Emerson College polls: Post, and ye shall receive

Five days ago, I wrote about the sharp Republican shift since September 1, 2019 in polls conducted by Emerson College of hypothetical 2020 presidential election matchups between President Donald J. Trump and possible Democratic nominees. Emerson College is a high-quality pollster, rated A- and showing no partisan skew in recent elections according to FiveThirtyEight.com’s pollster ratings. What distinguishes Emerson College from other similarly high-quality pollsters assessing these matchups, though, is that the results they release have 0% choosing undecided or an unnamed candidate; this is likely, at least in part, because approximately 70% of Emerson College polls are conducted using automated voice response (aka “robopolling”).

I Voted sticker

When I first wrote in June 2019 about Emerson College polls of these hypothetical matchups, it was to compare their results with those of HarrisX, a C+ pollster with a strong Republican bias of 1.3 percentage points (“points”). I calculated then that “[HarrisX”] polls have an average of 28.0% undecided between the named Democrat and Trump (or would choose a third-party candidate); I estimate these voters would break roughly 7-4 in favor of the Democratic nominee.” That rises to 2-1 if polls assessing former Vice President Joe Biden or United States Senator (“Senator”) from Vermont Bernie Sanders are excluded.

However, as though in response to my November 25, 2019 post, Emerson College just released results of hypothetical 2020 presidential election matchups in New Hampshire. They assessed five possible Democratic nominees: Biden, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Sanders, South Bend, IN Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang; they surveyed 637 registered voters between November 22 and November 26,  2019.

Actually, the FiveThirtyEight.com poll tracker lists two sets of results: one with 0% “undecided/other” and one with between nine and 12% “undecided/other” (mean=10.8%); note that the former results are based upon 547 voters, 90 fewer than the latter results. We can thus directly assess how those roughly 1 in 9 voters would vote if “forced” to choose; results may be found in Table 1.

Table 1: Comparing Emerson College Polls of Hypothetical Match-ups Between President Trump and Specific 2020 Democratic Presidential Nominees in New Hampshire

Democrat With Undec/Other Without Undec/Other %Undec/Other %Trump by Undec/Other
Biden D+4 D+5 12% 45.8%
Warren D+4 D-2 10% 80.0%
Sanders D+7 D+3 9% 72.2%
Buttigieg D+8 D+6 11% 59.1%
Yang D+5 D-2 12% 79.2%
AVERAGE D+5.6 D+2.0 10.8% 66.7%

Poll results with a non-zero percentage choosing “undecided/other” show the hypothetical 2020 Democratic presidential nominee beating Trump in New Hampshire by an average of 5.6 points, slightly higher than the 4.6 points I calculate using all polls released since January 1, 2019. Moreover, all five Democrats lead Trump by between four and eight points. Once “undecided/other” voters are forced to choose, however, that average drops sharply to 2.0 points; Warren and Yang now trail Trump. That is because, on average, “undecided/other” voters choose Trump 2-1; this masks a curious divide, though: when offered Biden or Buttigieg, the split is nearly even, but when offered Warren, Sanders or Yang, the split is closer to 3-1.

While not strictly an apples-to-apples comparison, “undecided/other” voters breaking 2-1 for Trump is an exact reversal of my June analysis, when analogous voters broke nearly 2-1 against Trump. This reversal feels…implausible…if only because for years, the general rule of thumb was that these voters would ultimately break toward the non-incumbent, perhaps by as much as 2-1, as the incumbent was such a well-known quantity that opinions were basically fixed: a voter already knew if they approved of her/him or not. Still, that “rule” no longer seems to apply, so the best thing to do is to continue to aggregate all polls as best we can.

At the same time, the Emerson College results, when applied to other recent polls of hypothetical 2020 presidential election match-ups, are…odd. For example, consider this comparison of national SurveyUSA (A rating, D+0.1; 3,850 registered voters [RV]. November 20-21, 2019) and Emerson College polls (1,092 RV, November 17-20, 2019):

Table 2: Comparing National November 2019 SurveyUSA and Emerson College Polls of Hypothetical Match-ups Between President Trump and Specific 2020 Democratic Presidential Nominee

Democrat SurveyUSA Emerson College SurveyUSA

%Undec/Other

%Trump by Undec/Other
 

Biden

52%

D+13

49.5%

D-1

9% 155.6%
 

Warren

49%

D+7

50%

D+0

9% 88.9%
 

Sanders

52%

D+12

50.5%

D+1

8% 137.5%
 

Buttigieg

48%

D+7

48%

D-4

11% 100.0%
 

AVERAGE

50.2%

D+9.8

49.8%

D-0.5

9.2% 120.5%

In the four SurveyUSA polls, the hypothetical 2020 Democratic presidential nominee tops 50% on average, with a nearly-10-point lead over Trump and only about 1 in 11 choosing “undecided/other.” By contrast, the four Emerson College polls—with every respondent forced to choose either Trump or his Democratic opponent—show a dead-even race, with Trump edging the Democrat by 0.5 points, on average. But for these two sets of polls to exist simultaneously, not only would every single (or, in the case of Warren, 89%) “undecided/other” voter have to break for Trump, but a small proportion of Democratic-leaning voters would also have to switch to Trump as well.

Which, again, seems…implausible.

As always, caveat emptor.

Until next time…

About those recent Emerson College polls…

I first wrote about Emerson College polls here, using the fact their polls of hypothetical 2020 matchups between a Democrat and President Donald J. Trump force respondents to choose a candidate (i.e., have 0% “other/undecided”) to assess Harris X polls, which often have very high proportions “other/undecided.” At the time, I concluded “other/undecided” Harris X polls respondents likely would vote for the 2020 Democrat presidential nominee roughly 2-1.

When I wrote that post in June, margins reported by Emerson College polls were broadly in line with those reported by other, non-Harris-X polls of these hypothetical matchups. Since the end of August, however, they have taken a sharply Republican turn compared both to previous Emerson College polls and to all other polls, based upon analyses of my WAPA (weighted-adjusted polling average).

Table 1 clearly demonstrates this pro-Republican shift.

Table 1: Polling margin for specified 2020 Democratic presidential nominees over President Trump, Emerson College vs. All Other Polls and January-August 2019 vs. September-November 2019

Biden–National
Emerson All Other
Jan-Aug 7.24 8.35
Sep-Nov 0.29 8.03 Difference
-6.95 -0.32 -6.63
Warren–National
Emerson All Other
Jan-Aug 1.52 1.82
Sep-Nov 1.29 4.66 Difference
-0.23 2.84 -3.07
Sanders–National
Emerson All Other
Jan-Aug 4.28 4.99
Sep-Nov 0.12 5.10 Difference
-4.16 0.11 -4.27

While the post-August-2019 Republican lean of Emerson College polls for the three current polling leaders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination—former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts United States Senator (“Senator”) Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders—is apparent, it is most notable for Biden. Thus, while in all other polls, Biden’s WAPA declined modestly from 8.35 to 8.03, in the Emerson College polls it dropped from 7.24 to essentially even! Put another way, there was a 6.63 shift Republican in Emerson College polls for Biden starting around September 1, 2019. The shift was similar for Sanders—4.16 more Republican in Emerson College polls and no meaningful shift in other polls. Warren, meanwhile, had a sharp increase in her WAPA—from 1.82 to 4.66—in non-Emerson-College polls after September 1, 2019, while dropping slightly in the Emerson College polls. Overall, across all three candidates, there was a 4.66 pro-Republican shift in Emerson College polls after September 1, 2019.[1]

I Voted sticker

**********

Before addressing what could have caused this shift, let us address what did NOT cause this shift. On November 5, 2019, FiveThirtyEight.com updated its pollster ratings, which I use in calculating WAPA. Emerson College was upgraded from B+ to A-, making it one of the highest-quality pollsters regularly assessing the 2020 presidential election. Moreover, Emerson College’s “mean-reverted bias”—how much more or less Democratic its average polling margins are compared to other pollsters in the same (already-concluded) election—barely changed, shifting from D+0.1 to R+0.0 (which I code as D-0.025). Finally, mean sample size of Emerson College polls—still of registered voters—dropped only slightly after September 1, from 1,120 to 1,043.

But what about other pollsters? If anything, the mix of pollsters assessing the 2020 presidential election improved after September 1, 2019, from B-/B to B, albeit with a slightly more Democratic skew (D+0.2 to D+0.3).

Moreover, here are the averages of unskewed pollster-average margins for Biden, Warren and Sanders across all pollsters with at least a B+ rating,[2] before and after September 1, 2019:

  • Biden: 9.3 percentage points (“points”) to 10.8 points
  • Warren: 2.4 points to 6.6 points
  • Sanders: 5.8 points to 7.5 points

Clearly, both the more recent Emerson College polls and the lower-rated pollsters are finding much closer races between each of these three candidates and Trump than are the higher-rated pollsters. And while I removed the skew from these margins, the higher-rated pollsters have a mean skew of D+0.5—so take these averages with a modicum of salt.

