UNH poll shows Zuckerman, Benning leading in lieutenant governor primaries

Clockwise from top left: Patricia Preston, Kitty Toll, David Zuckerman and Charlie Kimbell. Photos by Glenn Russell and Mike Dougherty/VTDigger and courtesy of Patricia Preston

Updated at 6:00 p.m.

Former Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman is leading the pack in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, according to a new poll released Thursday.

The University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll, commissioned by WCAX, found that 38% of likely Democratic primary voters would vote for Zuckerman, a Progressive/Democrat, while 23% said they would vote for former Democratic state Rep. Kitty Toll, his closest competitor in the four-way race. Seven percent said they would choose nonprofit executive Patricia Preston, while 4% said they would support state Rep. Charlie Kimbell, D-Woodstock. Notably, 23% said they were undecided.

Zuckerman, who held the LG post from 2017 to 2021, remains the candidate with the highest name recognition. Only 9% of likely Democratic voters said they didn’t know enough about him to have an opinion; 43% said the same of Toll. (Zuckerman ran for governor in 2020 and easily won the Democratic nomination before losing badly to Republican Gov. Phil Scott in the general election.)

The former lieutenant governor’s lead is “fairly significant,” said UNH Survey Center director Andrew Smith. But a lot could happen between now and primary day on Aug. 9. (Early voting is already underway.)

“The 23% undecided is still your biggest question. Zuckerman is by far the best known candidate. He's the former lieutenant governor. He's a guy who's been there before. He's got the background and so forth. But again, primaries are very quirky beasts,” Smith said.

WCAX has been releasing results from the survey throughout the week, including on the U.S. House race Tuesday and on the 2024 presidential election Wednesday. A final batch is expected out Friday evening on the issues that are expected to be top of mind for voters as they cast their ballots.

The web-based survey, conducted between July 21 and July 25, recruited participants by texting randomly selected cellphone numbers across the state. According to Smith, 651 respondents submitted answers to general election questions, and those survey results have a margin of error of 3.8%.

In questions about the primaries, 352 likely Democratic voters submitted responses, and 196 likely Republican voters weighed in. Smith said the margin of error for questions about the Democratic primary was 5%; for the Republican contest it was 7%.

In the Republican primary for lieutenant governor, state Sen. Joe Benning, a moderate Republican from Caledonia County, had a 13-point lead over Gregory Thayer, a pro-Trump hardline conservative from Rutland. Thirty-three percent of likely GOP voters polled said they would cast their ballot for Benning, while 20% said they would vote for Thayer. But Smith said the most important indicator is that roughly half of Republicans said they remained undecided.

“It is a statistically significant lead, but given that 47% are undecided — it doesn't really matter how statistically significant it is. There's a whole block of people out there that haven't made up their mind,” he said.

The poll also suggests Scott is cruising to reelection. If November’s general election were held today and they are the candidates on the ballot, 60% of respondents said they would back Scott, and 16% said they would vote for anti-poverty activist Brenda Siegel, the presumptive Democratic nominee. 

The GOP governor, who is running for his fourth term, continues to enjoy strong support from Democrats; 51% said they would vote for him in the general election, 21% said they would support Siegel and 22% said they were undecided. Eighty percent of Republicans said they would vote for him in the general election. 

Scott’s job approval rating also appears largely unchanged from surveys conducted by UNH in January and April. Overall, 66% of Vermont residents polled in July said they approved of his job performance; 75% of Democrats, 71% of independents and 50% of Republicans said they believe Scott is doing a good job.

Results released by the television station on Friday evening show Democrats and Republicans in Vermont are starkly divided on the most pressing issues facing the country. A whopping 94% of Republicans cited inflation as the first, second or third most important matter. Fifty-eight percent of independents agreed, but only 25% of Democrats felt the same.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of Democrats — 71% — said climate change was a top three concern; 43% of independents and just 12% of Republicans polled agreed. 

Partisan polarization is also top of mind — particularly for Democrats and independents. 48% of Democrats and 58% of independents put it in the top three, although just 30% Republicans feel the same. 

Polarization was even more important to Democrats than abortion, even in a post-Roe landscape. Just 40% of Democrats said the latter was a top three concern; 35% of independents and 27% of Republicans agreed.

Gun violence was cited as either the first, second or third most important issue by 51% of Democrats, 21% of independents and 20% of Republicans.

Apathy about the Covid-19 pandemic now appears bipartisan. Just 12% of Democrats ranked it in their top three; 3% of Republicans did the same.

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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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