A new poll commissioned by Vermont Public Radio shows Sue Minter and Matt Dunne leading the Democratic gubernatorial field in favorability and name recognition.
The Castleton Polling Institute did not ask Vermonters who they would vote for in the state's primary election, which is less than two weeks away. But it found that more voters like and know the pair than they do former senator Peter Galbraith and perennial candidates Cris Ericson and H. Brooke Paige.
According to the poll, which was conducted during the middle of July, 58 percent of Vermonters view Minter favorably, while 13 percent view her unfavorably. Fifty percent see Dunne in a favorable light, while 16 percent do not. Only 39 percent have a good impression of Galbraith, while 24 percent have a bad impression.
Though Minter holds a slight lead in favorability, Dunne does in name recognition. Seventy-three percent of those polled say they know who he is, while 63 percent say the same for Minter and only 48 percent for Galbraith.
"It would be really hard to look at our data and predict who's going to come out on top in that race," says Castleton polling director Rich Clark.
His organization and its client, VPR, chose not to ask respondents who they would vote for because they feared it would be impossible to predict who would actually cast ballots in what Clark predicts will be a "pathetically" low-turnout August primary.
"It's finding needles in haystacks," he argues.
Clark says he was informed by his experience polling the 2012 Democratic primary. Weeks before that election, he found Attorney General Bill Sorrell leading challenger T.J. Donovan by a significant amount. As it turned out, the incumbent barely won.
"When we ran that I said there was a huge margin of error," he recalls. "I tried to throw out all the caveats that I could, but they were just not heard."
This year's Republican gubernatorial primary features sharper differences than the Democratic one. Since Clark first polled the field last September, retired Wall Street banker Bruce Lisman's name recognition has jumped from 21 percent to 61 percent. That's likely due to his aggressive television and direct-mail campaigns.
"It's a huge difference," Clark says. "Those commercials have really reached a lot of people."
But Lisman's sole GOP opponent, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, is still known by more voters: 86 percent. And Scott remains more popular, though Lisman's negative campaigning appears to have done some damage. Fifty-eight percent of voters view Scott favorably, while 13 percent view him unfavorably. Thirty-six percent see Lisman in a positive light, while 33 percent do not.
"He's still in a really favorable place," Clark says of the lieutenant governor. "There'd have to be a hell of a get-out-the-vote effort by Lisman to take that one."
The poll of 637 people has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percent.
Castleton did ask respondents how they would vote in two general election races, which will likely see far higher turnout: for president and a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Thirty-nine percent said they'd vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton for president, 17 percent for Republican Donald Trump and 5 percent for Libertarian Gary Johnson. A whopping 26 percent said they would vote for another candidate — more than professed support for the Republican nominee.
In the race for U.S. Senate, 62 percent said they would support incumbent Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), while 23 percent said they would back Republican challenger Scott Milne.
View the poll here and download the full results here.