No, Florida Is Not Redder Than Texas

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

The 2018 election saw some remarkable performances by Democrats — including, prominently, in the red state of Texas, where Democrat Beto O’Rourke came close to defeating Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. But in Florida, which is usually considered a swing state, Republicans Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis won the Senate and gubernatorial races (albeit by razor-thin margins), respectively, even as the national political environment favored Democrats by almost 9 percentage points. This gave rise to a narrative among political observers that Florida may now be further out of Democrats’ reach than Texas is. But this … has never made a lot of sense to me, and a new poll has given my side of the argument some ammunition.

This week, Quinnipiac University released a survey of Florida voters that included six possible 2020 general-election matchups between President Trump and different Democratic candidates. It found Trump trailing his Democratic opponent in each case, with margins ranging from 1 to 9 percentage points. As luck would have it, Quinnipiac three weeks ago asked Texas voters about those six general-election matchups. In that poll, five of the six Democrats trailed Trump — only former Vice President Joe Biden beat him (by 4 points).

Now, to be clear, I’m not asking you to put a lot of stock in those individual matchup results — as my colleague Perry Bacon Jr. wrote in this space last week, polls of general-election matchups at this point in the election cycle aren’t terribly predictive of the eventual results. However, we can compare the results of the Texas and Florida polls with a recent national Quinnipiac survey that asked about five of the matchups to get a sense of how much more Republican each state is than the nation as a whole.

And as you can see in the table below, if we compare Quinnipiac’s Florida poll to the pollster’s national survey, it implies that the Sunshine State is about 4 points more Republican-leaning than the nation. Meanwhile, the Texas poll suggests that the Lone Star State is about 10 points more Republican-leaning than the country. So according to Quinnipiac at least (and to be fair, it’s just one pollster’s read on the landscape), Florida is still left of Texas in the national partisan pecking order.

Florida is still bluer than Texas

How five presidential candidates performed against Trump in hypothetical general-election matchups in Florida and Texas vs. nationally

Trump vs. National (June 6-10) Florida (June 12-17) Florida Difference
Biden D+13 D+9 R+4
Sanders D+9 D+6 R+3
Warren D+7 D+4 R+3
Harris D+8 D+1 R+7
Buttigieg D+5 D+1 R+4
Average R+4
Trump vs. National (June 6-10) Texas (May 29-June 4) texas Difference
Biden D+13 D+4 R+9
Sanders D+9 R+3 R+12
Warren D+7 R+1 R+8
Harris D+8 R+4 R+12
Buttigieg D+5 R+2 R+7
Average R+10

Source: Quinnipiac University

I think the reason people have rushed to re-shade Florida from purple to red has to do with misplaced perceptions. Florida went blue in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections and red in 2016, leading many to think of it as a bellwether state. But in each of those years, the Democratic presidential candidate did worse in Florida than they did in the national popular vote, so the state was actually a bit red relative to the country as a whole. The results in 2018 were consistent with that.

It’s not that I don’t agree that Florida is a Republican-leaning state — I do think it is light red. But I fear that people are overcompensating for (wrongly) considering it perfectly purple before 2018 by now considering it stubbornly Republican. And while Texas appears to be drifting toward the middle, for now at least, both polling and election results suggest that it is still redder than Florida.

Other polling bites

  • For all the ink spilled about the rules for qualifying for the Democratic presidential debates, a Politico/Morning Consult poll reveals that most Democrats are tuning out the griping. Sixty-one percent of voters who plan to participate in the Democratic primaries said they haven’t heard much, if anything, about some candidates’ criticisms of the debate rules. Instead, many seem content to trust the Democratic National Committee — 54 percent said the DNC is doing a “very” or “somewhat” fair job at running the debates, 33 percent didn’t know or had no opinion, and 13 percent thought the process was being handled “somewhat” or “very” unfairly.
  • Most Democratic presidential candidates — and most Americans — support “Medicare for All,” but there’s a lot of ambiguity in what that term means. According to a poll conducted by Global Strategy Group, 60 percent think it refers to a “plan that lets anyone buy Medicare instead of their current private insurance, if they want to,” while 40 percent believe it “makes everyone get rid of their current private insurance and switch over to Medicare.”
  • In reaction to the May 31 shooting in Virginia Beach, Gov. Ralph Northam called a special session of the Virginia legislature to enact gun control legislation. And a new Public Policy Polling survey sponsored by a pro-gun control group found that among Virginians in four key Republican-held legislative districts, 62 percent of respondents supported a ban on semi-automatic assault rifles, and 63 percent favored a ban on high-capacity magazines (one of which was used in the Virginia Beach shooting).
  • In hopes of eating into Biden’s polling lead, some campaign rivals have tried to attack Biden over his support for the 1994 crime bill that many now argue contributed to the problem of mass incarceration in the U.S. However, a HuffPost/YouGov survey reveals why that might not work: Many Democrats simply don’t seem to know much about the law. Forty-one percent said they are “not very” or “not at all” familiar with the crime bill, and 58 percent said they were not sure which 2020 candidates supported it.
  • Chances are the “song of the summer” has already been released, so Ipsos is asking Americans what they think it will be. Out of 13 options, Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus’s “Old Town Road” came in first place, with 20 percent of respondents naming it; in second was “ME!” by Taylor Swift and Brendon Urie, garnering 10 percent of the vote.
  • Across the pond, YouGov asked members of the United Kingdom’s Conservative Party what they would be willing to risk in order to realize the country’s exit from the European Union. Respondents said they were willing to endure significant damage to the U.K. economy (61 percent to 29 percent) and even the destruction of the Conservative Party itself (54 percent to 36 percent). However, there was a line that Tories were unwilling to cross. Respondents said 51 percent to 39 percent that they were not willing to achieve Brexit if it meant electing Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.5 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53.1 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.6 points). At this time last week, 42.3 percent approved and 52.9 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -10.6 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 41.8 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.3 percent, for a net approval rating of -11.5 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 6.2 percentage points (46.0 percent to 39.8 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 6.2 points (46.1 percent to 39.9 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 5.0 points (45.4 percent to 40.4 percent).

