Voters ages 18-29 prefer the Vermont senator over the former secretary of state by 58-35 percent. Democratic-leaning independents prefer him over her, 50-38 percent.
Sanders, an independent running for the Democratic nomination, also does well with white voters, those who live in the West and the most liberal members of the party.
The Democrats take the debate stage Saturday in Iowa just as Clinton is solidifying her lead after standout performances at the first debate and an 11-hour grilling on Capitol Hill about the fatal attacks in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012. She received another boost after Vice President Joe Biden announced he would not challenge her.
She’s doing very well overall. She’s got a big lead in all subgroups.
Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute of Public Opinion
Clinton leads Sanders 57-35 percent overall among Democratic primary voters nationally despite the senator’s increasingly sharp attacks on her shifting policy positions over the years, the poll found. Former Gov. Martin O’Malley trails far back with 4 percent, the same number who are undecided three months before voting begins in the earliest nominating states.
“I think of the Democrats the only realistic one is Hillary,” said Democrat Dale Fitz-Randolph, 59, a computer support specialist from San Mateo, Calif. “I think she comes to the middle too much but I’d support her. Hillary has done the legwork.”
Still, Clinton faces problems that still could provide an opening to Sanders, if not the Republicans in a general election contest. Notably, a large majority of all voters believe she did something either unethical or illegal in her use of a private email system for government business, according to the poll. That includes large blocs of Democrats and independents.
In recent weeks, Sanders has been trying to stop Clinton’s momentum in the Democratic race by emphasizing that unlike Clinton, he has been consistent on policy positions through the years and by portraying a softer side of himself by speaking to small groups, appearing on non-news TV shows and releasing get-to-know-you ads.
“Despite his initial surge nationally, she remains in control,” said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute of Public Opinion, which conducts the survey.
Voters are split about whether they want a Democratic nominee who will continue President Barack Obama’s policies or who will move in a different direction, 46 percent to 50 percent. By nearly 2-to-1, Democratic-leaning independents want a change.
62% - 33% Democratic-leaning independents who want a change from President Barack Obama’s policies
Clinton, who served in Obama’s Cabinet, has largely embraced the president, though she says she opposes his trade pact with Pacific nations, vows to do more than him to fix the nation’s broken immigration system and campaigns on dismantling a piece of his health care law.
Sanders, a self-described socialist who talks about being a champion of the underpaid, overworked American worker, has benefited from those who want to move beyond Obama.
“I like Bernie but he’s kind of fading, so I think I’m going to end up voting for Hillary,” said Democrat Roberta Osuyos, 70, an instructor at San Diego State University. “She’s the most electable.”
In a test of the ability to win, the poll indicates both Clinton and Sanders would defeat the leading Republican candidates, including Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Donald Trump and Carly Fiorina.
Clinton would defeat Rubio by 5 percentage points; Bush by 8; Cruz or Fiorina by 10; and Trump by 15. Sanders would defeat Rubio by 3 percentage points, Bush by 10, Cruz or Trump by 12, and Fiorina by 14.
Only Clinton would defeat the current Republican front-runner, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, by 2 percentage points, according to the poll. Sanders would lose to Carson by 2 percentage points.
Democrat Andrew Spevko, 52, a computer engineer from Berkeley, Calif., said he needs more information before he’ll be ready to decide. “It’s really a tossup,” he said. “I don’t know them yet.”
Vera Bergengruen, Lesley Clark, William Douglas, Iana Kozelsky, David Lightman, Ali Montag, Grace Toohey and Victoria Whitley contributed.
This survey of 1,465 adults was conducted Oct. 29-Nov. 4 by The Marist Poll, sponsored and funded in partnership with McClatchy. Adults residing in the continental United States were interviewed in English or Spanish by telephone using live interviewers. Land-line telephone numbers were randomly selected based upon a list of telephone exchanges from throughout the nation from ASDE Survey Sampler Inc. The exchanges were selected to ensure that each region was represented in proportion to its population. Respondents in the household were then selected by first asking for the youngest male. To increase coverage, this land-line sample was supplemented by respondents reached through random dialing of cellphone numbers from Survey Sampling International. The two samples were then combined and balanced to reflect the 2013 American Community Survey one-year estimates for age, gender, income, race and region. Results are statistically significant within plus or minus 2.6 percentage points. There are 1,080 registered voters. The results for this subset are statistically significant within plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. The error margin was not adjusted for sample weights and increases for cross-tabulations.