May 2019 update: Democratic presidential nomination and general election polling

It has become a tradition that for my birthday my wife and daughters present me with a new Maine (usually lighthouse-themed) wall calendar from Down East.

May 2019 calendar.JPG

Last year was no exception; here is the May 2019 entry on my “Maine Lighthouses” calendar.

I use this photograph to introduce what I anticipate to be a monthly updating of two recent posts:


I begin with the 2020 Democratic nomination polling, assessed by my NSW-WAPA (national-and-state-weighted weighted-adjusted polling average). “WAPA” is a within-nation or -state polling average for any candidate listed in any poll released since January 1, 2019, weighted by pollster quality and number of days to a given primary or caucuses. The NSW weights are, in rank order, Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary (weight=5), Nevada Caucuses and South Carolina Primary (4), a time-weighted average of all post-South Carolina nominating contests (2) and national (1).

Since the initial post, there have been

  • 16 new national polls (including 4 Morning Consult tracking polls)
  • 2 Iowa Caucuses polls
  • 3 New Hampshire Primary polls
  • 0 Nevada Caucuses polls
  • 1 South Carolina Primary poll
  • 2 Texas Primary polls
  • 1 poll each for the California, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin Primaries

… for a total of 27 new polls (and 86 in 2019).

Three of the 16 “new” national polls were conducted wholly (ABC News/Washington Post, January 21-24, 2019; CNN/SSRS, March 14-17, 2019) or partially (USC Dornsife/LA Times, March 15-April 15, 2019) before March 31, 2019. I also fixed a few formula errors in my Excel workbook, so comparisons of polling averages between the previous post and this post should be taken with a modicum of salt.

One other change is that an additional 10 candidates were included in at least one national or state-level poll,[1] including former Alaska United States Senator (“Senator”) Mike Gravel, Speaker of the United States House of Representatives (“Representative”) Nancy Pelosi, actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and President Donald Trump, bringing the overall total to 53!

As for candidacy declarations, former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced on April 17, 2019 that he would NOT seek the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. But four other candidates declared their candidacy since the previous post: California Representative Eric Swalwell, Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton, former Vice President Joe Biden and Colorado Senator Michael Bennet (with Montana Governor Steve Bullock hinting at a declaration later in May 2019).

And that still leaves former Georgia House Speaker Stacey Abrams, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gravel as possible candidates, for a total of 25.

As of May 2, 2019, here is the relative position of those 25 Democrats.

Table 1: National-and-state-weighted WAPA* for selected 2020 Democratic presidential nomination possibilities

Candidate National IA NH NV SC Post-SC NSW-WAPA
Biden 27.7 25.8 21.3 26.0 34.5 26.7 26.6 (-1.9)
Sanders 18.6 18.0 22.1 23.0 15.3 21.2 19.8 (-1.0)
Harris 8.2 8.3 7.6 9.0 10.6 9.5 8.8 (-1.3)
Warren 6.5 7.8 7.3 10.0 6.3 8.4 7.8 (-0.4)
O’Rourke 6.6 5.3 4.1 10.0 7.3 9.1 6.7 (+0.5)
Buttigieg 4.3 6.3 8.7 5.0 3.1 6.2 5.9 (+3.5)
Booker 3.2 4.1 3.4 2.0 8.2 2.7 4.1 (-0.1)
Klobuchar 1.7 3.6 2.6 2.0 1.0 2.2 2.3 (-0.4)
Yang 0.72 0.40 0.80 3.0 0.68 1.0 1.1 (+0.3)
Gabbard 0.65 0.41 0.79 2.0 0.74 0.56 0.89 (0.0)
Gillibrand 0.65 0.51 0.90 1.0 1.4 0.54 0.88 (-0.2)
Castro 0.91 0.98 0.07 1.0 0.68 1.5 0.76 (+0.2)
Abrams 0.21 0.00 0.00 0.00 3.1 0.17 0.62 (+0.6)
Delaney 0.33 0.90 0.45 0.00 0.00 0.17 0.35 (+0.1)
Hickenlooper 0.68 0.32 0.13 0.00 0.68 0.37 0.30 (+0.1)
Swalwell 0.17 0.28 0.29 0.00 0.23 0.17 0.20 (+0.1)
Ryan 0.18 0.19 0.58 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.19 (+0.2)
Inslee 0.46 0.42 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.24 0.15 (-0.0)
Messam 0.00 0.00 0.29 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.07 (+0.1)
Bullock 0.20 0.13 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.04 (0.0)
Bennet 0.03 0.13 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.03 (0.0)
Gravel 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.11 0.01 (0.0)
de Blasio 0.18 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.01 (0.0)
Williamson 0.11 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.01 (0.0)
Moulton 0.03 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.03 0.00 (0.0)
DK/Other 17.8 16.3 18.8 6.0 6.2 9.1 12.4 (+0.7)