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.

Our Best Tool For Predicting Midterm Elections Works In Presidential Years Too

If you followed polls of the generic congressional ballot, you knew as early as summer 2017 that signs pointed to a wave election for Democrats in 2018. Now, for your prognosticating pleasure, the FiveThirtyEight generic ballot tracker is back to help you track the battle for the U.S. House in 2020. The congressional generic ballot question asks voters which party or which party’s candidate they’d support for Congress (usually as opposed to the name of the specific candidate they plan to support).7 And as of midday Wednesday, Democrats held a 6.2-point lead over Republicans — a solid advantage but still smaller than the 8.7-point lead they held in our polling average on Election Day 2018.8 This jibes with other early signs that suggest that while Democratic enthusiasm has ebbed a bit since last year, the political environment still favors Democrats.

A 2017 analysis by erstwhile FiveThirtyEighter Harry Enten found that the generic congressional ballot is one of the most accurate predictors of who will get the most votes for Congress in a midterm election. I wondered whether the same could be said for generic ballot polls in presidential election years. Borrowing from Harry’s methodology, I conducted a similar analysis for recent presidential election years and found that their generic ballot polling is just as predictive. Specifically, for presidential election cycles starting with 1996, I compared either Gallup’s final generic-ballot poll of the cycle9 or RealClearPolitics’s final polling average10 with the House national popular-vote margin and found that the final polling missed by an average of 2 percentage points.11 The same analysis for midterm election cycles starting with 1994 found that the final polling in those cycles missed by an average of 3 percentage points.12

Final generic-ballot polls are very predictive

Final generic-ballot polling margin and national House popular-vote margin, for elections since 1994

Midterm Cycle Final generic-ballot margin House popular-vote margin Error
1994 R+7 R+7 0
1998 D+4 R+1 5
2002 R+2 R+5 3
2006 D+12 D+8 4
2010 R+9 R+7 3
2014 R+2 R+6 3
2018 D+7 D+9 1
Average 3
Presidential Cycle Final generic-ballot margin House popular-vote margin Error
1996 D+3 EVEN 3
2000 D+1 EVEN 1
2004 EVEN R+3 3
2008 D+9 D+11 2
2012 EVEN D+1 2
2016 D+1 R+1 2
Average 2

Final generic-ballot polling margin is based on Gallup’s final generic-ballot poll of the cycle for 1994-2000 and the final RealClearPolitics polling average for 2002-18.

Sources: Gallup, RealClearPolitics, U.S. House of Representatives

Harry also found that even early generic-ballot polls, more than a year before a midterm election, have some predictive power. My analysis found the same for early generic-ballot polls in presidential cycles like 2020. Basically, although polls can certainly evolve over time, generic ballot polls have historically proved pretty stable.

The table below compares the national House popular vote in presidential cycles since 1996 with an average of pollster averages13 that I calculated using all the polls I could find from between January and June of the year before the election. And as you can see, it reveals a decent relationship between a party’s performance in early generic-ballot polls and its ultimate performance at the ballot box. That is, the national House popular vote in presidential cycles has usually wound up within a few points of those early polls. In most presidential cycles, the two parties were neck and neck in early generic-ballot polls, as they were in the eventual congressional elections (as measured by the popular vote). The lone exception is 2008, which was a Democratic wave year — something the early generic-ballot polls correctly predicted.

Early generic-ballot polls are pretty predictive, too

The generic ballot polling margin in the first half of the year before a presidential election vs. the party’s national House popular-vote margin in presidential elections, for elections since 1996

Cycle Early generic-ballot margin House popular-vote margin Error
1996 R+3 EVEN 3
2000 D+5 EVEN 5
2004 EVEN R+3 2
2008 D+11 D+11 1
2012 R+1 D+1 2
2016 D+1 R+1 2
Average 3

The early generic-ballot polling margin is an average calculated from polls found via the Roper Center, RealClearPolitics and the FiveThirtyEight polling database. We calculated an average for each pollster and then averaged those averages.

Sources: Roper Center for public opinion research, RealClearPolitics, U.S. House of Representatives

In summary, generic congressional ballot polls — even early ones — are good measures of the national mood. And because the national mood affects not only congressional elections, but also presidential ones, that means generic ballot polling might provide a back door for approximating presidential election results too. As you can see in the table below, final generic-ballot polling — and to a lesser extent early generic-ballot polling — has come pretty close to the results of the national popular vote for president as well as for House since 2000. That’s pretty good, considering these polls are measuring elections for an entirely different branch of government, although it’s worth noting that even a polling error of 3 or 5 points can change the outcome if the race is close.

Generic ballot polls are good measures of the national mood

The presidential popular-vote margin, early generic-ballot polling margin and final generic-ballot polling margin, for elections since 1996

Cycle Pres. popular-vote margin Early generic-ballot margin Error Final generic-ballot margin Error
1996 D+9 R+3 12 D+3 6
2000 D+1 D+5 4 D+1 0
2004 R+2 EVEN 2 EVEN 2
2008 D+7 D+11 4 D+9 2
2012 D+4 R+1 5 EVEN 4
2016 D+2 D+1 1 D+1 2
Average 5 3

The early generic-ballot polling margin is an average calculated from polls found via the Roper Center, RealClearPolitics and the FiveThirtyEight polling database. We calculated an average for each pollster and then averaged those averages.

Final generic-ballot margins are based on the final RealClearPolitics polling average for 2004-16 and Gallup’s final generic-ballot poll of the cycle for 1996 and 2000.

