard was entrepreneur Andrew Yang with 4 percent and Senator Kamala Harris of California with 3 percent, the survey found. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and businessman Tom Steyer had 2 percent each. Eight other candidates, including Patrick and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, all either had 1 percent support or less. Former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg, who announced he was running for president on Sunday, was not included in the poll because he is not competing in New Hampshire’s primary.
Patrick, who announced his campaign on Nov. 14, has acknowledged the long-shot nature of his candidacy.
When asked which statement comes closest to their view, 50 percent of likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters said Patrick waited too long and they won’t consider him. Forty-three percent said they are open to considering him.
MacKenzie Nicholson, a 29-year-old nonprofit worker from Nottingham, was among those who felt it was too late for a Patrick bid.
“If you are serious about running for president you need to be here at least all summer. In New Hampshire, you have to sit down and meet with people,” said Nicholson, who is currently backing Warren. “It is sort of laughable that he is getting in now. It looks like he has given this no thought.”
The poll of 500 likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters was conducted by live operators who called landline and mobile phones Thursday night through Sunday. It had a margin of error of +/- 4.4 percentage points.