UNH poll shows Becca Balint with lopsided lead over Molly Gray in Democratic US House primary

Becca Balint, left, and Molly Gray. Photos by Mike Dougherty and Glenn Russell/VTDigger

A new poll from the University of New Hampshire suggests that the Democratic primary for the state’s sole U.S. House seat could be a blowout win for Vermont Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint.

A UNH Survey Center survey, commissioned by WCAX, found that 63% of likely Democratic primary voters would vote for Balint, while 21% would vote for Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, who is considered her chief rival. Only 2% said they would vote for Louis Meyers, a South Burlington physician, and 13% remain undecided. The station released partial results from the poll on Tuesday

The web-based survey, conducted in July, recruited participants by texting randomly selected cellphone numbers across Vermont. According to Andrew Smith, director of the UNH Survey Center, 352 likely Democratic primary voters submitted responses, and 196 likely Republican primary voters weighed in. He said the margin of error for questions about the Democratic primary was 5%. For the Republican primary, it was 7%.

Balint’s lead certainly outstrips the survey’s margin of error, Smith said. Still, he said to read the results with a grain of salt.

“I would be very cautious about any sort of primary election numbers,” he said. “There's a lot of things that can move around in these races.”

Thirteen days remain until the Aug. 9 primary election, although early voting is already well underway.

The survey also showed that Balint and Gray had roughly equal name recognition — but that Balint had a starkly higher approval rating. Seventy-three percent of likely Democratic primary voters said they had a favorable view of Balint. Only 42% said the same of Gray.

There has been very little public polling in the race. Previous survey results from UNH in April suggested the race was, at the time, essentially a toss-up, and a VPR poll in January showed Gray with a commanding lead but a high number of undecided voters. 

Much has changed since those two early polls. Two candidates, state Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale and Sianay Chase Clifford, have dropped out. Ram Hinsdale endorsed Balint upon her exit from the race, and Chase Clifford has not endorsed another candidate.

There were other surprises in the UNH survey: namely, former U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan’s underwhelming showing in the U.S. Senate Republican primary. 

Despite support for Nolan from national Republican figures and Gov. Phil Scott, the survey showed veteran Gerald Malloy, a political newcomer running to the right of Nolan, with a slight lead. Thirty percent of likely Republican primary voters said they would pick Malloy, 24% said they would pick Nolan and 42% said they were undecided. Just 3% picked Myers Mermel, an investment banker who is also in the race. Given the margin of error, pollsters said the results basically show a tie between Nolan and Malloy.

Rich Clark, a Castleton University professor and Vermont pollster who was not involved with the UNH poll, expressed shock at the survey’s results. 

“My jaw dropped. I mean — I thought we were talking about a very, very close race,” Clark said  of the Democratic House primary. 

Clark also cautioned against reading too much into the survey. Primaries are notoriously hard to poll because who ultimately turns out is hard to predict, and overall turnout is usually low. The sample size of those queried was small, he said, adding that it was not clear UNH pollsters had adequately adjusted the results accordingly.

He said the survey may indeed be a good measure of how the general public in Vermont feels about the race, but that does not mean it will map onto the results come primary day. 

“This is a good general public account, but the people who come out and vote in a primary are not the general public,” he said.

The UNH survey also showed that in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., remains the overwhelming favorite. Eighty-two percent of likely Democratic voters said they would vote for him, while just 6% said they would pick progressive activist Isaac Evans-Frantz, and 1% said they would pick physician Nikki Thran.

The vast majority of likely voters in the Republican Congressional primary responding to the survey said they were undecided. Nearly 60% said they had not made up their minds. Just 15% said they would pick Burlington accountant Ericka Redic, 14% picked antiwar advocate Liam Madden (a self-described independent who is nevertheless running on the Republican ballot) and 9% chose former GOP congressional nominee Anya Tynio.

WCAX is expected to release more results from the poll Friday.

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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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