Sources: Gallup, Roper Center for public opinion research, RealClearPolitics, U.S. House of Representatives

It’s yet another demonstration of how partisanship is the dominant force in today’s politics; these days, people overwhelmingly vote for the same party up and down the ticket. Congressional vote preferences may not drive the results of the presidential race (it’s more likely the other way around), but the former still reflect the latter. And if early generic-ballot polls are, as they seem to be, mildly predictive, then the fact that Democrats currently lead them by 6.2 points is a bad sign for President Trump. It suggests that the national political environment is still blue, and given how closely the House and presidential popular votes have lined up this century, that’s an important thing to keep in mind for the 2020 presidential election.

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.

Should We Take These Early General Election Polls Seriously? $#!% No!

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

A lot of people are talking about hypothetical 2020 general election polls, including the president of the United States.

A national Quinnipiac University poll released this week, for example, showed Joe Biden with a 53-40 lead against President Trump. But it wasn’t just Biden — all the Democratic contenders Quinnipiac included in matchups with Trump were significantly ahead of the president: Bernie Sanders 51-42, Kamala Harris 49-41, Elizabeth Warren 49-42, Cory Booker 47-42 and Pete Buttigieg 47-42. Meanwhile, in an interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos, Trump dismissed any polls that showed him trailing the Democrats.12 “No, my polls show that I’m winning everywhere,” Trump said.

So, just how seriously should we take hypothetical general election polls more than a year out and before the Democratic nominee has been selected?

Not seriously.

In the runup to the 2016 presidential election, this same question came up, and FiveThirtyEight analyzed general election polls from 1944 to 2012 that tested the eventual nominees and were conducted in the last two months of the year before the election (so for 2012, that would be November and December of 2011). On average, these polls missed the final result by 11 percentage points.13

Polling Accuracy A Year Before The Election
Election Average GOP Poll Lead GOP Election Margin Absolute Error
1964 -50.3 -22.6 27.7
1992 +21.0 -5.6 26.1
1980 -15.5 +9.7 25.2
2000 +11.9 -0.5 12.4
1984 +7.2 +18.2 11.0
1988 +18.0 +7.7 10.3
2008 -0.3 -7.3 6.9
1956 +22.0 +15.4 6.6
1944 -14.0 -7.5 6.5
2004 +8.7 +2.5 6.2
1996 -13.0 -8.5 4.5
1960 +3.0 -0.2 3.2
2012 -2.8 -3.9 1.0
1948 -3.8 -4.5 0.7
Average 10.6

The last presidential election featured one of the more accurate sets of early polls for this point in the cycle: Hillary Clinton led Donald Trump 46.2 percent to 41.2 percent in an average of all polls conducted in November and December 2015, missing the eventual national popular vote margin by about 3 points.14 (The actual result was Clinton 48.0 percent, Trump 46.0 percent.)

But that’s more the exception than the rule, as the table above shows. And remember, these are polls conducted at least five months later in the cycle than where we are now. Jump back to roughly this point in the 2016 cycle, for example, and Clinton was ahead of all eight of her hypothetical GOP opponents in a May 2015 Quinnipiac poll, with a whopping 50-32 advantage over Trump.

There’s just soooo much that can and will change. To take the two biggest ones: Democrats have an entire primary to get through and a nominee to pick. And we really have no idea what the economy will look like by Election Day 2020.

OK, maybe you’re not shocked that very early general election polling isn’t particularly predictive. Do these numbers tell us anything at all? Maybe. I think they hint at two things.

First, the Republican Party under Trump has had a ceiling so far — and it’s south of 50 percent of American voters. The president won 46 percent of the vote in 2016. House Republicans won 45 percent of the national House vote in 2018. Trump’s approval rating for the past two years has been between 37 percent and 43 percent. I doubt that Trump will get just 42 percent of the national vote (and most other national polls pitting him against the Democratic candidates have him in the mid-40s). At the same time, it’s pretty hard right now to see Trump getting the majority of the electorate behind him.

That doesn’t mean he can’t win. But Trump may need, like in 2016, to overperform in the Electoral College relative to the popular vote and for third-party candidates (perhaps Justin Amash or Howard Schultz) to take some of the anti-Trump vote from the Democratic nominee.

Secondly, this poll is more evidence that Trump should probably spend less time courting his political base and more time appealing to voters outside of it. He’s getting more than 90 percent of the Republican vote in head-to-head matchups against these Democratic candidates (even against Biden), according to the Quinnipiac survey. And that’s consistent with other data. Gallup polling suggests that Trump’s approval rating among self-identified Republicans is around 90 percent. In the 2018 midterms, exit polls suggested that about 94 percent of self-identified Republicans backed the GOP House candidate, as did 88 percent of those who approve of President Trump.

Trump’s real political problem is self-identified independents and voters who don’t love him or hate him. In the 2018 midterms, independents broke heavily for the Democrats in U.S. House elections (+12), as did voters who “somewhat” disapproved of the president (+29), according to exit polls. In this Quinnipiac survey, all the Democratic candidates had double digit leads over Trump among independents, and those are the numbers that should worry the president and his political team.

Other polling bites

  • 63 percent of Americans favor allowing transgender people to serve in the U.S. military, according to a Public Religion Research Institute survey released this week.
  • According to a new Monmouth University poll, Biden leads among Democratic presidential candidates with 36 percent of the vote in Nevada, which votes third in the Democratic nomination process. Warren (19 percent) and Sanders (13 percent) are the only other two candidates polling in double digits.
  • 79 percent of Iowa Democrats said that to get their vote, a Democratic presidential candidate must support “a woman’s right to abortion,” according to a recently released by Selzer & Co. for the Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa poll; 12 percent said that position was not a must-have.
  • In the same poll, 23 percent of Iowa Democrats said that a candidate must support offering all Americans free tuition to a public four-year college; 15 percent said they would oppose a candidate who took that position.
  • 33 percent of Americans favor Congress starting impeachment proceedings against Trump, compared with 61 percent who do not, according to a Quinnipiac survey released this week; 44 percent believe he “deserves to be impeached,” while 50 percent do not.
  • 72 percent of Americans oppose a proposal to increase the salaries of members of Congress by $4,500, compared with 14 percent who support the idea, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll released this week. The proposal would have meant members’ salaries were $178,500 per year.
  • 49 percent of Americans support the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funding of abortions, compared with 32 percent who oppose it, according to the Politico/Morning Consult survey.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.3 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 52.9 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.6 points). At this time last week, 41.5 percent approved and 53.6 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -12.1 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.4 percent and a disapproval rating of 52.5 percent (for a net approval rating of -10.1 points).

