Sen. Bernard Sanders has surged ahead of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton among New Hampshire’s Democratic primary voters according to a poll released Tuesday that suggests lingering weaknesses for the party’s putative 2016 presidential front-runner.
Mr. Sanders led Mrs. Clinton by 7 percentage points, 44 percent to 37 percent, in a Franklin Pierce University/Boston Herald poll, with local party leaders saying the Vermont senator is reaping the benefit of his authenticity and his willingness to talk about big ideas.
“I’m not surprised by it,” said Phil Sherwood, a member of the Rockingham County Democrats Executive Committee. “He’s authentic. And the Democratic base has been hungry to have more candidates out there talking about Democratic values.”
Indeed, Mr. Sanders has drawn large crowds as he barnstorms the country, including an estimated 27,500 people at an event in Los Angeles earlier in the week.
The poll numbers are a stunning turnaround from March, when Mrs. Clinton had 47 percent of the vote, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts at 22 percent, Vice President Joseph R. Biden at 10 percent and Mr. Sanders at 8 percent.
The survey was released as Mrs. Clinton’s campaign said it was turning over her private email server to the Justice Department after the inspector general for the intelligence community concluded that two of her emails sent on her private system contained top secret material.
Questions about Mrs. Clinton’s email practices during her leadership of the State Department have helped dent her image, while Mr. Sanders has been able to focus on liberal priorities.
Susan Moore, who chairs the Northern Grafton County Democrats, said people appreciate that Mr. Sanders is steering his conversation toward policy issues, such as income inequality, voter protection initiatives, immigration and the cost of education rather than getting bogged down in political squabbles.
She said at a recent fair event they were having trouble keeping up with demand for Sanders merchandise that was available.
But she also said the support for Mr. Sanders isn’t a rejection of Mrs. Clinton.
“It’s much more that Bernie’s talking about the issues,” Ms. Moore said. “Most people would vote for Hillary if they were going to vote for Bernie.”
The new poll bears that out, to some degree.
More than half of Democrats surveyed said they could support Mrs. Clinton but weren’t necessarily enthusiastic about her candidacy.
A slight plurality of 46 percent also said they wanted to see Mr. Biden enter the race.
Mrs. Clinton’s favorability among Democrats remains high, at 80 percent, though that’s down slightly from 84 percent in March. Mr. Sanders’ favorability, meanwhile, jumped 20 points from 56 percent to 76 percent. And 54 percent of Democrats said their impression of Mr. Sanders was “very favorable,” compared to 36 percent who said the same of Mrs. Clinton.
Still, Mrs. Clinton already has won endorsements from dozens of elected leaders and activists in the state, and has sizable leads over Mr. Sanders in other polls.
“Is it sustainable? I don’t know,” Mr. Sherwood said. “But we learned in ‘08 you want to be careful not to rally around the front-runner too early.”