Nonetheless, polls conducted by pollsters similar in quality to Emerson College—albeit with some small percentage of “undecided/other” voters—show the three leading Democratic candidates increasing their hypothesized margins against Trump by 1.5 to 4.2 points after September 1, 2019, while the Emerson College polls show declines in support from 0.2 to 7.0 points.

So what gives?

There are two broad categories of possible, non-mutually-exclusive explanations.

  1. Starting September 1, Emerson College pollsters adjusted how they weigh their samples by various demographic factors, such that their polls skew sharply more Republican relative to other high-quality pollsters.
  2. Emerson College pollsters, perhaps because they force respondents to make a choice, are capturing a genuine pro-Republican shift in the electorate other high-quality pollsters are missing.

Taking each possible explanation in turn…

Emerson’s sampling methodology did not change after September 1, remaining a combination of Interactive Voice Response (i.e., “robocalls”) of landlines—but not cellphones—and an online voter panel. However, their sample weighting, based upon 2016 turnout, did change subtly—from age, region, income, and education in their August 2019 national polls to age, [interview] mode, party registration, ethnicity and region in their November 2019 national polls.

Given how strongly education is now associated with partisanship, especially among white voters, that could account for at least some of the difference. I am perplexed, however, how interviewing mode is associated with turnout—other than landline-users tending to lean Republican (older, whiter, less urban). For that matter, I am not clear why a poll of registered voters would adjust for turnout at all. Adjust for the relative proportions of these groups in the universe of registered voters, sure—but adjustment for participation rates (i.e., turnout) of various groups in 2016 seems more appropriate for a likely voters model. Still, without seeing the raw data, I will not even speculate how these changes in sample weighting would affect publicly-released polling margins.

There is, meanwhile, an argument to be made that the universe of “decided” voters has drifted Republican in recent months, especially with the announcement by Speaker of the United States House of Representatives (“House”) Nancy Pelosi on September 24, 2019 that the House would formally begin an impeachment inquiry into Trump. While polling at first showed approval for this action higher than disapproval, the difference is closer to even now as House Republicans have rallied behind a president of their party.

Also, while Democrats fared well in recent governor’s races in Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi, the final actual margins were an average 2.8 points more Republicans than the final WAPA, perhaps reflecting a substantial Republican bias among “other/undecided” voters—essentially what the Emerson College polls might show. Moreover, the A+-rated Siena College/New York Times Upshot (R+0.3), recently released a set of state-level polls that also show leading Democrats faring less well against Trump than the consensus of other pollsters in those states.

While some combination of these two possible explanations—a change in sample weighting and an actual pro-Republican shift in the electorate—probably accounts for the clear shift towards Trump in recent Emerson College polls, it is entirely possible their last three national polls are showing these shifts purely by chance; even the best sampling strategy will be well wide of the mark at times (this is, in fact, the basic logic behind polling aggregation). However, three such wide sampling “misses” in the same direction and of the same size are extremely unlikely, though far from impossible.

In the end, the best those of us who track election polling can do is throw every publicly-available poll into the analysis, weighting, averaging and adjusting as best we can—all the while remembering that even the best estimates are just that, estimates.

Until next time…

[1] Values were similar for South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and California Senator Kamala Harris, but with each having only one post-August-2019 Emerson College poll assessing support versus President Trump, I excluded their polls from the analysis.

[2] IBD/TIPP, CNN/SSRS, Fox News, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, ABC News/Washington Post, SurveyUSA, Quinnipiac University. There is no post-August-2019 NBCNWSJ polling for Sanders.

November 2019 update: 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and general election polling

With the fifth Democratic presidential nomination debate set for November 20, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia, here is an updated assessment of the relative position of the now-18 (19?) declared candidates. Since the previous update, United States House of Representatives Member (“Representative”) Tim Ryan of Ohio exited the race on October 24, followed by former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke on November 1. The nine candidates who have abandoned their quest to be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee each exited with grace, class and dignity; I commend them for it.

However, rather than shrink the field to 17 announced Democratic candidates, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick entered the race on November 14, while others such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg are strongly considering a bid—with Bloomberg even placing his name on the 2020 Democratic primary ballot in Arkansas. For this update, though, I exclude them from Table 1; the few recent polls listing Bloomberg show him registering between 0 and 3%, while no poll has included Patrick since he earned 1% in a McLaughlin & Associates national poll conducted February 6-10, 2019.

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 November 2019 lighthouse photograph in my Down East 2019 Maine Lighthouses wall calendar.

Nov 2019 lighthouse.JPG

**********

Table 1 below aggregates data from all national and state-level polls publicly released since January 1, 2019 (as of 11:39 pm on November 15, 2019), including:

  • 246 national polls (including 45 weekly Morning Consult tracking polls)
  • 34 Iowa caucuses polls
  • 34 New Hampshire primary polls
  • 11 Nevada caucuses polls
  • 28 South Carolina primary polls
  • 65 Super Tuesday polls[2]
  • 70 polls from 19 other states.[3]

There are now 488 total polls, up from 414 last month.

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 28.5 20.4 22.5 26.8 36.6 27.4 26.2
Warren 16.4 18.9 18.2 18.6 12.6 18.8 17.3
Sanders 16.3 15.0 17.4 18.8 11.7 16.3 15.8
Buttigieg 5.6 13.7 9.0 5.8 4.0 6.0 8.1
Harris 7.3 6.0 6.3 5.6 7.4 7.1 6.4
Booker 2.2 2.0 1.8 1.5 3.0 1.5 2.0
Yang 1.8 1.9 2.2 2.8 1.2 1.4 2.0
Klobuchar 1.3 3.4 1.9 1.2 0.9 1.3 1.8
Gabbard 0.9 1.5 2.4 1.2 0.7 0.9 1.4
Steyer 0.4 0.03 1.1 3.2 2.2 0.3 1.3
Castro 0.9 0.6 0.2 1.0 0.3 1.1 0.57
Delaney 0.3 0.5 0.5 0.00 0.3 0.2 0.33
Bennet 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.4 0.3 0.3 0.31
Williamson 0.3 0.1 0.3 0.4 0.4 0.2 0.29
Bullock 0.2 0.6 0.00 0.2 0.2 0.1 0.24
Sestak 0.02 0.02 0.05 0.1 0.03 0.1 0.04
Messam 0.00 0.00 0.02 0.00 0.00 0.05 0.01
DK/Other 12.9 12.7 12.5 10.5 15.8 12.0 13.4

The race continues to follow the same storylines. Former Vice President Joe Biden remains the nominal frontrunner (26.2, down from 27.2), primarily because of his 24.0-percentage-point (“point”) lead in South Carolina, itself down from 25.2 last month. However, he is less strong in Iowa, New Hampshire and (to a lesser extent) Nevada, where the two candidates battling for second place—Massachusetts United States Senator (“Senator”) Elizabeth Warren (17.3, up from 16.5) and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (15.8, down from 16.1)—are closer to first place. And this more-inclusive version of NSW-WAPA overstates the gap between Biden and Warren; only examining polls conducted entirely after June 26, 2019, when the first round of Democratic presidential debates ended, Biden drops to 24.9 and Warren rises to 18.9; Sanders is at 15.4.

Rounding out the top five, overall and in the four earliest states, are South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (8.1—down from 7.1) and California Senator Kamala Harris (6.4—down from 7.6); Buttigieg surged passed a fading Harris (down 2.9 in two months), particularly in Iowa and New Hampshire, where a top three finish in one or both states appears increasingly plausible. These five candidates account for three-quarters (73.9%, down from 74.6%) of declared Democratic voter preferences.

In the next tier are five candidates with NSW-WAPA between 1.3 and 2.1 who could yet rise into the top five: New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar—essentially tied for 6th place—followed by Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard and billionaire activist Tom Steyer. Other than Booker, these candidates rose in the last month, particularly in the early contests. Moreover, using post-first-debate polls only puts a little more distance between Yang (2.1) and Booker, Klobuchar, Gabbard and Steyer, tightly bunched between 1.6 and 1.8.

These 10 candidates—all of whom will be on the debate stage Wednesday night—total 82.5% of declared Democratic voter preferences. Of them, six—Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris, Buttigieg, Klobuchar—have thus far met the criteria for the sixth Democratic presidential nomination debate in Los Angeles, California on December 19, though Yang and Gabbard are close; not appearing on the debate stage for the first time, meanwhile, is former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, who remains mired around 0.6.

The remaining six candidates and Castro divide just 1.9 between them; as none is remotely close to making the December 2019 debate(s), I expect them to end their campaigns by the end of 2019.

Speaking of the debates, 10 different pollsters—nine nationally[4] and one in Iowa[5]–conducted polls of the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination both before (but after the September 2019 debate) and after the October 2019 debate. Simple average differences in polling percentage (Iowa poll results weighted five times national results) show measurable gains for Buttigieg (+3.5 points), Sanders (+2.3) and Klobuchar (+0.9), as well as measurable declines for Yang (-0.6), Don’t Know/Other (-0.9), Harris (-1.0) and Biden (-2.1). Adjustment for pollster quality and the number of days between polls made no appreciable difference. These shifts are reflected in the changes in NSW-WAPA detailed above for each candidate except Sanders and Yang; the latter discrepancy may be due to the preponderance of low-weighted national polls in this calculation.

