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Plenty of Independents Swaying Between Democratic & Republican Primaries

WBUR/MassINC Polling Group

Remember those “mystifying” undeclared voters of New Hampshire everyone keeps talking about?

Well, if the results from a new WBUR poll are any indication, a good portion of this group still hasn’t settled on which party’s primary they’ll participate in – let alone which candidate they’ll end up voting for.

The poll, conducted for WBUR by The MassINC Polling Group, included 436 likely voters registered as “undeclared” in New Hampshire. Of that group, 21 percent still weren’t sure whether they’d vote in the Republican or the Democratic primary.

And among those who said they’d picked a primary, 15 percent who picked the Democratic primary said they still might switch to the Republican contest; 12 percent of Republicans said they might still switch to the Democratic side.

Those who were still undecided cited a number of factors that could influence which primary they’ll choose: 24 percent said it hinged on concerns about specific issues, and 20 percent said the “choice of candidates” or “personal qualities” played a role.

Others said they were simply still “waiting to decide” or “watching the polls,” while some (8 percent in each case) cited a desire to vote either against Donald Trump or against Hillary Clinton.

As MassINC Polling Group President (and NHPR contributor) Steve Koczela notes in a WBUR column, these decisions could have implications for both races.

"Thursday’s poll also shows that New Hampshire’s likely undeclared voters are taking their time — a third still haven’t fully made up their mind which ballot to pull on Feb. 9," Koczela writes. "All of this introduces a significant dose of uncertainty, and gives independents an enormous amount of influence in determining the outcome of both parties’ contests."

Credit WBUR/MassINC Polling Group

So who stands to gain the most from this indecisive bloc? It depends.

Bernie Sanders, a Democrat, and John Kasich, a Republican, were the only candidates who has positive net favorable among the undeclared voters included in WBUR’s poll. Trump and Ted Cruz had the lowest net favorable ratings, at negative 37 and 38 percent, respectively.

But, as Koczela notes, those candidates aren’t the only ones whose fates depend on the independent vote:

How many ultimately choose each ballot will impact the outcome of both contests this year. Sanders does exceptionally well among Granite State independents. The more of them who pull a Democratic ballot, the better for Sanders. On the other side, Kasich (and Jeb Bush, to some extent) stands to benefit most if independents flock to the Republican ballot. Kasich does the best among the independents leaning toward the Democratic ballot. If they change course at the last minute and vote Republican, Kasich could over-perform his poll numbers by a considerable margin. On the flip side, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Clinton would rather see undeclared voters pull the other party’s ballot. Trump does the best among the most committed Republican-leaning independents, as does Cruz. He would rather not see those on the fence about which ballot to choose fall on the Republican side. The fence sitters are the most likely to go for Kasich.

You can read more analysis from WBUR, along with the original topline and crosstabs from the poll.

Casey McDermott is a senior news editor at New Hampshire Public Radio. Throughout her time as an NHPR reporter and editor, she has worked with colleagues across the newsroom to deepen the station’s accountability coverage, data journalism and audience engagement across platforms.

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