October 2019 update: 2020 Democratic nomination and general election polling

With the fourth Democratic presidential nomination debate set for October 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio, it is time for an updated assessment of the relative position of the now-19 declared candidates. The more-stringent criteria to qualify for this debate—despite the looming presence of twelve candidates on one stage—led to the announcement by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on September 20, 2019 he was ending his presidential campaign. The seven candidates who have thus far abandoned their quest to be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee each exited with grace, class and dignity, and I commend them for it.

To learn how I calculate the value I assign to each candidate, NSW-WAPA (national-and-state-weighted weighted-adjusted polling average), please see here;[1] for recent modifications, please see here.

And, of course, here is the October 2019 lighthouse photograph in my Down East 2019 Maine Lighthouses wall calendar.

Oct 2019 lighthouse.JPG


Table 1 below aggregates data from all national and state-level polls publicly released since January 1, 2019 (as of 12 am EST October 15, 2019), including:

  • 216 national polls (including 41 weekly Morning Consult tracking polls)
  • 26 Iowa caucuses polls
  • 32 New Hampshire primary polls
  • 8 Nevada caucuses polls
  • 25 South Carolina primary polls
  • 55 Super Tuesday polls[2]
  • 52 polls from 17 other states.[3]

This makes a total of 414 polls, up from 328 last month. One poll of the New Hampshire Primary was conducted by RK Research and Communications, Inc. between October 9 and October 13, 2019. Actually, they conducted two versions of the poll, one including former First Lady Michelle Obama (who edged out the field with 26%) and one excluding her; in the interest of completeness, I used the former poll[4].

Table 1: National-and-state-weighted WAPA for declared 2020 Democratic presidential nomination candidates

Candidate National IA NH NV SC Post-SC NSW-WAPA
Biden 27.4 23.8 23.1 26.3 37.5 27.5 27.2
Warren 14.6 17.1 18.4 17.9 12.2 16.8 16.5
Sanders 15.4 15.5 17.7 19.3 11.7 16.4 16.1
Harris 7.5 8.7 6.8 6.7 7.8 8.6 7.6
Buttigieg 5.1 10.3 8.5 5.3 4.3 6.2 7.1
O’Rourke 2.9 2.5 1.5 1.8 1.4 5.3 2.2
Booker 2.1 2.6 1.8 1.7 2.9 1.6 2.2
Klobuchar 1.2 2.9 1.6 0.8 0.6 1.0 1.5
Yang 1.6 1.1 1.9 2.1 0.9 1.2 1.5
Gabbard 0.8 1.1 1.9 1.1 0.5 0.8 1.1
Steyer 0.3 0.05 0.9 2.7 1.3 0.2 1.0
Castro 1.0 0.7 0.2 0.9 0.2 1.3 0.59
Delaney 0.3 0.8 0.5 0.00 0.2 0.2 0.39
Bennet 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.4 0.4 0.3 0.32
Williamson 0.3 0.1 0.4 0.5 0.4 0.2 0.28
Ryan 0.3 0.2 0.5 0.5 0.3 0.2 0.26
Bullock 0.2 0.4 0.0 0.3 0.1 0.1 0.19
Sestak 0.02 0.04 0.00 0.2 0.00 0.1 0.05
Messam 0.00 0.00 0.02 0.00 0.03 0.1 0.02
DK/Other 17.3 10.5 12.3 4.7 16.5 11.2 12.9

The race has shifted somewhat following the first three rounds of debates. Former Vice President Joe Biden remains the nominal frontrunner (27.2—down from 28.7), primarily because of his 25.3-point lead in South Carolina primary polls. However, he is less strong in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, where the two candidates battling for second place overall—Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (16.5—up from 14.5) and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (16.1—down from 17.4)—are closer to first place. In fact, Warren has moved from fourth place in April 2019 to second place now. Rounding out a clear top five, both overall and in the four earliest states, are California Senator Kamala Harris (7.6—down from 9.3) and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (7.1—down from 7.5). These five candidates account for three-quarters (74.6%–down from 77.4%) of Democratic voter preferences at this point, and the conventional wisdom is the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee will be one of them.

In the next tier are seven candidates with NSW-WAPA between 1.0 and 2.2 who could yet rise into the top five with a strong debate performance: former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, tied for 6th place, followed by Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard and billionaire activist Tom Steyer. Fading somewhat, but still over 0.5, is former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro.

These 12 candidates—all of whom will be on the debate stage tonight—total 84.7% of Democratic voter preferences, down from 87.0% last month. Of them, only eight—Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris, Buttigieg, Booker, Yang and Steyer—have thus far met the criteria for the fifth round of Democratic presidential nomination debates on November 20.

With 12.9% (up from 9.5%)[5] undecided or choosing an unlisted candidate, the remaining seven candidates are divvying up just 2.4% between them; as none of them appears close to making the November 2019 debate(s), I expect them to end their campaigns by the end of 2019.


Speaking of the debates, 11 different pollsters—10 nationally[6] and one in California[7]–conducted polls of the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination both before (but after the August 2019 debate) and shortly after the September 2019 Democratic presidential candidate debate. Simple average differences in polling percentage (California poll results weighted twice national results) show measurable gains for Warren (+2.0 points), Don’t Know/Other (+0.7), Castro and Yang (+0.5 each), as well as declines for Harris (-1.8 points), Sanders (-1.3) and Biden (-1.2). However, once results were adjusted for pollster quality and the number of days between polls (using the midpoint of the field dates), no candidate shifted more that 0.4 points in either direction, with Warren increasing and Harris decreasing by that amount.