**********

Less than two weeks ago, I took a deeper dive into hypothetical match-ups between the declared Democratic nomination candidates and Trump—assuming he is the 2020 Republican presidential nominee, as well as post-mortem on recent gubernatorial elections in Kentucky and Mississippi. Rather than repeat myself, however, I offer a few quick updates and a final look at the Louisiana gubernatorial runoff election to be held November 16 between incumbent Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards and Republican businessman Eddie Rispone.

Kentucky and Mississippi. After the November 5 elections, I discovered a final poll[6] of the Kentucky governor’s race which gave incumbent Republican Governor Matt Bevin a six-point lead over Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear. Adding this poll dropped the “projected” margin to 4.0 points With Bevin conceding the race on November 14, Beshear actually won by 0.4 points, for a 3.6-point Republican “bias” in the results.

In Mississippi, meanwhile, Republican Lieutenant Governor Tate Reeves beat Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood by 5.5 points, while my final “projection” was Reeves by 3.0 point, for a 2.5-point Republican bias. The average bias was 3.0 points in favor of the Republicans even though I “called” both races correctly.

Louisiana. Based upon 18 polls with an average Democratic “bias” of 0.1 points and B-/C+ rating, my “projection” is that Bel Edwards will beat Rispone by 4.7 points. However, I note two caveats. One is that 3.0 pro-Republican bias in two other southern states, implying a narrower Bel Edwards victory of 1.7 points. The other caveat is that when only the nine polls conducted after the October 12 “jungle primary” are examined (averages: R+0.4; B-/C+), Bel Edwards’ lead drops to 2.2. In other words, while a narrow Bel Edwards victory—say 2.0 points—is the likeliest outcome, anything from an extremely narrow Rispone win to a mid-single-digits Bel Edwards victory is plausible.

Notably though, even if Rispone wins by one point, Democrats will still have outperformed their “fundamentals”—how a generic Democrat would fare against a generic Republican given a state’s partisan lean, national partisan environment and incumbency—by an average of 16.3 points in three strongly Republican southern states just one year before the 2020 elections.

[Update, 1:00 am, November 17: John Bel Edwards was reelected by 2.6 points. With one last Trafalgar Group poll conducted November 13-15, the final “projected” margin was Bel Edwards by 4.5 points, a miss in the Republican direction of 1.9 points. On average, in the 2019 gubernatorial races in Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, the final “projected” margin missed by 2.7 points in the direction of the Republicans, though all three elections were “called” correctly–and Democrats net one governor’s mansion. Also, the three Democratic gubernatorial nominees outperformed their “fundamentals” by an average of 17.5 points, which is extraordinary.]

Democrats vs. Trump. No sooner had I completed my most recent calculations than FiveThirtyEight.com updated its pollster letter grades and average partisan skew, analogous to the “bias” calculations I performed above. While the changes did not materially affect the Democratic nomination standings, they did have a slightly pro-Republican effect on general election polls.

Still, Biden would beat Trump nationally by 8.1 points, Warren by 3.5 points, Sanders by 5.2 points and Harris by 1.6 points, while Buttigieg would essentially tie Trump and Booker would lose by 0.7 points; Bloomberg, based on three polls, would win by 1.9 points. The other 11 candidates for whom I have match-up data would lose by between 5.2 and 12.7 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.

Weighted by a rough estimate of the likelihood of being the nominee (NSW-WAPA/.843), the 2020 Democratic nominee would beat Trump by 3.6 points. This is broadly in line with the median Democratic presidential margin (+3.0) 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 decreases to 0.3 points, with the caveat fom the preceding paragraph.

Examining available state-level results,[7] which actually decide presidential elections via the Electoral College, then comparing to my partisan-lean measure 3W-RDM implies Democrats would win the national popular vote by between 3.6 (excluding Biden and Sanders) and 5.8 points, substantially higher than national polls suggest. Most encouraging to Democrats should be polls from North Carolina (R+6.0), Georgia (R+9.6), Arizona (R+9.7) and Texas (R+15.3), which show Democrats either barely ahead (Georgia) or within three points of Trump; on average, they imply a national Democratic lead of 8-9 points, confirming strong opportunities for Democrats in the southeast and southwest.

By contrast, however, a handful of polls from Democratic-leaning Nevada (D+2.0) who Democrats barely winning the state while implying Democrats would lose nationwide by between 1.4 and 3.8 points. And while Democrats are 4.0-7.5 points ahead in the swing state of Michigan, which Trump won by 0.16 points in 2016, their position is…wobbly…in Florida (R+3.4), Pennsylvania (R+0.4) and Wisconsin (D+0.7), all of which Trump won narrowly in 2016.

Still, at this very early point in the 2020 electoral cycle, the fact that Democrats are far more competitive in Republican-leaning states, albeit slightly behind, than Republicans are in Democratic-leaning states should encourage Democrats.

Until next time…

[1] Essentially, polls are weighted within nation/state by days to nominating contest and pollster quality to form a area-specific average, then a weighted average is taken across Iowa (weight=5), New Hampshire (5), Nevada (4), South Carolina (4), time-weighted average of subsequent contests (2) and nationwide (1). Within subsequent contests, I weight the 10 March 3, 2020 “Super Tuesday” states (Alabama, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia) twice 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 (25). Texas (17) and North Carolina (8)

[3] Primarily Florida (12), Wisconsin (11), Pennsylvania (9) and Michigan (8)—not coincidentally, the four states President Donald J. Trump won in 2016 by the narrowest margins.

[4] Morning Consult Tracking, Harris X Tracking (Likely Voters), Fox News, YouGov, Emerson College, Quinnipiac University, Ipsos, Monmouth University, NBC News/Wall Street Journal

[5] Civiqs

[6] Trafalgar Group, October 29-November 1, 2019

[7] From 27 states: 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, Georgia.

Just under one year until the 2020 presidential election…how does it look for Democrats?

On November 3, 2020, one year from this past Sunday, the United States will hold its next presidential election; technically, the election will conclude that day, given early voting and vote-by-mail opportunities in many states. Once a month since April 2019, I have updated analyses of polling data on hypothetical match-ups between potential candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and President Donald J. Trump; for this post, I assume he will be impeached by the United States House of Representatives but not removed by the Senate. I make this assumption not because of any particular insight into the outcome of the Senate trial, but simply because polling data for other potential 2020 Republican presidential nominees, such as Vice President Mike Pence or former Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, is sparse.

With the presidential election now one year away, here is a deeper dive into these polling data.

I Voted sticker

**********

First, however, here are the final polling averages for the two gubernatorial elections to be held on Tuesday, November 5, 2019.  In Kentucky, incumbent Republican Governor Matt Bevin trails Democrat Andy Beshear by 6.1 percentage points (“points”), though this is based upon only five polls, and only two conducted in October, with an average pollster rating of B-/B and an average Democratic “bias” of roughly 0.8 points; pollster quality is a letter grade assigned by FiveThirtyEight.com, and bias is a pollster’s average tendency to err towards Democrats or Republicans[1]. Plus, this state leans 28.7 points more Republican than the nation, according to my 3W-RDM, meaning the “fundamentals” (-28.7 3W-RDM + 5.7 Democratic edge in the generic ballot question – 8.5 Republican incumbency edge) suggest Bevin should win by nearly 32 points. Beshear should still be considered a slight favorite, but it would not be remotely surprising if Bevin won; with an astonishing gap of 38 points between polling and fundamentals, anything from a Bevin landslide to a narrow Beshear victory is possible.

In Mississippi’s open gubernatorial race, meanwhile, Republican Tate Reeves leads Democrat Jim Hood by 2.7 points, based upon 11 polls with an average C pollster rating and Democratic bias of 1.2 points. The fundamentals suggest Reeves wins by about 13 points, which more closely matches the polls. Reeves will likely win by a margin in the mid-single digits.

The bottom line, however, is that Democrats should not be competitive in either of these races, yet are within single digits in both.

**********

We have national-level polling data for hypothetical match-ups between 16 of the 17 currently-declared candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and President Donald J. Trump; only former United States House of Representatives member (“Representative”) Joe Sestak has not yet been tested. Table 1 summarizes these match-ups; it includes all polls released publicly since January 1, 2019.