Congressional generic ballot

According to FiveThirtyEight’s congressional generic ballot tracker — which returned this week! — about 46.1 percent of Americans would vote for a Democratic candidate for Congress, compared with 39.9 percent who would choose a Republican.

Check out the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections, including all the Democratic primary polls.

Silver Bulletpoints: Iowans Seem To Like Warren And Buttigieg

We’re less than two weeks from the Democrats’ first debate in Miami on June 26 and 27. I’m looking forward to the occasion — not so much because I’m eager to hear Bill de Blasio trying to drop some too-clever-by-half insults on the front-runners, but because the debates should help us exit a doldrums phase of the Democratic primary in which not a lot has been happening.

Until then, we’re left with some pretty slim pickings for Silver Bulletpoints. So I want to focus this week’s edition around the recent Selzer & Co. poll of Iowa, which was conducted on behalf of CNN, the Des Moines Register and Mediacom. While I’m a little bit reluctant to give that much attention to a single poll, this is one of the only recent high-quality polls of Iowa — and Selzer & Co. is pretty much as good as pollsters can get.

Bulletpoint No. 1: Things are looking up in Iowa for Warren and Buttigieg

The Selzer poll shows a closer race in Iowa than what we’ve been seeing nationally, with Joe Biden on top with 24 percent of the vote, followed by essentially a three-way tie for second with Bernie Sanders at 16 percent, Elizabeth Warren at 15 percent and Pete Buttigieg at 14 percent. Kamala Harris is next at 7 percent, with no one else above 2 percent.

That’s already a pretty decent result for Warren and Buttigieg — but, in fact, the poll is a bit better than it looks for them on the surface. Selzer also asked voters for favorability ratings on each candidate; I translated those ratings to a 5-point scale in which 5 means “very favorable” and 1 means “very unfavorable,” throwing out voters who didn’t know enough about a candidate to formulate an opinion.

On average, Buttigieg had the highest favorability ratings on the scale (4.1), with Harris (4.0) and Warren (4.0) close behind him. Biden’s (3.8) and Sanders’s (3.7) favorability ratings were decent but behind the top three. Meanwhile, while Cory Booker (3.7), Amy Klobuchar (3.6) and Beto O’Rourke (3.6) have little first-choice support, they retain decent favorables.

Buttigieg, Harris, Warren are viewed most favorably in Iowa

Favorability ratings in the Selzer & Co. Iowa poll, June 2-5, 2019

Candidate Very fav. Mostly fav. Mostly unfav. Very unfav. Favorability score* First-choice support
Buttigieg 32% 29% 7% 5% 4.1 14%
Harris 30 33 8 5 4.0 7
Warren 37 34 10 7 4.0 15
Biden 36 37 14 9 3.8 24
Sanders 32 38 17 8 3.7 16
Booker 20 36 13 6 3.7 1
Klobuchar 12 32 13 4 3.6 2
O’Rourke 15 39 13 8 3.6 2
Castro 7 27 10 4 3.5 1
Inslee 5 16 7 3 3.4 1
Bullock 5 14 8 2 3.4 0
Swalwell 5 17 9 4 3.3 0
Gillibrand 7 31 17 6 3.3 0
Hickenlooper 6 18 12 4 3.3 0
Bennet 3 16 9 3 3.3 1
Delaney 6 21 12 5 3.3 1
Yang 5 14 10 5 3.1 1
Moulton 3 9 8 3 3.0 0
Ryan 2 14 10 4 3.0 0
Gabbard 5 18 11 9 3.0 1
Williamson 2 7 11 7 2.5 0
de Blasio 2 14 27 13 2.4 0
Messam 1 1 6 3 2.2 0

* Calculated based on a weighted average of favorability ratings, giving a candidate 5 points for a “very favorable” rating, 4 points for “somewhat favorable,” 2 points for “somewhat unfavorable” and 1 point for “very unfavorable,” and ignoring voters who don’t know or don’t have an opinion about the candidate.

Favorability ratings were calculated by a weighting of 90 percent of the responses from those who plan to caucus in person and 10 person of responses from those who plan to participate in the caucuses virtually.

I don’t have any hard-and-fast rule about how much to emphasize favorability ratings against first-choice support. It’s probably worth noting that President Trump’s favorables were often mediocre in polls of 2016 Republican voters, but he won the nomination anyway. Still, the Selzer poll is consistent with a story where voters who are paying more attention to the campaign are ahead of the curve on Warren and Buttigieg. And Warren and Buttigieg are good candidates for Iowa with a legitimate shot to win there.

Bulletpoint No. 2: Who makes for a good Iowa candidate, and who’s campaigning there?

What do I mean by a good candidate for Iowa? If I designed a candidate in a lab to win the Iowa caucuses, I’d want them to have four characteristics:

  • Perform well with liberal voters, since voters in the Iowa caucuses are pretty liberal.
  • Perform well with white voters, since Iowa is pretty white.
  • Be strong retail campaigners with good organizational skills.
  • Be from the Midwest.

Warren checks three-and-a-quarter boxes: She polls well among white liberals, she has a strong organization in Iowa, and she sorta counts as Midwestern if you think of her as being from Oklahoma rather than Massachusetts (and if you count Oklahoma as Midwestern). Buttigieg checks at least three boxes: He overperforms with white voters (and underperforms with minorities), he’s Midwestern, and by most accounts he’s a good retail campaigner. Sanders also checks three boxes (everything except the Midwest one).

