HENNIKER – The first poll of the 2016 election cycle gauging a potential U.S. Senate matchup between Sen. Kelly Ayotte and Gov. Maggie Hassan shows incumbent Republican Ayotte with a small lead over the Democratic chief executive.
The poll conducted by the New England College Polling Institute exclusively for the New Hampshire Journal earlier this week shows Ayotte the choice of 48.1 percent and Hassan the choice of 42.5 percent, with 4.4 percent choosing another candidate and 5 percent unsure.
The Polling Institute conducted automated surveys of 541 New Hampshire registered voters on Monday, Dec. 1, a sampling closer to a 2014 turnout scenario than the expected turnout in 2016, a presidential election year. The margin of error is 4.2 percent. For full poll results, click here.
Although Hassan has just won reelection as governor and has made no strong indication of her plans for 2016, she has not ruled out a Senate run and speculation has been strong in New Hampshire political circles that the governor may challenge Ayotte in her bid for a second term.
Ayotte, meanwhile, first told the New Hampshire Journal on Nov. 7 that she will seek reelection.
The poll shows a slight lead for Ayotte among women, 46.2 to 44.9 percent, and a larger led for Ayotte among men, 50.7 to 39.2 percent.
Each candidate is strong with her base, but there is notable crossover. Hassan is supported by 84.5 percent of Democrats and 9.9 percent of Republicans, while Ayotte is supported by 81.9 percent of Republicans and 10.8 percent of Democrats.
The poll gives an early indication of what many would expect from a match-up of these two major players on the New Hampshire political scene — it would be a close, hard-fought contest.
Just as President Barack Obama’s unpopularity did not significantly affect Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in her recent win over Republican Scott Brown, Hassan also does not appear to be susceptible to such an Obama effect, either. And , of course, by the fall of 2016, Obama will no longer be a significant factor as Democrats will have chosen a new presidential nominee, very possibly Hillary Clinton.
The NEC/NHJournal poll shows that 44.4 percent of those surveyed approve of Obama’s job performance, while 51.2 percent disapprove and 4.4 percent have no opinion.
But Granite Staters are much more displeased with the performance of Congress —only 18.7 percent approve, while 73.6 percent disapprove and 8.7 percent have no opinion.