Table 1: Weighted-average national-level polling data for hypothetical match-ups between 2020 Democratic presidential nominees and President Donald J. Trump

Democrat NSW-WAPA # Polls Pollsters

 

Wtd-Ave Margin
# Rating Bias
Biden 26.8 76 22 B 0.0 D+8.4
Warren 17.4 70 20 B/B+ 0.0 D+3.8
Sanders 16.0 67 19 B/B+ 0.0 D+5.4
Buttigieg 7.6 37 13 B/B+ R+0.1 D+0.2
Harris 6.9 56 18 B R+0.2 D+1.8
Booker 2.1 18 9 B-/C+ R+0.6 R+0.6
Yang 1.8 8 HarrisX C+ R+1.5 R+7.1
Klobuchar 1.7 10 3 B R+0.3 R+5.5
Gabbard 1.3 7 HarrisX C+ R+1.5 R+8.7
Steyer 1.2 3 HarrisX C+ R+1.5 R+5.0
Castro 0.6 9 2 C+ R+1.5 R+6.2
Delaney 0.4 7 HarrisX C+ R+1.5 R+7.4
Williamson 0.3 7 HarrisX C+ R+1.5 R+9.1
Bennet 0.3 3 HarrisX C+ R+1.5 R+7.3
Bullock 0.2 3 HarrisX C+ R+1.5 R+6.5
Messam 0.0 5 HarrisX C+ R+1.5 R+12.5
Weighted Average Democratic margin over Trump D+4.0

NSW-WAPA” is a 2020 Democratic nomination polling average that aggregates national- and state-level polling averages adjusted for pollster quality and time-to-election; early states are weighted more than later states, and all state polls more than national polls. Each candidate’s estimated margin versus Trump uses polling margins from which pollster “bias” has been subtracted before weighting by pollster quality and time-to-election[2]. Final estimated margins for each Democratic candidate are weighted by the value NSW-WAPA/.845[3] to produce an “overall” Democratic average margin over Trump; the denominator is the total of 17 individual NSW-WAPA values[4].

Each of the six leading candidates for the 2020 Democratic nomination—former Vice President Joe Biden; United States Senator (“Senator”) from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren; Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders; South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg; California Senator Kamala Harris; New Jersey Senator Cory Booker—have at least 18 polls testing a hypothetical election between them and Trump. And for the first five candidates, the average pollster rating is a respectable B or B/B+ for at least 13 distinct polling organizations; the average for Booker is only C+/B- due to a preponderance of polls from Republican-leaning HarrisX (rating=C+, bias=+1.5); I have written previously about problems with HarrisX polls.

Overall, based upon a rough likelihood of each candidate winning the nomination, Trump would lose to the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee nationally by 4.0 points; Removing Biden’s polls lowers the margin to 2.0 points, while removing Biden’s and Sander’s polls lowers the margin to 0.6 points. Nonetheless, each of the six leading candidates either beats Trump nationally (Biden, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg, Harris) or loses by less than one point (Booker). Unfortunately, the final estimated margins for the remaining 10 candidates in the table, including entrepreneur Andrew Yang, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, businessman Tom Steyer and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, should be taken with a few pounds of salt due to the preponderance of HarrisX polls of these match-ups; for every candidate except Klobuchar and Castro they are the only publicly-available polls.

There are reasons besides these admittedly-very-early polls to argue the Democratic presidential nominee will win the national popular vote in 2020 by around 3-4 points—where Warren polls right now. In fact, Warren’s 3.8-point margin is very close to the 3.3-point-average Democratic margin in the last six presidential elections, which include three incumbents seeking reelection (Bill Clinton in 1996, George W. Bush in 2004, Barack Obama in 2012) and three open seats (2000, 2008, 2016); Obama beat Republican Mitt Romney in 2012 by 3.9 points. As usual, presidential election data from Dave Leip’s indispensable Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections.

Also, relative support for a Democratic candidate versus Trump is directly related to how well that candidate currently fares in the presidential nomination process, itself a proxy for name recognition; the correlation between the final estimated margin and NSW-WAPA is 0.90, suggesting the better known a Democrat becomes, the better (s)he polls versus Trump; Democrats are that eager to defeat the president.

Finally, some very back-of-the-envelope math suggests the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee is likely to improve over 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton’s 2.1-point margin over Trump. For one thing, while Trump remains nearly as unpopular as he was on election day 2016 (38% favorable then, 41% job performance approval now[5]), he will likely not face a nearly-equally-unpopular Democratic nominee in 2020. Voters who chose Trump as, hypothetically, the lesser of two evils now know what he is like as a president; the Democratic nominee now represents the blank slate, for better or for worse. More to the point, however, it is difficult to envision more than a small handful of the 65,853,625 voters who chose Clinton in 2016 switching to Trump, whereas switching in the other direction strikes me as far more plausible. But even if the vote switches roughly cancel out, there are 8,261,498 third party 2016 votes to consider, an unusually-high 6.0% of the total national popular vote. Let us assume half of those voters switch to one of the two major party candidates in 2020, and that they split roughly 2-1 for the Democrat, based on the idea voters who wanted to vote against Trump in 2016 but could not stomach voting for Clinton voted for Libertarian Gary Johnson, Green Jill Stein or Independent Evan McMullin. Using the six-election average increase in the total national popular vote over the previous election of 4.9%, that works out to about 72 million Democratic votes (50.0%), 67.5 million Republican votes (46.9%) and 4.3 million third party votes (3.1%)—and a Democratic margin of 3.1 points.

**********

Of course, it is the Electoral College, not the national popular vote, that determines the winner of presidential elections. Using 3W-RDM, if the Democratic nominee won by 4,0 points, (s)he would be expected to win 308 electoral votes (EV), although the race in Florida would be very close, more than the 270 EV necessary to win the presidency. Given an average error of 5.3 points, however, the Democratic EV total could be anywhere from 222 to 347. If the Democratic nominee only won by 0.6 points, though, (s)he would either lose with 259 EV or win with 279 EV, pending a likely recount in Pennsylvania[6]; the range of Democratic EV in this scenario is 191 to 314.

However, it is not necessary to rely solely on “fundamentals” calculations (i.e., national average plus 3W-RDM), as we have at least one hypothetical match-up poll from 26 states, including every relatively competitive state except Georgia. Table 2 summarizes these data, with polling averages in boldface; Democratic “wins” are italicized. Each row containing polling data has two values: the final weighted-adjusted average and, in parentheses, the extrapolated national popular vote margin based upon 3W-RDM. For example, Biden is currently ahead by 10.3 points in Michigan (which Trump won in 2016 by 0.2 points), but because Michigan averages 2.2 points more Democratic than the nation, that implies Biden is winning the national popular vote by 10.3-2.2=8.1 points, very close to his 8.4-point national polling average.

Table 2: Weighted-average state-level polling data for hypothetical match-ups between leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidates and President Donald J. Trump

State EV 3W-RDM Biden Warren Sanders Buttigieg Harris
DC 3 82.0 D+90.4 D+85.8 D+87.4 D+82.2 D+83.5
Hawaii 4 34.3 D+42.7 D+38.1 D+39.7 D+34.5 D+36.1
Vermont 3 27.7 D+36.1 D+31.5 D+33.1 D+27.9 D+29.5
California 55 23.2 D+28.4

(D+5.2)

D+21.9

(D+1.3)

D+26.7

(D+3.4)

D+20.0

(R+3.2)

D+22.4

(R+0.8)

Maryland 10 22.6 D+31.0 D+26.4 D+28.0 D+22.8 D+24.4
Massachusetts 11 22.1 D+37.9

(D+15.8)

D+25.9

(D+3.8)

D+27.9

(D+5.8)

D+22.3 D+23.9
New York 29 21.6 D+30.0 D+25.4 D+27.0 D+21.8 D+23.4
Rhode Island 4 18.0 D+26.4 D+21.8 D+23,4 D+18.2 D+19.8
Illinois 20 14.7 D+23.1 D+18.5 D+20.1 D+14.9 D+16.5
Connecticut 7 12.8 D+19.0

(D+6.2)

D+14.0

(D+1.2)

D+16.0

(D+3.2)

D+12.0

(R+0.8)

D+13.0

(R+0.2)

Delaware 3 12.5 D+20.9 D+16.3 D+17.9 D+12.7 D+14.3
Washington 12 12.1 D+21.8

(D+9.7)

D+20.5

(D+8.3)

D+21.4

(D+9.3)

D+12.9

(D+0.8)

D+13.9

(D+1.8)

New Jersey 14 12.0 D+20.4 D+15.8 D+17.4 D+12.2 D+13.8
Oregon 7 8.7 D+17.1 D+11.5 D+14.1 D+8.9 D+10.5
New Mexico 5 6.5 D+14.9 D+10.3 D+11.9 D+6.7 D+8.3
Maine 4 5.9 D+8.7

(D+2.8)

D+7.7

(D+1.8)

D+8.3

(D+2.4)

D+6.6

(D+0.7)

D+5.0

(R+0.9)

Michigan 16 2.2 D+9.0

(D+6.8)

D+4.5

(D+2.3)

D+7.5

(D+5.3)

D+2.8

(D+0.6)

D+4.1

(D+1.9)

Colorado 9 2.2 D+9.2

(D+7.0)

D+6.9

(D+4.7)

D+9.9

(D+7.7)

D+9.9

(D+7.7)

D+2.9

(D+0.7)

Nevada 6 2.0 D+1.4

(R+0.6)

R+2.8

(R+5.0)

D+0.1

(R+1.9)

R+4.4

(R+6.4)

R+0.8

(R+2.8)