But are the candidates who are the most Iowa-appropriate actually campaigning there more often? Last month, my colleague Nathaniel Rakich looked at which candidates have campaigned the most in Iowa and New Hampshire. I’m going to provide a twist by accounting for how long a candidate has been in the race. For instance, John Delaney has spent the most days in Iowa, but he’s also been campaigning for president since July 2017 (!).

Bullock, O’Rourke and Ryan are focusing the most on Iowa

Share of days with an Iowa event since campaign launch for the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, through June 12, 2019

Candidate First day of CAMPAIGN No. of Days Days with Iowa events Share of days with Iowa events
Bullock 5/14/19 30 7 23.3%
O’Rourke 3/14/19 91 19 20.9
Ryan 4/4/19 70 12 17.1
de Blasio 5/16/19 28 4 14.3
Swalwell 4/9/19 65 8 12.3
Williamson 1/28/19 136 15 11.0
Klobuchar 2/10/19 123 13 10.6
Warren 12/31/18 164 17 10.4
Sanders 2/19/19 114 11 9.6
Bennet 5/2/19 42 4 9.5
Gillibrand 1/15/19 149 14 9.4
Booker 2/1/19 132 12 9.1
Hickenlooper 3/4/19 101 9 8.9
Delaney 7/28/17 685 57 8.3
Biden 4/25/19 49 4 8.2
Buttigieg 1/23/19 141 11 7.8
Gabbard 1/11/19 153 11 7.2
Inslee 3/1/19 104 6 5.8
Yang 2/10/18 488 28 5.7
Castro 1/12/19 152 8 5.3
Harris 1/21/19 143 7 4.9
Moulton 4/22/19 52 1 1.9
Gravel 3/19/19 86 0 0.0

The five leading candidates in the most recent Selzer & Co. poll of Iowa are highlighted.

Campaign launch dates reflect when candidates formed an exploratory committee, even if they hadn’t formally launched their campaign, since candidates generally do engage in campaign-style events during the exploratory phase. However, events only count if they occurred on or after the launch date listed in the table.

Source: Des Moines Register Candidate Tracker

Measured by the proportion of days with an Iowa event since their campaigns began, the most Iowa-centric candidates have been Steve Bullock, O’Rourke and Tim Ryan. Among the top tier, Harris has spent a notably lower share of her time in Iowa than the others. Perhaps that makes sense — she doesn’t check a lot of the boxes I described above. But it may also explain why she isn’t converting high favorability ratings into much first-choice support.

Bulletpoint No. 3: Biden is falling back to the pack

Six weeks ago, amidst Biden’s polling surge, I put him an extra step ahead of the other Democrats in my periodically updating, not-to-be-taken-too-seriously presidential tiers, demoting Sanders, Buttigieg and Harris from tier 1b to tier 1c and leaving tier 1b blank to indicate the distance between Biden and everyone else.

But we’ve promised to make these tiers fairly polling-driven, and while the decline in Biden’s national numbers is predictable — pretty much all the previous candidates to get bounces have also seen them fade — I err on the side of paying more attention to Iowa and New Hampshire polls than to national ones. So that Selzer poll in Iowa is enough for me to repromote Sanders, Buttigieg and Harris back to tier 1b and to move Warren to there for the first time.

Nate’s not-to-be-taken-too-seriously presidential tiers

For the Democratic nomination, as revised on June 13, 2019

Tier Sub-tier Candidates
1 a Biden
b Warren ↑, Sanders ↑, Buttigieg ↑, Harris ↑
2 a O’Rourke
b Booker, Klobuchar
3 a Yang, Castro, Abrams*
b Inslee, Gillibrand, Gabbard
c Bullock, Hickenlooper, Ryan, Bennet, de Blasio, Williamson

* Candidate is not yet officially running but may still do so.

For Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg, the case for promotion is reasonably clear. They’re all plausible Iowa winners — and if they win Iowa, they’ll have a pretty good shot at New Hampshire. I continue not to be super-duper impressed by Sanders’s polling, but he’s fairly consistently held on to second place nationally, and I’m not going to try to overthink things too much. Warren has some momentum, even if it’s a little overstated by the national media. Buttigeg’s modest name recognition could give him room to grow later, as he already seems to be doing in the early states.

Harris is the trickiest case, but her favorables remain pretty good, she’s a decent bet to do well at the debates, and it seems unlikely that a party in which 40 percent of voters are nonwhite is going to be entirely content choosing between three or four white candidates. All that said, Harris could also have a Marco Rubio-esque problem of being broadly acceptable but few voters’ first choice.

 

Which 2020 Candidates Have The Most In Common … On Twitter?

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidates use Twitter like an earlier generation of politicians may have used a soapbox: to announce policy plans, solicit donations, marshal their supporters and criticize the current administration.

Each of these candidates is speaking to his or her own virtual village square. But how many people spend time in more than one village? How much overlap is there between, say, Elizabeth Warren’s audience and Bernie Sanders’s? And which candidates are most often associated with one another, based on their Twitter followers?

Twitter isn’t real life, of course; it’s an often-ridiculous short-burst social network that is decidedly not representative of the electorate at large. But it’s still a slice of life. The people following candidates on Twitter are those who want to receive a steady stream of information about at least part of the 2020 campaign. Understanding how that tribe operates can tell us something about an influential slice of the electorate.

So off our web-scraper went, dredging up every follower of the 20 Democratic presidential candidates who FiveThirtyEight considered “major” in early May, when we ran our script.9 The result was a data set with almost 20 million entries, which you can download on GitHub.

This data reveals the obvious, such as raw follower counts. It also reveals more subtle trends, such as which candidates’ followers are loyal, which cast a broad net, which seem to have a similar appeal and which apparently have nothing in common.

