Politics

Poll: Welch leads 2-1 in Senate race, Balint slightly ahead in toss-up congressional primary

Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch. File photos by Mike Dougherty/VTDigger and Glenn Russell/VTDigger

A new University of New Hampshire poll shows U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., leading former U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan by a 2-1 margin in a head-to-head matchup in Vermont’s open U.S. Senate race.

Of 582 survey respondents, 62% said that they would vote for Welch, a Democrat, and just 27% said they would vote for Nolan, a Republican. The poll was conducted this month.

Welch’s Senate bid means that Vermont’s sole House seat is up for grabs. Of 278 survey respondents likely to vote in the Democratic primary this August, 28% said they would vote for Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint, 21% said they would vote for Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, 19% said they would support state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, D-Chittenden, and less than 1% said they would vote for Sianay Chase Clifford. 

For general election voters, the poll had a margin of error of 4.1%; for the primary, 5.9%. The surveys were conducted online. Rich Clark, a Vermont pollster who was not involved with the survey, said there are a few methodological caveats to keep in mind as people look at the results. The sample size of likely primary voters (278) is pretty small. Conducting a survey online could mean that your respondents skew younger, less rural and less conservative. And it’s early — most people won’t start paying attention until much later in the summer. 

Very little polling is done in Vermont, and this is the first survey conducted since Ram Hinsdale and Chase Clifford joined the Congressional race, and since Nolan joined the Senate race. 

Pollsters — and several campaign staffers — also said the most interesting results aren’t the head-to-head matchups. For the most telling data, they suggested looking at how favorably, or not, respondents viewed the individual candidates.

“At this point in the cycle, head-to-head results are largely meaningless,” said UNH survey director Andrew Smith, who conducted the poll. Clark agreed. Particularly when looking at the results for the Democratic primary for Congress, the Castleton University professor said his interest was most piqued by what’s known as each candidate’s “favorables.”

Clark noted that, except for Gray, the results show that the Democrats in the congressional race still remain largely unknown to the electorate. While only 27% of respondents said they didn’t know enough about Gray to say how they viewed her, 57% said the same about Ram Hinsdale, 55% about Balint and 79% about Chase Clifford. 

But Gray’s high name recognition doesn’t necessarily make her a frontrunner. While 23% of respondents said they viewed her favorably, almost the same as the number who said they approved of Balint (21%) and Ram Hinsdale (21%). 

Meanwhile, Gray had the highest unfavorable rating — and by a much larger margin. Twenty-five percent of respondents said they viewed her unfavorably. That number was much lower for Balint (10%) and Ram Hinsdale (11%). 

Low name recognition means that Balint, Ram Hinsdale and Chase Clifford still have plenty of opportunity to define themselves in front of the electorate. But voters already have a pretty fixed opinion about Gray.

“Unfavorables don't go down,” Clark said. “That kind of puts Molly Gray at a slight disadvantage.” 

Arshad Hasan, Ram Hinsdale’s interim campaign manager, said he also isn’t much concerned about the head-to-head matchup. Campaigns ask themselves a basic question: As more people get introduced to a candidate, will the candidate gain more traction? He argued the results show Ram Hinsdale has the runway she needs to keep gaining momentum.

“As we go around the state, we have room to grow,” Hasan said. It’s the candidate with the most name recognition, he said, who has a net negative favorability rating. 

“It's within the margin of error, but it's not a good sign for them,” he said of the Gray campaign.

Balint campaign manager Natalie Silver called the spread in the head-to-head match-up “huge” — and promptly sent a fundraising email touting the poll’s results.

But asked about the number of people who still don’t know who Balint is, she was quick to point to Gray’s unfavorables.

“If I was the Molly Gray campaign, I would be more nervous about the number of people who do know who my candidate is and don't want to vote for her,” Silver said.

Asked to weigh in, Gray campaign manager Samantha Sheehan said the UNH poll showed the lieutenant governor was the candidate “best positioned to keep this House seat in the hands of Democrats in November.” The poll showed Gray one point ahead of Balint and two points ahead of Ram Hinsdale — well within the margin of error — in a head-to-head match up against Marcia Horne, a Republican candidate. Horne ran for Congress as an independent in 2020 and received just over 1% of the vote.

The poll also queried Vermonters about the gubernatorial race. Gov. Phil Scott has not yet said whether he’ll run for a fourth term, but 56% of respondents think that he should. Slightly fewer — 50% — said that he deserves to be re-elected. A majority — 57% — continue to view Scott favorably, and although the governor is a Republican, it is self-identified independents and Democrats who support him most strongly. Per the UNH survey, 63% of Democrats had a favorable opinion of Scott, 20% of Democrats had an unfavorable opinion of him. But only 42% of Republicans approved of him and 30% had an unfavorable opinion of him.

No Democrat has yet said they will make a run for the governor’s office. But of the potential contenders UNH identified, Attorney General TJ Donovan has the highest name recognition and is the most popular: 38% view him favorably, 14% view him unfavorably, 22% have a neutral opinion of him and 27% don't know enough to say.

Vermont House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington and former Lt. Gov. Doug Racine are about equally unknown to the electorate — 58% and 57% said they didn’t know enough to form an opinion. Another potential candidate, anti-poverty activist and former gubernatorial candidate Brenda Siegel, was unknown by 73% of respondents.

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Lola Duffort

About Lola

Lola Duffort is a political reporter for VTDigger, covering Vermont state government, the congressional delegation and elections. She previously covered education for Digger, the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire and the Rutland Herald. She has also freelanced for the Miami Herald in Florida, where she grew up. She is a graduate of McGill University in Canada.

Email: [email protected]

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