Minnesota 10 1.5 D+12.7
(D+11.2)
D+11.7
(D+10.2)
D+9.7

(D+8.6)

D+1.6 D+3.3
Virginia 13 1.5 D+10.5

(D+9.0)

D+7.0

(D+5.5)

D+4.2

(D+2.7)

D+1.7 D+11.0

(D+9.5)

Wisconsin 10 0.7 D+5.9

(D+5.2)

D+1.1

(D+0.4)

D+4.5

(D+3.8)

R+1.3

(R+2.0)

D+0.1

(R+0.6)

New Hampshire 4 0.1 D+10.2

(D+10.1)

D+0.6

(D+0.5)

D+6.7

(D+6.6)

D+2.3

(D+2.2)

D+6.4

(D+6.3)

Pennsylvania 20 -0.4 D+4.5

(D+4.9)

D+0.04

(D+0.3)

D+2.8

(D+3.2)

R+3.8

(R+3.4)

D+0.3

(D+0.7)

Florida 29 -3.4 D+2.3

(D+5.7)

R+0.2

(D+3.2)

R+0.2

(D+3.2)

R+1.0

(D+2.4)

R+2.9

(D+0.5)

Iowa 6 -4.7 R+0.4

(D+4.3)

R+3.9

(D+0.8)

R+0.9

(D+3.8)

R+3.5

(D+1.2)

R+6.8

(R+2.1)

Ohio 18 -5.8 D+4.9

(D+10.7)

D+1.4

(D+7.2)

D+1.8

(D+7.6)

R+1.8

(D+4.0)

R+1.8

(D+4.0)

North Carolina 15 -6.0 D+1.8

(D+7.8)

R+1.5

(D+5.5)

R+0.2

(D+5.8)

R+3.0

(D+3.0)

R+3.7

(D+2.3)

Georgia 16 -9.6 R+1.0 R+6.1 R+4.3 R+9.5 R+7.8
Arizona 11 -9.7 D+1.8

(D+11.5)

R+0.8

(D+9.1)

R+6.0

(D+3.7)

R+3.6

(D+6.1)

R+6.7

(D+3.0)

Texas 38 -15.3 D+0.4

(D+15.7)

R+3.3

(D+12.0)

R+0.7

(D+14.7)

R+5.3

(D+10.0)

R+5.2

(D+10.1)

South Carolina 9 -15.7 R+11.3

(D+4.4)

R+12.1

(D+3.6)

R+15.7

(D+0.0)

R+15.5 R+17.4

(R+1.7)

Missouri 10 -15.9 R+11.3

(D+4.6)

R+15.1

(D+0.8)

R+16.7

(R+0.8)

R+15.4 R+17.1

(R+1.2)

Indiana 11 -16.3 R+7.9 R+12.5 R+10.9 R+15.8 R+14.5
Mississippi 6 -18.5 R+10.1 R+14.7 R+13.1 R+18.0 R+16.7
Montana 3 -18.6 R+7.0

(D+11.6)

R+9.0

(D+9.6)

R+8.0

(D+10.6)

R+18.4 R+10.0

(D+8.6)

Alaska 3 -19.2 R+4.1

(D+15.1)

R+15.1

(D+4.1)

R+6.1

(D+13.1)

R+13.1

(D+6.1)

R+17.1

(D+2.1)

Louisiana 8 -22.2 R+13.8 R+18.4 R+16.8 R+22.0 R+20.4
Kansas 6 -23.4 R+15.0 R+19.6 R+18.0 R+23.2 R+21.6
Nebraska 5 -25.8 R+17.4 R+22.0 R+20.4 R+25.6 R+24.0
South Dakota 3 -25.8 R+17.4 R+22.0 R+20.4 R+25.6 R+24.0
Tennessee 11 -25.8 R+17.4 R+22.0 R+20.4 R+25.6 R+24.0
Arkansas 6 -28.2 R+19.8 R+24.4 R+22.8 R+28.0 R+26.4
Alabama 9 -28.4 R+20.0 R+24.7 R+23.0 R+28.2 R+26.6
Kentucky 8 -28.7 R+15.5

(D+13.2)

R+32.6

(R+3.9)

R+22.6

(D+6.1)

R+32.6

(R+3.9)

R+26.9
North Dakota 3 -29.4 R+21.0

(D+8.4)

R+25.6 R+24.0 R+29.3 R+27.5
Utah 6 -33.1 R+1.3

(D+31.8)

R+3.3

(D+29.8)

D+5.7

(D+38.8)

R+20.3

(D+12.8)

R+15.3

(D+17.8)

Idaho 4 -34.2 R+25.8 R+30.4 R+28.8 R+34.0 R+32.4
West Virginia 5 -35.5 R+27.1 R+31.7 R+30.1 R+35.3 R+33.5
Oklahoma 7 -38.1 R+29.7 R+34.3 R+32.7 R+37.9 R+36.3
Wyoming 3 -45.7 R+37.3 R+41.7 R+40.3 R+45.5 R+43.9
TOTAL EV 390 271/291 297 243 273

There is a lot to unpack in this table, so here are some highlights:

  1. Biden would resoundingly beat Trump, but other top Democrats could easily defeat Trump as well.

Based upon polling averages and fundamentals calculations, Biden would most likely win 390 EV, even more than Bill Clinton’s 379 EV in 1996 and Obama’s 365 EV in 2008. However, if we allow states where the table margin has an absolute value less than 3.0 points to be “won” be either major party candiates, he could finish with as few as 292 EV—still 22 more than needed—or as high as 412 EV, a number on par with George H. W. Bush’s 426 EV in 1988; the senior Bush was the last president to top 400 EV.

However, I would not put too much stock in the single set of match-up polls from Utah (R+33.1), which imply Democrats winning the national popular vote by anywhere from 13 to 39 points, despite the pollster, Y2 Analytics having a B rating and a slight Democratic skew of 0.3 points; the polls, which also have Booker winning Utah by 12 points, were conducted on just 144 registered voters between July 31, and August 6, 2019. It is nearly impossible to envision ANY Democrat winning Utah’s six EV.

Meanwhile, Warren, Sanders and Harris would be slightly favored based on these polling averages and fundamentals calculations, with Warren literally winning Pennsylvania by something like 3,000 votes. Warren’s range is 239-352 EV, Sanders’s range is 242-379 EV, and Harris’ range is 243-326 EV. Buttigieg, finally, would be a slight underdog, with a range of 200-300.

Taking a much wider view, however, incumbent presidents should not be trailing at all at this point, and especially not to five or possibly six Democrats. In many ways, this race feels like late 1979, when a wide range of Republicans were eager to challenge an unpopular Jimmy Carter—whose own election had been something of a fluke in 1976, based on revulsion with the Watergate scandal. With all that, however, Carter won a narrow victory over a weakened incumbent Gerald Ford, at a time when Republicans had won four of the six previous presidential elections. At this point, the polls were close—though Republican Ronald Reagan, often seen as “too extreme” to beat an incumbent, ultimately won a 9.7-point landslide and the Electoral College 489-49.

  1. Democrats are doing better on Republican turf than Republicans are on Democratic turf.

Extrapolating from individual-state polling averages, the “typical” Democratic presidential nominee would win the national popular vote by either 5.6 (median) or 6.6 points (mean), both substantially higher than the average 4.0-point margin of actual national polls. Given extreme outliers like Utah, the median is likely the more valid measure. Remove Biden’s data, and the extrapolated national margins are 3.8 (median) and 4.9 (mean); remove Biden’s and Sander’s data yields margins of 2.5 and 4.0 points.

Why do state polls paint a rosier picture for Democrats? Consider Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona Texas, Montana, Alaska, Kentucky and, yes, Utah. Trump won each of these states in 2016 by at least 3.5 points, and they have a mean 3W-RDM of R+17.0. And yet, in these states the extrapolated national popular vote margin for each Democratic candidate mostly exceeds her/his calculated average national margin. In fact, the correlation between 3W-RDM and “excess extrapolated Democratic national popular vote margin” is -0.46, implying that the more Republican the state, the more Democratic state polling “overperforms” national polling. This should be extremely encouraging for Democrats.

The flip side, however, is a number of states where Democrats are underperforming, most notably in Nevada, whose six EV look dicey right now, despite it being a D+2.0 state. For all that, every other core Democratic state looks good for Democrats

Democratic support also looks wobbly in the vital swing states of Pennsylvania (R+0.4) and Wisconsin (D+0.7). Still, in Pennsylvania, Warren is no worse than tied, while Buttigieg is “only” 3.8 points behind, and in Wisconsin, Harris is no worse than tied, while Buttigieg is only 1.3 points behind. Plus, Michigan (D+2.2)—the third state, along with Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, that delivered the Electoral College to Trump in 2016 by less than 77,000 total votes—and New Hampshire (D+0.1) look solid for Democrats right now, with Florida (R+3.4) very much in play.

**********

The values discussed here, of course, should be taken with multiple grains of salt. It is impossible to know, for example, how the rapidly-unfolding impeachment process or changes in the economy will affect voters’ decision-making. An unforeseen crisis, domestic or foreign, could fundamentally change perceptions of Trump’s job performance—for better or for worse—as could something like a bipartisan massive infrastructure bill. Undecided and truly “independent” votes could break heavily for either party’s nominee—or they could split right down the middle.