For starters, here are the candidates ranked by the share of their followers who don’t follow any other 2020 Democratic candidate.

Candidates whose followers are loyal only to them

Share of each 2020 candidate’s followers who don’t follow any other candidates

Account
FOLLOWERS
Exclusive FOLLOWERS
@marwilliamson 2,610,335
74.8%
@BernieSanders 9,254,423
63.2
@Hickenlooper 144,816
56.3
@CoryBooker 4,246,252
52.5
@JoeBiden 3,558,333
43.8
@AndrewYang 267,897
43.4
@TulsiGabbard 349,443
34.7
@BetoORourke 1,424,745
26.5
@amyklobuchar 692,985
24.0
@PeteButtigieg 1,033,834
23.7
@SenGillibrand 1,410,303
23.3
@KamalaHarris 2,640,072
22.3
@JulianCastro 212,582
21.4
@sethmoulton 138,450
20.1
@JayInslee 51,504
19.0
@ewarren 2,486,101
16.4
@TimRyan 20,080
15.6
@JohnDelaney 20,266
12.9
@MichaelBennet 21,053
11.7
@ericswalwell 84,415
9.2

Among candidates who were considered “major” by FiveThirtyEight as of May 8. Follower lists for each candidate’s primary accounts (according to a CSPAN Twitter list) were scraped from May 8-15, except for @Hickenlooper, which was scraped on June 6 to correct a coding error.

Almost three-quarters of the people who follow Marianne Williamson — a “spiritual and inspirational author, lecturer, non-profit activist,” per her Twitter bio — don’t follow any other Democratic candidate, putting them in a loyalty class all their own. Similarly, of the over 9 million people who follow Bernie Sanders, almost two-thirds follow no other candidate.

The 2.5 million people who follow Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, are more gregarious — 84 percent of them follow at least one of her Democratic rivals. Ditto the 2.6 million people who follow Kamala Harris, 78 percent of whom also follow another candidate.

Digging a little deeper into the follower interaction information, we can find out, for example, which other candidates Warren’s followers are paying attention to. The Venn diagrams below try to answer that question, showing the overlap in followers between every candidate who had more than 500,000 followers in early May.

This chart reveals relatively large intersections between followers of Sanders and Warren, who share progressive policy platforms; between followers of Pete Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke, who are both young, male and white; and between Harris and other major female candidates such as Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar.

Follower overlap patterns seem to share some similarities with Democrats’ vote preferences, too. Morning Consult has been tracking voters’ second-choice candidates, and according to the latest poll, respondents who planned to vote for Warren said their top backup choices were Harris and Sanders. Similarly, on Twitter, 60 percent of Warren’s followers also follow Sanders, and 37 percent each follow Harris and Biden — her largest overlap groups.

With some simple calculations, we can look past the sheer size of each Twitter overlap and get a sense for which pairs of candidates share some quality (ideology, Twitter skills, who knows) that makes them appeal to the same people. Theoretically, people could be following multiple presidential candidates at random, but that’s not how Twitter really works — if one account speaks to my interests, I’m likely to be interested in similar accounts.

To figure out which candidates are getting paired up more often than we’d expect based on chance alone, we rely on a number that data miners call “lift,” which is the ratio of how many followers a pair actually has to how many followers we’d expect them to have based solely on their individual Twitter popularity.10 For example, say we have 100 total Twitter users, and 50 of them follow Sanders while 10 of them follow Warren. If the reasons that a person followed Sanders had nothing to do with the reasons they followed Warren, we’d expect the overlap between the two to be five users. If it turns out that 10 users follow both Warren and Sanders, then we have a lift value of two (twice as many as expected), which means we can speculate that the two candidates share some quality that appeals to the same people. If only one user follows both, then we have a lift of 0.2 (one-fifth as many as expected), and we would suspect that there’s something about each candidate that drives away some people who follow the other candidate.

In the chart below, candidate pairs are organized by lift value, so those above the dotted line have more followers in common than you’d expect by chance while those below the line have fewer.

Some of the pairs that float above the line on this chart also stood out in the Venn diagrams, such as Harris and Warren, Harris and Gillibrand and O’Rourke and Buttigieg. O’Rourke and Julian Castro also have a relatively large overlap, perhaps because they’re both from Texas. The small dots at the very top capture overlaps that are tens of times larger than we’d expect to see if the candidates’ appeals to followers were unrelated. That’s probably because users who follow one lesser-known candidate such as Michael Bennet or John Delaney are likely to be highly engaged in the race and follow the other candidates as well. For example, the average Delaney follower also follows more than six other Democratic candidates.

The chart also reveals the candidate pairs who are not followed together. Williamson appears in most of these pairs, but the combination of Sanders and Booker also sinks to the bottom; their follower overlap is about half the size of what we’d expect given their individual popularity.

Twitter is just one front on which the fight for the Democratic nomination is being waged, but it does provide some insight into how candidates are using social media and who is listening. Democrats are, after all, looking for a candidate who can beat President Trump, who redefined how we view Silicon Valley’s little blue bird.

We want to hear how you’re using this data! If you find anything interesting, please let us know. Send your projects to @guswez or @ollie.

Dhrumil Mehta and Julia Wolfe contributed research.

Are The Democratic Debates Already A Mess?

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): Republicans struggled with setting debate criteria during the 2016 presidential election because of their large and unwieldy field, and Democrats seem as though they’ll have their own issues in 2020. We already count 20 candidates who have qualified for the first two debates via one of the two criteria the Democratic National Committee has set up: receiving at least 1 percent in at least three qualifying polls or having 65,000 people donate to their campaign, with at least 200 donors in 20 different states.

The DNC has said that it will cap participation at 20 candidates, so the next candidate who qualifies, via one of the two criteria for entry, will trigger the tiebreaker rules. Those get complicated fast, but the topline is: If more than 20 candidates qualify, then meeting both the polling and donor requirements will be paramount for candidates — those who do will get first dibs on debate lecterns.

