June 7, 2019

How Are Your Favorite Democrats Polling?


In looking at some recent poll numbers on the 2020 Democratic candidates who have entered the race so far, things are beginning to shape up in some interesting ways. It is still too early to pretend that these numbers will hold steady as we approach the primaries, of course. Plenty of things could happen to shake them up in some major ways. That means we need to be tentative and expect some movement.

Clearly, Joe Biden has a sizable lead. This seems to anger many of the progressive Democrats I follow on Twitter, but the reasons for Biden's lead aren't all that mysterious. He started the process with the greatest name recognition, and many Democratic voters seem to have transferred their positive feelings about President Obama to Biden. What is probably even more important than that, though, is that Biden is the only candidate so far who has been polling well across most of the diverse groups that make up the Democratic coalition. Infidel753 quotes the following from electoral-vote.com:

The Democrats' problem is that collectively they appeal to far more than half the voters, but individually they don't... The only candidate who seems to do reasonably well with all Democratic constituencies (and who is hated by none) is Biden. In the end, this may make him the most acceptable compromise candidate.
Other candidates have strong support among some segments and relatively little support among others. To compete with Biden, they will either need to have far more enthusiastic voters (like Trump did in 2016) than Biden or figure out how to expand their appeal.

Personally, I find what is happening among the second-tier candidates (i.e., those competing for the #2 spot behind Biden) more interesting. Because there are still so many of them (Warren, Harris, Sanders, and maybe Buttigieg), it is not yet clear who might rise to threaten Biden's lead from the left. Warren or Sanders seem like the most obvious candidates to represent the progressive wing of the party. I don't think either can compete with Biden in terms of broad appeal, but both might have more enthusiastic voters.

Figuring out where to draw the lines around the third tier is not easy, but I'd be tempted to put Booker, O'Rourke, Klobuchar, and Gillibrand there at least for now. Unless Biden has a scandal, I do not see a clear path forward for Klobuchar (or Delaney or Hickenlooper). While Gillibrand's numbers in this poll are the most impressive I have seen yet, her appeal seems to be quite limited. Things are still volatile enough that candidates like Castro, Gabbard, or Yang could move up into this tier; however, it is difficult to imagine any of them moving up much until the debates.

I cannot help but feel sorry for some of those polling between 1-5%. Some of them have good ideas and have presented themselves well in some of the town halls I have seen. They have next to no name recognition, and most Americans are not watching their town halls. Some could be helped by having a breakout performance in one of the early debates, but that would require them to be invited to the debates.