Nonetheless, I would much rather be the Democratic presidential nominee than Trump right now.

Until next time…

[1] All calculations made prior to FiveThirtyEight publishing updated pollster ratings on November 5, 2019.

[2] Final nomination and presidential election values, nationally or at state-level, are the average of two  weighted-adjusted averages: irrespective of pollster and adjusted for pollster.

[3] Sum of NSW-WAPA across 17 candidates

[4] Overall Democratic margin does not substantially change if NSW-WAPA is calculated only using polls released since the first Democratic presidential candidate debates held on June 26-27 2019.

[5] I realize these metrics assess slightly different concepts, but job performance is a) a slightly better predictor of vote choice and b) cannot be measured prior to being in office.

[6] And possibly New Hampshire

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

Beginning

 June 27, 2019

Delta
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.

September 2019 update: 2020 Democratic presidential nomination scenarios and general election polling

With the third Democratic presidential nomination debate set for September 12, 2019 in Houston, Texas, it is time for an updated assessment of the relative position of the now-20 declared candidates. The more stringent criteria to qualify for this debate—the first to be held on only one night—presaged the end for three more campaigns. Washington Governor Jay Inslee announced on August 21 he would attempt instead to win a third term as governor. United States House of Representatives (“Representative”) member Seth Moulton of Massachusetts dropped out on August 23 (to seek reelection to his House seat), followed by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on August 28. The six candidates who have thus far abandoned their quest to be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee all exited the race 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]. I recently made two other methodological changes. One, I now treat as distinct polling entities two sets of ABC News/Washington Post national-level polls of the 2020 Democratic nomination contest: 1) Two polls, conducted January 21-24 and April 22-25, of adults only which simply asked respondents to name their first choice (as opposed to being read a list of names and being asked to choose one) and 2) two more recent polls (June 28-July 1, September 2-5) which used a list of names. Two, as of their poll conducted August 24-27, I am now using the “likely voters” version of the Harris X tracking poll; I treat these as coming from a distinct “pollster” than the “registered voters” version.

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

Sep 2019 lighthouse.JPG

**********

I begin with a heartfelt methodological apologia.

While conducting the “post-first-debate-polls-only” analysis I discuss below, I noticed a significant glitch in how I weighted polling within distinct polling firms. I was also not incorporating more recent national polls correctly. The combined effect was to lower every candidate’s final NSW-WAPA (thus) at most 1.7 percentage points (“points”), while increasing the “Don’t Know/Other” value 4.6 points. However, the relative ordering of the candidates and the spacing between them was unaffected.

Even so, it is an embarrassing error on my part, and I apologize.

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

  • 178 national polls (including 36 weekly Morning Consult tracking polls)
  • 21 Iowa caucuses polls
  • 25 New Hampshire primary polls
  • 6 Nevada caucuses polls
  • 19 South Carolina primary polls
  • 43 Super Tuesday polls[2]
  • 36 polls from 15 other states.[3]

This makes a total of 328 polls, up from 293 in the last update.

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 29.0 24.9 23.8 28.6 40.3 27.8 28.7
Sanders 16.2 16.6 19.5 19.9 14.3 15.8 17.4
Warren 13.0 14.9 15.5 17.5 10.5 14.2 14.5
Harris 8.8 10.1 8.6 8.0 10.8 9.1 9.3
Buttigieg 5.3 9.6 8.9 6.5 5.3 6.3 7.5
O’Rourke 3.3 2.8 2.6 2.6 1.9 6.5 2.7
Booker 2.3 2.6 1.6 1.6 3.7 1.6 2.3
Klobuchar 1.2 2.8 1.0 1.0 0.7 1.0 1.5
Yang 1.4 0.8 1.9 1.5 0.9 0.9 1.2
Gabbard 0.8 0.8 2.0 1.2 0.4 0.7 1.1
Castro 1.0 0.8 0.2 1.2 0.2 1.4 0.70
Steyer 0.2 0.1 0.5 2.1 0.5 0.2 0.65
Delaney 0.3 1.0 0.6 0.00 0.4 0.2 0.49
Bennet 0.3 0.3 0.2 0.4 0.2 0.4 0.28
Williamson 0.3 0.1 0.4 0.4 0.4 0.1 0.28
Ryan 0.3 0.1 0.2 0.4 0.3 0.2 0.23
de Blasio 0.3 0.1 0.00 0.6 0.1 0.1 0.19
Bullock 0.3 0.4 0.00 0.2 0.1 0.1 0.17
Sestak 0.02 0.1 0.00 0.2 0.00 0.1 0.07
Messam 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.1 0.04 0.03
DK/Other 13.9 9.6 11.4 4.7 7.6 12.3 9.5

The race has settled into a kind of stasis following the first two rounds of debates. Former Vice President Joe Biden remains the frontrunner (28.7), primarily because of his 26-point lead in South Carolina primary polls. However, he is less strong in Iowa and New Hampshire, where the candidates battling for second place overall, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders (17.4) and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (14.5), are even closer to first place. Rounding out a clear top five, both overall and in the four earliest states, are California Senator Kamala Harris (9.3) and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (7.5). These five candidates account for over three-quarters (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 candidates with NSW-WAPA between 1.0 and 3.0 who could yet rise in the polls with strong debate performances: former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard. Of this group, only Gabbard did not qualify for the September 2019 debate, though may yet meet the criteria for the fourth round of Democratic presidential nomination debates (October 15 and possibly October 16). Just behind Gabbard, essentially tied for 11th place, are former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and billionaire activist Tom Steyer; Castro is the 10th and final September 2019 debate qualifier, while Steyer has already qualified for the October 2019 debate(s).

These 12 candidates total 87.0% of Democratic voter preferences. With 9.5%[4] undecided or choosing an unlisted candidate, the remaining seven candidates are divvying up just 3.5% between them; as none of them appears close to making the October 2019 debate(s), I expect them to end their campaigns by the end of 2019.

**********

Because I have been playing them out in my head, I will sketch out some likely nomination-winning scenarios at this point; as these are purely thought experiments, they should not be taken as predictions. These scenarios incorporate additional information like endorsements, my own study of the presidential nomination process[5] and the data in Table 2, derived only from polls that began on June 28, 2019 or later (i.e., after the first round of debates; n=137).

Table 2: National-and-state-weighted WAPA for declared 2020 Democratic presidential nomination candidates—starting date of poll June 28, 2019 or later

Candidate National IA NH NV SC Post-SC NSW-WAPA
Biden 27.8 23.8 21.9 26.1 38.5 26.2 27.0
Sanders 15.9 14.5 19.8 21.4 15.0 15.3 17.3
Warren 15.4 18.7 19.0 19.0 12.0 16.7 17.2
Harris 9.2 12.2 10.2 8.2 12.9 10.0 10.8
Buttigieg 5.0 9.3 9.1 5.3 4.7 5.4 7.0
Booker 2.1 2.0 1.6 1.2 3.2 1.3 1.9
O’Rourke 2.4 1.4 1.2 1.8 1.0 6.2 1.9
Yang 1.9 1.0 2.4 1.3 0.9 1.1 1.4
Gabbard 1.0 0.9 2.6 1.3 0.5 0.9 1.3
Klobuchar 1.1 2.5 1.2 0.9 0.7 0.6 1.3
Steyer 0.4 0.02 0.7 3.4 0.9 0.3 1.0
Castro 1.1 0.7 0.3 1.4 0.2 1.4 0.75
Delaney 0.3 0.8 0.6 0.00 0.7 0.2 0.52
Bennet 0.3 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.3 0.5 0.38
Williamson 0.5 0.1 0.6 0.3 0.5 0.2 0.36
de Blasio 0.4 0.3 0.00 0.9 0.1 0.1 0.28
Ryan 0.4 0.00 0.00 0.6 0.5 0.2 0.25
Bullock 0.3 0.5 0.00 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.24
Sestak 0.03 0.1 0.00 0.4 0.00 0.1 0.11
Messam 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.1 0.01
DK/Other 13.7 9.6 7.2 3.8 6.0 12.2 7.8

The top five remains the same (and combine for a slightly higher 79.3%), though Biden and Buttigieg are lower, while Sanders, Harris and, especially, Warren are higher.  The next tier of seven candidates is closely bunched together between 0.7 and 1.9. And a slightly smaller percentage (7.8) are undecided or prefer a different candidate.

But the real differences may be seen in Iowa, where Warren is now a close second to Biden, and New Hampshire, which is essentially a three-way tie between Biden, Sanders and Warren; Nevada is similar, with Biden slightly further ahead—and Steyer has his best showing (3.4) by far. Gabbard (2.6) and Yang (2.4) are similarly rising in New Hampshire.

In these scenarios I assume two things:

  1. Results in the four early states will continue to have an outsized impact on all subsequent contests,
  2. Candidates not finishing in the top five in any of Iowa, New Hampshire or South Carolina will end their campaign before March 3, 2020

Scenario 1: Biden wins easily.