But why is it so hard to figure out a fair metric for inclusion? Is there a better way to determine who makes the debate stage?

julia_azari (Julia Azari, political science professor at Marquette University and FiveThirtyEight contributor): It’s difficult to figure out a fair metric for inclusion because the whole process is weird. Ideally, it’s both inclusive and efficient (i.e., it narrows options for a nominee relatively quickly), but it’s not really possible to do both at the same time.

geoffrey.skelley (Geoffrey Skelley, elections analyst): Right, and in the aftermath of the 2016 Democratic nomination, when the DNC was criticized for “rigging” the debates for Hillary Clinton, the DNC really wants to seem transparent and inclusive.

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): So, 1) It’s good to have objective criteria, 2) as objective criteria go, fundraising and high-quality polling is perfectly fine, but 3) the DNC set the bar too low. Getting donations from 65,000 people is not that hard. And polling at 1 percent in any of three polls out of the many, many polls out there is even easier, probably.

sarahf: Although, to be clear, the DNC is not counting all polls from all pollsters. It has said, however, that it’ll consider both national and early-state polls, and qualifying polls can come from 18 different organizations).

geoffrey.skelley: Yeah, it’s still pretty easy to qualify via three polls at 1 percent or more — 19 Democrats have already done that. However, if the DNC had set the threshold at 2 percent or more, just eight candidates would meet that mark.

Only 8 candidates are polling at 2 percent or more

Democratic presidential candidates by whether they have received at least 1 percent or 2 percent support in at least three polls that would qualify them for the first Democratic presidential debates, as of May 21, 2019

IN at least 3 DEBATE-QUALIFYING POLLS, HAS SUPPORT OF …
Candidate 1 percent or more 2 percent or more
Joe Biden
Cory Booker
Pete Buttigieg
Kamala Harris
Amy Klobuchar
Beto O’Rourke
Bernie Sanders
Elizabeth Warren
Steve Bullock
Julian Castro
Bill de Blasio
John Delaney
Tulsi Gabbard
Kirsten Gillibrand
John Hickenlooper
Jay Inslee
Tim Ryan
Eric Swalwell
Andrew Yang
Michael Bennet
Seth Moulton
Marianne Williamson

For candidates deemed “major” by FiveThirtyEight.

Sources: Polls, Media reports

natesilver: Yeah, hitting 1 percent is soooooooooo easy. Like people can literally just pick your name at random almost.

The DNC is spending too much time trying to avoid mistakes they think were made in the previous Democratic nomination process when there are probably more lessons to be learned from the Republican nomination process.

geoffrey.skelley: Well, part of what the DNC wanted to avoid was the mistakes the Republicans made in the 2016 cycle with prime time and undercard debates.

nrakich (Nathaniel Rakich, elections analyst): I think the Democrats have already done a better job than Republicans did in 2016. The DNC has said that they’ll randomly distribute candidates across the nights, rather than hold “varsity” and “junior varsity” debates. I think that’s a good move.

natesilver: Oh, I’m not sure I agree with that, Nathaniel.

nrakich: How is a junior varsity debate better, Nate? My problem with splitting the candidates up by tier is that it requires splitting hairs between a candidate who gets, say, 3 percent in a poll and a candidate who gets 4 percent. (Margins of error are real!) I guess it’s fine to argue that you think the threshold should be higher and there should be only one main debate, but if you are going to split the candidates into two debates, I think randomly doing it is the only good way.

natesilver: Well, if you wind up stuck in the JV debate because you poll at 2 percent rather than at 3 percent, I don’t have much sympathy for you, even though that’s a minor difference.

nrakich: But the debates are candidates’ chance to raise their polling numbers up from that 2 or 3 percent.

Debates should start off inclusive but probably get less inclusive as we get closer to voting.

Like, the New Hampshire debate three days before the primary should probably only have the candidates with a serious chance of winning that primary.

nrakich: My beef with using polling averages as a debate criterion is that they assume that candidates can be precisely ranked by their standing in the polls. But in reality, polls are imprecise instruments, and you can’t do much more than lump candidates into rough categories (and even those have fuzzy boundaries). For example, all candidates polling between 0 and 5 percent are basically in the same spot.

julia_azari: I agree with Nathaniel here. I would also add that these differences don’t, in my mind, clearly differentiate candidates. And does it really matter if it’s 20 or 22 candidates on the stage? Either isolate the top-tier candidates or let everyone in.

sarahf: Julia, the number of evenings we have to devote to watching the debates is at stake!

julia_azari: If other people haven’t blocked off all of 2019 and 2020 to watch debates, that’s not my problem. People want an open nomination process. This is where that goes.

nrakich: Some pollsters have also said that they are uncomfortable with their work influencing elections. Their role is as measurers, not active participants.

natesilver: Meh, the pollsters complain too much.

If you believe in the quality of your poll, you shouldn’t have any problem with it being used as an objective metric.

I think they should literally have tiers on stage based on where you’re polling.

nrakich: Nate 🔥 take

natesilver: So like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are on the top tier and have big giant podiums. And Swalwell is in the cheap seats in like a broom closet.

julia_azari: This chat is a serious warning about overpopulated debates, and there are only five of us.

natesilver: I do think for this first debate, they might as well just let everyone in. And then set the criteria a lot higher for future debates.

geoffrey.skelley: But the polling average tiebreaker might not even solve things. Say there are a few candidates who have a bunch of polls in which they are hitting only 1 percent. If the polling average can’t settle a tie, it comes down to the number of qualifying polls a candidate has. But what if three or four candidates have the same number of qualifying polls? It’s going to be a mess one way or the other.

natesilver: Again, though, I’m realllllllly not sympathetic to the borderline cases. The primary has been underway for a while now, and if you can’t both get 65,000 donors AND poll at 1 percent in three polls, there’s probably something pretty wrong with you.

