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Oklahoma Democratic primary heats up

Just two weeks before Oklahoma's March 1 primary election, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is clinging to a narrow lead among Democrats here, according to a poll released Wednesday.

The poll shows Clinton has just a two-point lead over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. That lead is inside the survey's 4.2 percent margin of error.

Clinton is polling at 46 percent in Oklahoma, while Sanders is polling at 44 percent, with 9 percent still undecided.

The poll was conducted by Public Policy Polling, a national polling firm, on behalf of American Family Voices, a progressive nonprofit.

The poll was conducted between Feb. 14-16, and includes results from the 12 states that will hold primary elections in March. In Oklahoma, pollsters interviewed 542 likely Democratic voters. Clinton led in all but two states — Massachusetts and Sanders' home state of Vermont.

A majority of Oklahoma Democrats told pollsters they thought Clinton was better prepared than Sanders to be commander in chief and deal with foreign policy issues. Clinton also polled well on issues like immigration, race relations and women's issues: 61 percent said they trusted Clinton more to handle women's issues, 39 percent said they trusted her most on immigration and 44 percent said they thought she was best equipped to improve race relations.

But Sanders fared better in income-inequality issues, which have been the cornerstone of his campaign: 46 percent of Oklahoma voters surveyed told pollsters they trusted Sanders most to crack down on Wall Street, to Clinton's 33 percent. Another 45 percent said they trusted Sanders more to pursue policies that raise the incomes of average Americans, with Clinton polling at 38 percent in the same category.

Until this week, polls showed Clinton with a substantial lead in Oklahoma. In a survey released last week, Clinton was polling at 43.8 percent, while Sanders was polling at 28.1 percent, with another 28.1 percent still undecided.

This week's poll shows a more heated contest in Oklahoma, with just a two-point margin separating the two candidates, and 9 percent still undecided. Another 25 percent of Oklahoma Democrats surveyed told pollsters they could change their mind before the primary.

In a news release, the polling firm noted that Clinton benefited from "overwhelming African American support" in several states across the South. Clinton's support among black voters ranges from 63-74 percent in those states, while Sanders gets just 12-23 percent among those voters.

Jeanette Mendez, head of the political science department at Oklahoma State University, said Clinton's strong support among Southern black voters could explain why she isn't performing as well in Oklahoma as she is elsewhere.

Both Bill and Hillary Clinton have historically enjoyed strong support from Southern black voters, she said. Part of that support could stem from policy initiatives that came about during President Clinton's time in the White House, including health care reform efforts, Mendez said.

But that support might not be as strong in Oklahoma simply because there are fewer black Oklahomans than black Alabamians or Georgians. For example, about 31.5 percent of Georgia's population is black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and nearly 28 percent of Alabama's population is black. Just 7.7 percent of Oklahoma's population is black.

Oklahoma holds its primary on Super Tuesday, along with 12 other states, plus American Samoa. The slate of March 1 primaries is dominated by Southern states where Clinton is expected to do well, Mendez said. But with two weeks left before the election day, Mendez said Oklahoma's Democratic primary could prove to be a surprise on Super Tuesday.

Silas Allen

Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri. Read more ›