This is the most obvious scenario: the front-runner wins. Biden has consistently led national and most state polls. He leads Harris in endorsement “points,” though relatively few Democratic party officials have endorsed a candidate. He is winning the “Hillary Clinton 2016 coalition”: older, moderate/conservative and black Democrats. And even after two shaky debate performances, Biden is still nearly 10 points ahead of Sanders and Warren overall in the most recent polling—and about five points ahead in the leadoff Iowa caucuses.

In this scenario, Biden wins the Iowa caucuses by closer to 10 points, with Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg splitting the votes of whiter, younger, more liberal Democrats, and Harris a distant fifth; no other candidate is close. Biden, who lately has been downplaying his chances in the early states, looks like the winner he was presumed to be.

Klobuchar, who had pinned everything on Iowa, drops out of the race and endorse Biden (instead of a Senate colleague or the untested Buttigieg). This, along with support from supporters of former candidates, breaks the logjam in New Hampshire. Biden wins there in the high single digits as Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg continue to split the not-Biden vote between them. Nevada becomes an afterthought (allowing Steyer to finish a surprising fourth), as all eyes turn to South Carolina—where Biden wins easily.

After the remaining candidates make their last stands on Super Tuesday (Warren in Massachusetts; Harris, Yang, Steyer and Gabbard in California; O’Rourke and Castro in Texas), Biden wins the majority of delegates awarded that day, after which only Sanders and Warren are serious challengers. Uncommitted officials, sensing a chance to focus on President Donald J. Trump, quickly coalesce behind Biden. He effectively wraps up the nomination on April 28, when he trounces Sanders and Warren in the Pennsylvania primary, the state where he was born, and whose southern neighbor (Delaware) he served in the Senate for 36 years.

Scenario 2: Warren’s early state strength vaults her to the nomination.

This is essentially the inverse of Scenario 1 and, to my mind, about equally as likely. Warren wins the Iowa caucuses because her far-more enthusiastic supporters show up to a caucus site on a Monday night in early February. Biden’s supporters, however, do not caucus in expected numbers, and he finishes a disappointing third, behind Sanders and barely ahead of Buttigieg and Harris. Booker finishes a surprisingly strong sixth, thanks to a core of enthusiastic supporters, though it is still disappointing. Nobody else is even close; Klobuchar again drops out of the race, though this time she endorses Warren. Harris, meanwhile, focuses on doing well in South Carolina and California.

Sensing a winner, supporters of other “liberal” candidates break for Warren, who edges out Sanders to win the New Hampshire primary; Biden actually finishes third behind Buttigieg. Yang and Gabbard finish higher than expected, but not enough to garner any momentum. Warren then makes it three-for-three in Nevada, as even some Sanders voters caucus for her; Biden finishes fourth, behind a surprisingly-strong Steyer.

In a matter of days, the very core of Biden’s appeal—his “electability”—is irreparably damaged. He still wins the South Carolina primary on the strength of moderate/conservative Democrats alarmed by the one-two punch of Warren and Sanders; pragmatic black Democrats split their votes between Biden, Harris and Warren (with a smattering for Booker), who finish in that order.

Just prior to Super Tuesday, though, Booker, Buttigieg, Castro and Yang—all eyeing the vice-presidential nomination—drop out of the race and endorse Warren. As a result, on Super Tuesday, besides her home states of Massachusetts, Warren wins Colorado, Minnesota and, in a narrow upset, Virginia. Biden wins the southern states of Alabama, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Tennessee, but by smaller margins than expected.

Texas is an inconclusive muddle, with Biden, Warren and O’Rourke battling for first place (roughly in that order)—but the game-changer is California. On the strength of white liberals (who have broken decisively from Sanders, especially women) and a slight plurality of LatinX voters, and with Biden and Harris splitting the black vote between them, Warren wins the California primary.

Harris, O’Rourke and Steyer see the writing on the wall and drop out, endorsing Warren. Gabbard also drops out, but chooses to endorse Sanders instead.

It is now effectively a two-person race between Biden and Warren, the clear front-runner. Sanders soldiers on, despite not having won a single contest, though his percentages languish around 10-15%, just enough to win some delegates here and there.

Biden continues to win primaries in the south (including the Florida primary on March 17) with Harris and Booker out of the race, but his only win outside the south is Ohio on March 10. Making his last stand in Pennsylvania, his high-single-digit win is deemed a disappointment. Warren then wins the Indiana primary on May 3, effectively wrapping up the nomination.

Scenarios 1a and 2a: Biden and Warren split the early states

It is highly plausible that Biden wins Iowa and South Carolina, while Warren wins New Hampshire and Nevada. Sanders, Harris and Buttigieg survive to battle on Super Tuesday, but Warren ends up winning California (as just enough Harris supporters instead vote for Warren), while Biden wins Texas (with O’Rourke a distant third). Sanders soldiers on, but it would once again be a Biden-Warren race. Given his base of support, Biden would probably be the slight favorite in this scenario.

In fact, nearly every scenario I game out ends up with either Biden or Warren as the nominee. There are, however, some entertaining (if less likely) exceptions:

Scenario 3: Sanders wins Iowa and New Hampshire

This is essentially 2016 all over again (Sanders barely lost Iowa before a landslide win in New Hampshire), except with three or four other viable candidates instead of one.

In this scenario, Biden and Warren begin to attack each other directly in the September and October debates, ultimately depressing turnout for both as voting begins in February 2020. The beneficiary is Sanders, who suddenly appears to be the sage elder statesman (and whose head-to-head polling numbers against Trump cause a second look at his candidacy): his loyal supporters push him over the top in Iowa—ahead of a surprisingly-strong Buttigieg, who picked up many disgruntled Biden and Warren voters. Harris also benefits, essentially tying the latter two for third place.

New Hampshire now becomes a battle between Sanders and Buttigieg, with Harris focusing on South Carolina and California. Once again, New Hampshire supports the familiar neighbor, though Buttigieg again makes it surprisingly close.

And national Democrats get very nervous, despite those head-to-head polls.

Ignoring Nevada (which Sanders wins easily), and taking solace in the prospect of a solid, historic ticket to go against Trump and Vice President Mike Pence[6], they rapidly and tactically endorse Harris and Buttigieg. Having finished no higher than sixth in any of the first three contests, every other candidate drops out and endorses either Harris or Buttigieg (except Williamson and Gabbard, who back Sanders).

Biden and Warren fight on, but with their candidacies fatally damaged, Harris wins South Carolina, with Buttigieg a solid second, well ahead of Sanders. Harris and Buttigieg then make a strategic decision to make every Super Tuesday contest a one-on-one battle against Sanders, who can no longer win with around 20-25% of the vote.

On March 3, Harris wins California and the southern states (Alabama, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia) while Buttigieg wins Colorado, Massachusetts and Minnesota. Sanders finishes second or third in every state, collecting some delegates, while Biden and Warren see their campaigns end with a whimper.

Opening a commanding one-two lead in delegates, Harris and Buttigieg follow the same path as Kerry and North Carolina Senator John Edwards in 2004: a relatively calm trek through the remaining primaries and caucuses, with Harris steadily closing in on the nomination. Once she does, she surprises nobody by selecting Buttigieg as her running mate, just as Kerry chose Edwards in 2004.

Scenario 4: Someone other than Biden, Sanders or Warren wins Iowa and/or New Hampshire

This is the true wild card scenario, which is nearly impossible to game out at this point.

Still, let us suppose Booker continues to have very strong debate performances, and with them now on a single night (for the sake of argument, the October debate is one night), this finally resonates with voters, who take a long second look at him.

As a result, he surprises everyone by winning the Iowa caucuses. Rather than campaign in New Hampshire or Nevada, which he concedes to Sanders and Warren, he focuses exclusively on South Carolina. Sensing weakness in Biden, and excited by his Iowa win, black voters overwhelmingly support Booker, who just edges Biden, effectively ending that latter’s campaign.

Booker and Warren (who won New Hampshire and Nevada) then battle it out on Super Tuesday. With Harris making a last stand in California, and O’Rourke doing the same in Texas, Warren wins the former, Booker the latter. Warren and Booker now effectively replay the 2008 campaign between then-Senators Barack Obama and Clinton, with the most likely outcome either a Warren-Booker or a Booker-Warren ticket.

An alternative scenario sees Buttigieg finishing in the top two or three in Iowa (behind Biden and Warren in some order), then winning the New Hampshire primary. Nevada is again an afterthought, and Biden wins South Carolina. This feels somewhat like the 1988 Republican nomination battle, when then-Senator Bob Dole of Kansas won Iowa, but ultimately lost to the front runner, then-Vice-President George H. W. Bush; Biden thus eventually prevails.

What these scenarios suggests is that, based upon what we know now, Biden and Warren are far and away the most likely nominees, but there are universes in which Harris or Booker win the nomination. By contrast, it is very difficult to see Sanders or (probably) Buttigieg doing so…or any other candidate, for that matter.

