While we may still be six and a half months from the 2018 midterm elections, the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination to take on President Donald Trump is the proverbial elephant (donkey?) in the room. CNN’s March 2018 national survey offers interesting insights into the preferences of Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents as to which candidates they are likely to support for the 2020 nomination.
The chart above details the percentage of key Democratic blocs that say they would be very likely to support the candidates in question, ranked by intensity. In a campaign, intensity (in this case, “very” likely rather than just “somewhat” likely) is key: candidates who garner intensity above 30% are typically in a good position. While this isn’t a ballot test, intensity still matters. In this case, Biden, Sanders, and Warren – certainly the heavyweights on this list – have solid intensity when it comes to likelihood of support. What’s noteworthy is that Biden, likely bolstered by his stint as a popular vice president to a popular president, earns a majority – and then some – who say they would be very likely to support him. That’s ten points higher than the man who inspired a movement and nearly won the Democratic nomination in 2016.
Which brings us to Bernie Sanders. Conventional wisdom would have us believe that Bernie Sanders, the progressive thorn in Hillary Clinton’s side throughout the 2016 primaries, would be best positioned for a 2020 run among the groups that matter most in a Democratic primary: women, younger voters, and liberals. Let’s start with the latter group, one that is crucial in a primary given the shift in Democrats’ ideological bearings since 2001: Democrats have gone from a party in which just 30% identified themselves as liberal in 2001 to one in which 50% said the same in 2017. As POS partner Bill McInturff and Gordon Price pointed out here, Democratic primary voters are fourteen points more liberal than they were in 2008. Biden’s intensity advantage over progressive icons, Sanders and Warren, among liberals is by no means commanding, but it is telling and should be encouraging for the former vice president as he contemplates a run.
Younger voters (under age 45) certainly fall short of a majority of Democratic primary voters, but they still make up a greater percentage of that electorate than their GOP counterparts: as McInturff and Price note, 40% of Democratic primary voters in 2016 were under age 45 (it isn’t quite apples to apples, but Pew Research notes that just 25% of 2012 GOP primary voters were under age 50). The CNN data demonstrates that this younger cohort of Democrats is still feeling the burn for the Vermont senator, who bests Biden in intensity among that group, though just narrowly. Among Democratic voters over age 45 – a majority of the electorate – intensity of likelihood to support Biden is very strong.
Like his support among the older cohort of Democratic voters, at 58% Biden’s support among women outpaces the overall percentage who are very likely to support him (56%). Women far outnumber men in Democratic primaries: as McInturff and Price point out, 57% of Democratic primary voters in 2016 were women. While name recognition most likely plays a part, it’s noteworthy that the women candidates tested in CNN’s survey (Warren, Kamala Harris, & Kirsten Gillibrand) post relatively soft likelihood of support among women Democratic voters; Biden and Sanders are the clear favorites.
One final group to mention: Democrats who, when surveyed, indicated they disapproved of Trump’s job performance. Here, Biden’s intensity of support is quite strong, as is Sanders’. This is both an obvious group to mention given Democrats’ record low approval ratings of Trump and yet one that might not be so important upon closer inspection. Trump will clearly be a motivating factor for Democrats in the midterms and the 2020 Democratic primary contest, so discounting this crosstab isn’t necessarily wise. It may just not be all that beneficial given that it’s essentially all Democrats who disapprove of the president; look how closely the data track with each candidate’s likelihood of support. It may be duplicative, but it is instructive.
Joe Biden deferred to Hillary Clinton in 2016, and he is on record registering his regret for having done so. A survey is a snapshot in time, and the 2020 presidential cycle is a long ways away. But these data among important Democratic primary voting groups ought to elicit that famous, toothy smile from the former vice president as he bides his time in Wilmington and continues to build on his solid position as the clear frontrunner for the 2020 nomination.