June 2019 update: Democratic presidential nomination and general election polling

Here is the June 2019 photograph (Marshall Point Lighthouse) on my “Maine Lighthouses” Down East wall calendar.

June 2019 calendar photo.JPG

This photograph introduces my monthly update of this recent post, which addresses polling data for Democratic candidates for president in 2020.

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I begin with the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, which I assess using 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 1) pollster quality and 2) number of days to a given primary or caucuses from the midpoint of the time the poll was in the field. The NSW weights are: Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary (5), Nevada Caucuses and South Carolina Primary (4), a time-weighted average of all post-South Carolina nominating contests (2) and national polls (1).

Overall, there have been:

  • 76 national polls (including 20 weekly Morning Consult tracking polls)
  • 10 Iowa Caucuses polls
  • 12 New Hampshire Primary polls
  • 2 Nevada Caucuses polls
  • 8 South Carolina Primary polls
  • 10 polls from 6 of the 12[1] states holding nominating contents on “Super Tuesday” (March 3): Alabama (1), California (4), Massachusetts (1), North Carolina (1), Texas (2), Virginia (1)
  • 2 Michigan polls (March 10)
  • 4 Florida polls (March 17)
  • 3 Pennsylvania polls (April 28)
  • 1 Indiana poll (May 5)
  • 1 Oregon poll (May 19)

… for a total of 128 2020 Democratic nomination polls released publicly in 2019. These polls have asked respondents about 54 possible candidates, although only 25 have either already announced (most recently Montana Governor Steve Bullock and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio), are running a very unconventional campaign (former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel) or may yet run (former Georgia State House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams).

As of June 4, 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 32.0 26.6 25.7 28.0 40.3 31.5 30.0 (+3.4)
Sanders 19.3 17.4 20.2 23.7 12.4 19.2 18.6 (-1.2)
Warren 7.7 8.0 8.3 11.3 6.9 8.6 8.5 (+0.7)
Harris 8.2 7.8 7.4 10.3 8.6 7.6 8.3 (-0.5)
Buttigieg 5.3 7.1 8.9 10.3 4.8 6.9 7.6 (+1.7)
O’Rourke 6.0 4.8 3.1 6.0 2.7 6.1 4.4 (-2.3)
Booker 3.1 3.4 2.3 2.0 4.8 2.4 3.1 (-1.0)
Klobuchar 1.7 3.2 1.9 1.3 0.66 1.5 1.8 (-0.5)
Yang 0.91 0.52 0.75 1.7 0.52 0.71 0.83 (-0.3)
Gabbard 0.68 0.42 0.59 1.3 0.25 0.38 0.63 (-0.3)
Castro 1.1 0.74 0.04 1.0 0.19 1.0 0.56 (-0.2)
Gillibrand 0.74 0.50 0.43 0.34 0.46 0.42 0.45 (-0.4)
Abrams 0.14 0.11 0.00 0.66 1.0 0.13 0.37 (-0.3)
Delaney 0.36 0.79 0.43 0.00 0.00 0.09 0.32 (–)
Hickenlooper 0.52 0.36 0.21 0.00 0.19 0.20 0.21 (-0.1)
Ryan 0.37 0.15 0.64 0.00 0.00 0.08 0.21 (–)
Swalwell 0.10 0.33 0.14 0.00 0.06 0.13 0.14 (-0.1)
Inslee 0.47 0.43 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.12 0.14 (–)
Williamson 0.20 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.17 0.00 0.04 (–)
Bennet 0.23 0.10 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.05 0.04 (–)
Messam 0.00 0.00 0.14 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.03 (–)
Bullock 0.17 0.10 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.03 (–)
Gravel 0.01 0.09 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.10 0.03 (–)
de Blasio 0.20 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.08 0.02 (–)
Moulton 0.06 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.03 0.004 (–)
DK/Other 8.6 16.8 18.3 2.0 15.4 13.6 13.4 (+1.0)

The data in Table 1 suggest the following as of June 4, 2019:

  1. Former Vice President Joe Biden has surged into a clear lead not only overall (30.0%, a gain of 3.4 percentage points [“points”] since last month), but in the key early states as well. And while he may “only” be ahead of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders by around 5 points in New Hampshire and Nevada, Biden has a commanding lead in South Carolina, 40.3% to Sanders’ 12.4%. Given his current potential to sweep Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina, Biden has to be considered the clear front-runner to be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee.
  2. Sanders dropped 1.2 points to 18.6%, likely due to Biden’s official declaration of candidacy, but he is still solidly in 2nd
  3. Slightly more than half (51.4%) of potential Democratic primary/caucus voters still prefer someone other than Biden or Sanders.
  4. Closely bunched 10-11 points behind Sanders are Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (8.5%), California Senator Kamala Harris (8.3%) and South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg (7.6%). Buttigieg has climbed from 2.4% at the end of March to 5.9% at the end of April to 7.6% now.
  5. In fact, the only Democrats whose position substantially improved from last month are Biden, Warren and Buttigieg.
  6. By contrast, former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke continues to decline. His current 4.4% (down 1.8 points in two months) is just ahead of New Jersey Senator Cory Booker (3.1%, down 1.1 points since early April) and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar (1.8%, down 0.9 points since early April).
  7. Following Klobuchar are four tightly-bunched candidates between 0.45 and 0.83%, each of whom declined slightly in the last month: entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
  8. Just below the top 12 is Abrams. At 0.37%, she is the highest-ranked non-declared candidate.
  9. This means that six of the top 13 2020 Democratic nomination candidates are women, including five currently serving in the United States House of Representatives or Senate.
  10. The remaining 12 declared/potential candidates—Maryland Representative John Delaney; former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper: Ohio Representative Tim Ryan, California Representative Eric Swalwell; Washington Governor Jay Inslee; author Marianne Williamson; Colorado Senator Michael Bennet; Miramar, FL Mayor Wayne Messam; Bullock; Gravel; de Blasio; and Massachusetts Representative Seth Moulton—continue to languish below 0.33%.
  11. Even with a choice of 25 declared and potential candidates, 2 of 15 respondents either chose not to state a preference or preferred some other candidate.

The current pecking order for the 2020 Democrats (unlikely to change before the first Democratic presidential candidate debates on June 26-27, 2019[2]):  Biden is the clear front-runner, followed by Sanders. The two septuagenarians split just under half of the overall vote between them (48.6%), followed by Harris, Warren and Buttigieg (24.5% total). Just behind these five are O’Rourke, Booker and Klobuchar (9.3% total). This means that 5 of every 6 (82.4%) potential 2020 Democratic primary/caucus voters are currently choosing between eight candidates; the remaining 17 declared/possible candidates are polling a combined 4.2%. It is thus likely (though NOT definitive) that one of these eight men and women will be selected as their presidential nominee when Democrats convene in Milwaukee, WI on July 13, 2020.

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As for the 2020 general election, I first examined polling for matchups between President Donald J. Trump and hypothetical Democratic opponents in 2020, both nationally and in various states, here. With the first two polls testing matchups in Florida,[3] one-on-one matchups between Trump and various Democratic rivals have now been tested in 13 states (AZ, FL, IA, MA, MI, MN, NV, NH, NC, PA, SC, TX, WI) which have a mean 3W-RDM[4] of D-2.0.

Weighting each Democrat’s WAPA (vs. Trump) by her/his NSW-WAPA shows Democrats ahead of Trump nationally by 3.2 points, up from 2.8 points a month ago; the median national Democratic presidential margin[5] over the last five elections is 2.1 points. Remove Biden’s 7.5-point margin against Trump, and the Democratic advantage drops to 1.4 points. Remove both Biden’s and Sanders’ (4.1 points) margins against Trump, and the Democratic margin drops to 0.4 points. Warren and Harris currently lead Trump by 0.7-0.8 points, while Buttigieg trials by 2.2 points (closer than last month’s 3.4 points). O’Rourke, Booker and Gillibrand are also within two points of Trump in either direction. All other tested 2020 Democratic presidential nominees trail by between 6.2 (Klobuchar) and 17.2 points (Messam).