**********

Because Democrats other than Biden and Sanders, who would beat Trump nationally by 9.0 and 5.7 points, respectively, are also winning (or barely losing) hypothetical head-to-head match-ups, “2020 Democratic nominee” (averages vs. Trump weighted by likelihood of being the nominee) now beats Trump by 4.1 points. 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 1.0 points; Warren would hypothetically win by 2.5 points and Harris by 1.9 points, while Buttigieg, O’Rourke and Booker would lose by less than one point.

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[7] implies Democrats would win the national popular vote by between 3.2 (excluding Biden and Sanders) and 6.5 (including Biden and Sanders) points on average. 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 5-7-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.

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, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Oregon and New Jersey.

[2] Primarily Texas (15), California (14)

[3] Primarily Florida (9), Pennsylvania (5), Wisconsin (5)

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

[5] As a doctoral student in government at Harvard in the early 1990s, I was a teaching assistant for an undergraduate course on this very topic.

[6] As of this writing, anyway.

[7] 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.

August 2019 update: 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and general election polling

It has been just over two weeks since the second Democratic presidential nomination debates, so it is time for an updated assessment of the relative position of the 23 declared candidates remaining. Former Alaska Senator Mike Gravel ended his campaign on August 6, 2019, and it appears former Colorado John Hickenlooper will end his bid on August 15, 2019.

To learn how I calculate NSW-WAPA (national-and-state-weighted weighted-adjusted polling average), please see here[1]. Note that I recently altered my methodology slightly: within my post-early-state weighted average of each candidate’s WAPA, I now weight the nine states[2] scheduled to hold their nomination contests on March 3, 2019 (“Super Tuesday”) twice as much as all subsequent contests[3]

And, as usual, here is the August 2019 lighthouse photograph in my Down East 2019 Maine Lighthouses wall calendar.

Aug 2019 lighthouse.JPG

Table 1 below aggregates data from all national and state-level polls publicly released since January 1, 2019, including:

  • 149 national polls (including 32 weekly Morning Consult tracking polls)
  • 19 Iowa Caucuses polls
  • 22 New Hampshire Primary polls
  • 4 Nevada Caucuses polls
  • 18 South Carolina polls
  • 35 Super Tuesday polls[4]
  • 33 polls from 13 other states.[5]

This makes a total of 280 polls, up from 247 in the last update.

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 29.5 23.6 23.3 30.2 36.4 27.3 27.9 (-0.7)
Sanders 16.7 15.1 19.0 19.1 12.6 15.3 16.4 (-0.1)
Warren 10.4 13.1 13.5 18.0 9.1 12.6 13.2 (+0.6)
Harris 8.6 9.7 8.7 8.6 9.9 9.7 9.2 (–)
Buttigieg 5.6 9.1 9.1 8.0 4.9 6.7 7.7 (-0.3)
O’Rourke 4.1 2.6 2.2 3.1 1.8 5.3 2.8 (-0.3)
Booker 2.5 2.5 1.6 1.3 3.5 1.5 2.2 (-0.2)
Klobuchar 1.3 2.7 1.5 1.1 0.6 1.0 1.5 (–)
Yang 1.0 0.7 1.3 1.5 0.7 0.7 1.1 (–)
Gabbard 0.7 0.6 1.4 1.1 0.3 0.5 0.84 (+0.11)
Castro 0.9 0.7 0.2 1.0 0.1 1.0 0.59 (–)
Gillibrand 0.5 0.6 0.7 0.4 0.3 0.3 0.50 (+0.09)
Delaney 0.3 0.9 0.5 0.00 0.3 0.2 0.43 (–)
Steyer 0.03 0.1 0.4 1.0 0.4 0.1 0.40 (+0.30)
Inslee 0.4 0.4 0.2 0.3 0.1 0.3 0.26 (+0.06)
Williamson 0.2 0.05 0.3 0.4 0.3 0.1 0.24 (+0.07)
Bennet 0.2 0.3 0.2 0.00 0.2 0.4 0.20 (+0.04)
Ryan 0.3 0.1 0.3 0.00 0.2 0.2 0.16 (-0.01)
Bullock 0.2 0.3 0.00 0.00 0.1 0.1 0.10 (+0.03)
de Blasio 0.3 0.05 0.00 0.00 0.1 0.1 0.04
Moulton 0.1 0.04 0.1 0.00 0.00 0.03 0.03
Messam 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.1 0.04 0.03
Sestak 0.00 0.1 0.00 n/a 0.00 0.06 0.02
DK/Other 14.6 15.8 15.0 4.4 16.9 16.0 13.7 (+0.4)

There has been little substantive change in the relative standing of the 23 remaining candidates over the last two-three weeks, despite some short-term effects from the second round of debates (see below). Former Vice President Joe Biden remains the nominal frontrunner (27.9), primarily because of his dominant position in South Carolina primary polls; his weighted average of 36.4% is well ahead of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, California Senator Kamala Harris and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. By contrast, the race is much closer in polling for the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire Primary; in these first two contests, Biden is only averaging 23-24%, with Sanders close behind at 15-19% and Warren at 13-14%. Harris and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg are not much further behind, hovering around 9%.

These five candidates continue to dominate the race overall, albeit with Biden continuing to decline while Warren continues her steady ascent (up from 8.5% in early June to 13.2% now), capturing just under three-quarters of the support of those polled. Just behind these five are four other candidates with an NSW-WAPA of 1.0 or higher: former Texas member of the United States House of Representatives (“Representative”) Beto O’Rourke, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and entrepreneur Andrew Yang. Perhaps not surprisingly, these are also the only nine candidates to have qualified for the next round of Democratic presidential nomination debates (September 12-13, 2019). Overall these nine candidates account for 81.9% of currently-declared Democratic nomination preferences. Factor in 13.7%s[6] undecided or choosing an unlisted candidate, that means the remaining 14 candidates are divvying up just 4.4% between them.

**********

In the previous update, I assessed the short-term impact of the first round of Democratic presidential nomination debates by comparing support for each candidate in polls conducted by the same pollster within one month prior to, and just after, those debates. Meeting these criteria for the second round of debates are six national polls[7] and one Texas poll[8]. For ease of presentation, Table 2 presents data only for the 12 candidates with an NSW-WAPA of 0.5 or higher (including Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand). Values listed are simple arithmetic averages (with the Texas poll change weighted twice the changes in national polls); weighting by pollster quality or time between polls made little difference.

Table 2: Average change in polls from the same pollster before and after July 2019 Democratic presidential debates:

Candidate National TX Weighted Average
Biden -1.0 +4.5 +0.4
Sanders +1.8 +4.0 +2.4
Warren +1.8 +1.0 +1.6
Harris -3.5 -3.0 -3.4
Buttigieg +0.3 +3.0 +1.0
O’Rourke -0.3 -14.5 -3.9
Booker +0.8 +1.0 +0.9
Klobuchar -0.5 0 -0.4
Yang -0.3 +2.0 +0.3
Gabbard +0.3 0 +0.3
Castro -0.2 +2.0 +0.4
Gillibrand -0.2 0 -0.1
DK/Other +1.0 -1.0 +0.5

Examined this way, support for Harris—who had risen 7.7 percentage points (“points”) following the June debates—dropped fully 3.4 points following the July 2019 Democratic debates. O’Rourke also declined significantly (-3.9 points), but that was almost exclusively due to an astonishing 14.5-point drop (from 38% to 23.5%) in the Texas poll. The largest post-July-debate increases were for Booker (+0.9), Buttigieg (+1.0), Warren (+1.6) and Sanders (+2.4); no other candidate saw her/his support shift by more than 0.4 points in either direction. Finally, the percentage not choosing a listed candidate increased slightly.

**********

To the extent that the polling for the 2020 presidential election between a named Democrat and Republican Donald J. Trump changed, it is due to the modestly-increased likelihood (55.7%) that someone other than Biden (who would hypothetically beat Trump nationally by 8.4 points) and Sanders (by 5.2 points) will be the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee. Thus, once you weight for the likelihood of being the nominee, the Democrat would beat Trump by 3.6 points. This is actually slightly 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 0.7 points; Warren would hypothetically win by 1.5 points and Harris by 1.0 points, while Buttigieg would lose by 1.5 points.

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 2.6 (excluding former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders) and 5.6 (including Biden and Sanders) points on average. 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 6-7-point win and a 12-14-point win nationally for Democrats, 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 2-5 points. Those remain the exceptions, however, to what continues to be encouraging news for Democrats in 2020.

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).

[2] Alabama, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia

[3] As of this writing, I have at least one poll from (in chronological order) Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Washington, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Oregon

[4] Primarily from California (14) and Texas (9)

[5] Primarily Florida (9) and Pennsylvania (5)

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

[7] Morning Consult Tracking, HarrisX, Change Research, Quinnipiac University, YouGov, Reuters/Ipsos

[8] University of Texas at Tyler

[9] From Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, Iowa, Arizona, South Carolina, Minnesota, Nevada, Massachusetts, Florida, New York, Kentucky, Maine, Ohio.