Nonetheless, when the relative standing of the candidates since the first Democratic presidential debates (June 26-27) is compared to their standing prior to the start of the debates, it is clear which candidates have benefitted and which have suffered (Table 2).

Table 2: National-and-state-weighted WAPA for declared 2020 Democratic presidential nomination candidates, as of June 25, 2019 and beginning June 28, 2019

Candidate As of

 June 25, 2019


 June 27, 2019

Biden 31.0 26.1 -4.8
Warren 11.3 18.6 +7.3
Sanders 17.6 15.7 -1.9
Harris 7.7 7.9 +0.2
Buttigieg 8.4 6.9 -1.5
Booker 2.9 1.8 -0.9
Yang 0.9 1.7 +0.8
O’Rourke 3.9 1.6 -2.4
Klobuchar 1.8 1.4 -0.4
Gabbard 0.6 1.3 +0.7
Steyer 0.03 1.2 +1.2
Castro 0.59 0.59 -0.01
Delaney 0.45 0.44 -0.01
Bennet 0.07 0.35 +0.28
Williamson 0.13 0.38 +0.25
Ryan 0.23 0.26 +0.03
Bullock 0.08 0.25 +0.17
Sestak 0.00 0.02 +0.02
Messam 0.06 0.01 -0.05
DK/Other 11.3 12.0 +0.7
Total polls[8] 184 223 +39

The clear beneficiary, by far, has been Warren, who jumped from 11.3 to 18.6, a remarkable 7.3-point increase. Curiously, the only other candidate to see her/his support increase by at least 1.0 points is Steyer—who will appear in his first debate tonight. Just behind him are Yang and Gabbard, whose support increased by 0.8 and 0.7 points, respectively. On the flip side, the debate period has been especially unkind to Biden (-4.8 points) and O’Rourke (-2.4), with Sanders (-1.9), Buttigieg (-1.5) and Booker (-0.9) also losing support. Among the top 12 candidates, only Harris and Klobuchar essentially maintained the same level of support they had prior to the start of the debates.


Four Democrats would currently win the national popular vote in a hypothetical head-to-head match-up with President Donald J. Trump: Biden (by 8.2 points), Sanders (5.0), Warren (2.9) and Harris (1.5), while Buttigieg (-0.5 points), Booker (-0.6), and O’Rourke (-1.1) would be very close. The other 11 candidates for whom I have match-up data would lose by between 5.0 and 12.5 points, although these numbers are misleading, as they are primarily based upon data from pollster Harris X, who tend not to push undecided voters to choose, making for unusual polling margins.

Overall, “generic 2020 Democratic nominee” now beats Trump by 3.6 points; I now exclude match-up data for any potential 2020 Democratic presidential nominee not currently a declared candidate. This is higher than the median Democratic presidential margin (+3.0 points) in the previous six presidential elections, which include three elections with an incumbent seeking reelection and three elections with no incumbent. However, once you exclude Biden and Sanders, the margin over Trump decreases to 0.1 points—though see the caveat in the preceding paragraph.

Still, given that state-level results actually determine the winner of a presidential election (via the Electoral College), it is more informative to look to those polls, where they are publicly-available. Using my 3W-RDM, a measure of how much more or less Democratic a state’s voting is relative to the nation as a whole, this polling[9] implies Democrats would win the national popular vote by between 2.7 (excluding Biden and Sanders) and 5.9 (including Biden and Sanders) points, using the median value. Most encouraging to Democrats should be the polls from North Carolina (R+6.0) and Texas (R+15.3), which show a very close race, implying a national Democratic lead of 4-6-and 12-15-points, respectively; these polls confirm strong opportunities for Democrats in the southeast and southwest. By contrast, however, a few polls from Democratic-leaning Maine (D+5.9) and Nevada (D+2.0) imply Democrats would lose nationwide by 1-6 points. Those remain the exceptions, however, to what continues to be encouraging news for Democrats in 2020—about which I will have more to say in a November 2019 post.

Until next time…

[1] Essentially, polls are weighted within areal units (nation, state) by days to the nominating contest and pollster quality to form a unit-specific average, then a weighted average is taken across Iowa (weight=5), New Hampshire (5), Nevada (4), South Carolina (4), the time-weighted average of all subsequent contests (2) and nationwide (1). Within the subsequent contests, I now weight the 10 March 3, 2020 “Super Tuesday” states (Alabama, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia) twice as much as the subsequent contests. As of this writing, I have at least one poll from (in chronological order) Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Washington, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Georgia, Wisconsin, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Oregon and New Jersey.

[2] Primarily California (21). Texas (16)

[3] Primarily Florida (11), Wisconsin (8), Pennsylvania (6)

[4] Comparing the two sets of results, Sanders drops seven percentage points (“points”), Warren drops five points, Biden and Buttigieg drop four points, Harris drops two points, Gabbard drops one point and Other/DK drops three points.

[5] This does include polls that limit the number of candidates queried.

[6] Morning Consult Tracking, Harris X Tracking (Likely Voters), Survey USA, Fox News, YouGov, Emerson College, Harris Interactive, Quinnipiac University, Reuters/Ipsos, IBD/TIPP

[7] Survey USA

[8] Seven polls were conducted wholly or in part on June 26 and/or June 27, 2019.

[9] From Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, Iowa, Arizona, South Carolina, Minnesota, Nevada, Massachusetts, Florida, New York, Kentucky, Maine, Ohio, North Dakota, California, Alaska, Washington, Colorado, Missouri, Utah, Virginia, Montana, Connecticut.

4 thoughts on “October 2019 update: 2020 Democratic nomination and general election polling

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