The data in Table 1 suggest the following as of May 2, 2019:

  1. The top five candidates remain the same (and in the same order): Biden (26.6%), Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (19.8%), California Senator Kamala Harris (8.8%), Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (7.8%), former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke (6.7%).
  2. That said, more than half (53.6%) of potential Democratic primary/caucus voters prefer someone other than Biden or Sanders.
  3. The gap between Harris and Warren for 3rd place has narrowed from 1.9 percentage points (“points”) to 1.0 points.
  4. Surging from 8th to 6th place was South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg, whose NSW-WAPA jumped from 2.4% to 5.9%—a remarkable 3.5-point jump.
  5. Buttigieg’s surge seems mostly to have come at the expense of Biden (-1.9), Sanders (-1.0) and Harris (-1.3). It also knocked New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (4.1%) and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar (2.3%) down one spot to 7th and 8th, respectively.
  6. Biden’s relative decline masks the fact he has seen a mini-bump in the national polls (weighted much lower than state polls) since his April 25, 2019 declaration of candidacy—and that he had been dropping somewhat before that.
  7. The mini-surge for O’Rourke (+0.5) comes entirely from two April 2019 polls of the 2020 Texas presidential primary[2]; O’Rourke averages 23.5% in the two polls, just ahead of Biden (21.5%), Sanders (18.0%) and Buttigieg (11.5%).
  8. The only other candidate to make an appreciable move was entrepreneur Andrew Yang (1.1%), from 11th to 9th, knocking New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (0.88%) from 11th to 9th. To be fair, however, they are separated by less than ¼ of a point.
  9. Rounding out the top 10 is Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard (0.89%), meaning five of the top 11 choices are women—all current members of the U.S. House or Senate.
  10. Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Juan Cástro (0.76%) saw his NSW-WAPA increase slightly, but he is still stuck in 12th place overall, just ahead of…
  11. …Abrams, who at 0.62%, is the highest-ranked non-declared candidate.
  12. The remaining 12 declared/potential candidates—Maryland Representative John Delaney; former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper: Swalwell; Ohio Representative Tim Ryan; Washington Governor Jay Inslee; Miramar, FL Mayor Wayne Messam; Bullock; Bennet; Gravel; de Blasio; author Marianne Williamson and Moulton—continue to languish well below 0.5%.
  13. Even with a choice of 25 declared and potential candidates, 1 in 8 respondents still could not state a preference (11.9%) or preferred some other candidate (0.5%).

With all that, the fundamental pecking order remains the same for the 2020 Democrats (unlikely to change before the first Democratic presidential candidate debates on June 26-27, 2019[3]):  Biden and Sanders are the clear leaders, splitting just under half of the overall vote between them (46.4%), followed by Harris, Warren, O’Rourke and Buttigieg (29.2% total). Just behind these six are Booker and Klobuchar (6.2% total). Add Yang’s 1.1%, and 5 of every 6 Democrats polled prefer a total of nine candidates. While one of those nine men and women will probably (but not definitively) be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, the race is very much in flux with more than 15 months until Democrats convene in Milwaukee, WI on July 13, 2020.