I would take these latter number with a heavy load of salt, however, for two reasons. First, there continues to be a clear association (r=0.79) between a Democratic presidential candidate’s margin against Trump and that candidate’s relative standing in the race for the nomination (i.e., NSW-WAPA); the latter is itself strongly associated with name recognition. It is thus reasonable to assume that as lesser-known Democratic candidates for president become better known, their margins versus Trump will improve (in turn, suggesting a critical mass of voters would prefer to vote for a Democrat over Trump in 2020).

Second, and perhaps more important, the pollster HarrisX dominates national presidential “trial heat” polling, including every publicly-released matchup between Trump and Castro, Delaney, Gabbard, Gravel, Hickenlooper, Inslee, Messam, Moulton, Ryan, Swalwell, Williamson and Yang; no public polling testing Trump against Abrams, Bennet, Bullock or de Blasio has been released. Moreover, HarrisX (like Harris Interactive), appear to have a strong Republican-bias in their data; these margins are actually 1.5 points less Republican than reported. Harris X pollsters also clearly do not push undecided voters very hard (in stark contrast to Emerson College, who have 0% undecided/don’t know/other in their matchups), but that is a subject for a later post.

Table 2: State-level 2020 Democratic presidential performance vs. Trump, sorted from most to least Democratic

State 3W-RDM Overall Implied NPV Overall

(-Biden, Sanders)

Implied NPV
MA D+22.1 D+32.9 D+10.8 D+25.9 D+3.8
MI D+2.2 D+6.8 D+4.6 D+2.6 D+0.4
NV D+2.0 D-1.0 D-3.0 D-4.1 D-6.1
MN D+1.5 D+15.5 D+14.0 D+15.5 D+14.0
WI D+0.7 D+5.6 D+4.9 D+3.2 D+2.5
NH D+0.1 D+8.4 D+8.3 D+4.7 D+4.6
PA D-0.4 D+5.1 D+5.5 D+1.5 D+1.9
FL D-3.4 D-3.2 D+0.2 D-4.3 D-0.9
IA D-4.7 D-2.8 D+1.9 D-6.8 D-2.1
NC D-6.0 D+4.1 D+10.1 D-1.0 D+5.0
AZ D-9.6 D-4.1 D+5.6 D-7.5 D+2.2
TX D-15.3 D-4.1 D+11.2 D-6.1 D+9.2
SC D-15.7 D-7.3 D+8.4 D-10.3 D+5.4
Ave D-2.0   D+6.3   D+3.1

The data in Table 2 generally paint an optimistic picture for Democrats in 2020. First, even Democrats other than Biden and Sanders are, on average, winning in the three states that prevented 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton from winning the Electoral College: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin; they are also handily ahead in three states Clinton won: Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Hampshire. That said, Democrats trail in Nevada, which Clinton also won, albeit based on a single set of Emerson College polls from late March 2019. Still, the Trump campaign’s apparent decision to target Nevada in 2020 may have some wisdom behind it[6].

At the same time, though, Democrats are very competitive in North Carolina, and their polling averages in the southeastern and southwestern targets of Arizona, South Carolina and Texas imply a strong national lead (even as they trail in each state) based on how much more Republican than the nation as a whole these states typically are. On the other hand, Democrats are trailing in the somewhat less Republican states of Florida and Iowa—and those numbers imply Democrats are trailing Trump nationwide.

Overall, these states imply Democrats would win the national popular vote for president in 2020 by 6.3 points; excluding Biden and Sanders, they are still ahead by 3.1 points (one point higher than their median performance in the last five presidential elections).

Only 17 months until the 2020 presidential election–fasten your seat belts.

Until next time…

[1] If Georgia, which has not settled upon a date, holds its 2020 presidential primary that day.

[2] They will be held over two nights to accommodate 20 (of at least 24) candidates, with no more than 10 appearing each night. Criteria for obtaining one of the 20 available debate slots may be found here.

[3] WPA Intelligence, 200 likely voters, April 27-30, 2019 (Biden only); Florida Atlantic University, 1,007 registered voters, May 16-19, 2019 (Biden, Sanders, Warren, Harris, Buttigieg).

[4] 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.

[5] Specifically, subtracting the Republican percentage of all votes cast for president from the Democratic percentage of all votes cast for president.

[6] However, also targeting New Hampshire and, especially, New Mexico makes less sense.

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