Little has changed since my first wicked early look at how various potential Democratic nominees fared against President Trump in hypothetical one-on-one matchups, both nationally and in a total of 12 states (AZ, IA, MA, MI, MN, NV, NH, NC, PA, SC, TX, WI; mean 3W-RDM[4]= D-1.9).

Weighting each Democrat’s WAPA (vs. Trump) by her/his NSW-WAPA shows Democrats ahead of Trump nationally by 2.8 points, down slightly from 3.1 points. Remove Biden’s 7.4-point margin against Trump, and the Democratic advantage drops to 1.1 points; Sanders, Harris, Warren, O’Rourke and Booker are each ahead of Trump by between 0.4 and 3.6 points, while Gillibrand trails by just 1.2 points and Buttigieg by just 3.4 points. All other tested 2020 Democratic presidential nominees trail by between 6.3 (Klobuchar) and 15.5 points (Messam).

A strict apples-to-apples comparison in national standings is complicated, though, by a significant change I made to my Excel workbook. I adjust general election polling margins by pollster bias (or what calls “mean-reverted bias”): how much, on average, a pollster over- or underestimates Democratic election margins. The pollster HarrisX dominates national presidential “trial heat” polling (while not releasing a single state-level poll), including every publicly-released matchup between Trump and Delaney, Gabbard, Gravel, Hickenlooper, Inslee, Messam, Moulton, Ryan, Swalwell, Williamson and Yang. FiveThirtyEight has not yet estimated HarrisX’s pollster bias. However, Harris Interactive has a pro-Republican bias of 1.5 points, and in a recent article, Nate Silver notes that HarrisX conducted a poll for Scott Rasmussen. Rasmussen Reports/Pulse Opinion Research also has a 1.5-point Republican bias. Therefore, I decided to add 1.5 points to every Democratic margin reported by HarrisX. This boosted the weighted-adjusted average of Democrats against Trump by 0.4 points.

Finally, the only significant state-level change is that Democrats overall are beating Trump in Wisconsin by 7.4 points, up from 6.1 points, on the strength of a set of Zogby Interactive/JZ Analytics polls (Biden, Sanders, Harris, Warren, O’Rourke, Buttigieg) conducted April 15-18, 2019.

And the good news for Democrats remains that, collectively, the state-level polls imply a national margin of 6.0 points over Trump, twice what the national polls suggest.

Until next time…

[1] And that excludes New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan, included in an alternate version of a New Hampshire Primary poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire, April 10-18, 2019.

[2] Change Research, 4/18-4/20/2019; Emerson College, 4/25-4/28/2019

[3] They will be held over two nights to accommodate 20 (of at least 21) candidates, with no more than 10 appearing each night. Criteria for obtaining one of the 20 available debate slots may be found here.

[4] My measure of how much more or less Democratic a state votes relative to the nation, using a weighted average of a state’s presidential voting compared to the national popular vote in the three previous presidential elections.

Published by

Matt Berger

I am a data geek, writer, investigator and film noir devotee with academic training in political science (Yale BA, Harvard MA), biostatistics (Boston University SPH MA) and epidemiology (Boston University SPH PhD). In January 2021, I finished writing Interrogating Memory: Film Noir Spurs a Deep Dive Into My Family History...and My Own for which I seek a publisher. In Chapter 6: So...What Is Film Noir, Again?, I analyze my film noir database, which contains 4,825 titles. My musical holy trinity is Genesis, Miles Davis and Stan Ridgway. I am a liberal Democrat who understands a thriving democracy requires at least two mature political parties. I grew up just outside Philadelphia, and I live just outside Boston, where my wife and daughters keep me happy, sane and grounded. Please ask me anything else you want to know.

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