And I’d rather give more time to, say, Cory Booker or Amy Klobuchar to make their cases and less to Eric Swalwell or Bill de Blasio.

julia_azari: This is a recurring problem for parties. They try to solve a lot of these problems informally by limiting who runs.But when these conversations break down like they did in 2016, the formal solutions — like trying to come up with a fair threshold for inclusion in a debate with so many candidates — show why those problems were being solved informally: It’s a mess.

natesilver: Do we think the debate rules factored into how many candidates have decided to run?

Mike Gravel, whom we don’t consider a major candidate yet, explicitly seems to have run based on the possibility that he’d get 65,000 donors and therefore some sort of platform to talk about U.S. imperialism or whatever.

nrakich: Good question. Probably not? There are other ways to get media attention aside from the debates — it looks like every candidate is getting a CNN town hall, for example. And a few candidates have jumped in so late that it’s not clear whether they’ll make the debates at all, like Seth Moulton and Michael Bennet. So why are they running?

geoffrey.skelley: I don’t know — it could have pushed a few candidates who were on the fence.

julia_azari: That’s hard to know, but what’s interesting to me is that not that long ago, debates were mostly about getting the top-tier candidates to show up. Now, even though the evidence that they matter is somewhat mixed, they’ve taken on this whole different significance because of the record number of candidates and the scramble for inclusion.

sarahf: So what good are debates, Julia, especially this far out?

julia_azari: Well, the default position in political science tends to be that not that many people are watching and that those who are have already made up their minds. But the latter point is a bit different for a primary debate, since partisanship doesn’t shape decisions in the same way.

sarahf: Right, here at FiveThirtyEight, we’ve been saying things won’t get interesting until the debates!

julia_azari: So on the one hand, there’s not really hard evidence that debates affect who wins the primary. (Studies do suggest that debates might affect citizens’ perceptions of personality and viability to win the nomination.) But usually the primary is … not that competitive. The 2008 Democratic primary really stood out in this regard, because there were two strong contenders through most of the primary season, making the contest a real competition.

sarahf: Yeah, I think the debates will stand out this year, too, as they’ll be one of the first opportunities for people to get to hear from the candidates directly (outside of a CNN town hall, which, as FiveThirtyEight’s Clare Malone has noted, can be overly orchestrated to begin with).

geoffrey.skelley: And primary debates can certainly make or break a candidate — earlier this year, I examined their effects. Rick Perry in the 2012 GOP primary debates really stands out to me because after he defended Texas’s in-state tuition policy for undocumented immigrants, his standing among Republicans plummeted. It was much worse than when he forgot the name of the third federal agency he wanted to dismantle!

nrakich: I feel like the debates are one of the events in the Olympic Games that are the primary season. You have to participate in them and be rated favorably by the judges (the media) in order to win gold.

natesilver: But quite a few people watch at least relative to the size of the Democratic electorate, don’t they?

Here’s some ratings data on the 2016 Democratic primaries from Wikipedia:

By comparison, 31 million people voted in the Democratic primaries in 2016. So having an audience of 16 million for the first debate isn’t bad compared with 31 million!

nrakich: It’s interesting how viewership dropped off so starkly after the first debate.

natesilver: That may have happened because I don’t think either Sanders or Clinton were particularly interesting debaters. They were perfectly competent, but not interesting.

sarahf: Do you think candidates who go the second night will be disadvantaged?

I realize Democrats aren’t splitting the debates into a varsity and JV debate, but maybe one debate will be enough for folks?

geoffrey.skelley: Depends on who is in each debate. If it’s a random draw but a number of leading candidates end up in one debate, that debate will probably get the most attention.

natesilver: There might be a wee bit of fatigue, Sarah, but it probably depends more on the draw. If Biden, Sanders and Warren are all on the second night, that’s the one most people will care about. But if the heavyweights are all on the first night, the second night could feel like more of a JV affair.

geoffrey.skelley: Yeah, but if the heavyweights are all grouped together, I think that could still be good for some of the underdog candidates. It could give them an opportunity to stand out without facing the same “main event” vs. “undercard” judgment that was explicit in how the GOP handled things in 2016.

julia_azari: I don’t know. I’m going to remain on team skepticism about 2016 Republican type ratings. It’s possible that people will tune into these debates with a genuine eye toward actually deciding between candidates or learning more about some candidates. But I don’t expect that these debates will draw in Trump-level ratings.

The Democratic field is crowded, but it doesn’t have an animating rivalry between two candidates and it’s not a clown show.

sarahf: … at least not yet!

There’s still so much we don’t know.

julia_azari: But people weren’t watching in 2016 because they wanted to hear the finer points of Marco Rubio’s tax plan vs. Ted Cruz’s. There was a show-biz factor with Trump, to put it politely. And he delivered consistently enough.

nrakich: I dunno, Julia, I’m pretty worked up about the Swalwell vs. Hickenlooper rivalry.

sarahf: Nathaniel 🙄

Is there another debate matchup you all are looking forward to?

natesilver: Trump was uniquely unpredictable in the context of the debates, so I’m not sure whether there will be a point of comparison.

But you will have the dynamic of other candidates working to take the front-runner down, which has both potential risks and rewards for the front-runner.

I think the first debate is probably more likely to hurt Biden than help him, however.

geoffrey.skelley: The lack of a Trump-like figure will certainly make a difference. But it could get really interesting if Biden and Sanders are on stage the same night. One could easily imagine Sanders going after Biden straight away, just as he did with Hillary Clinton in 2016.

natesilver: I mean, I think debates sometimes tend to cause reversion toward the fundamentals. So if we think Biden’s numbers are a little bit inflated right now by a post-announcement boost, and I think they probably are, he’s more likely to decline than improve.

julia_azari: Counterpoint: Biden is actually quite good in these settings. His experience helps as he’ll be less likely to go deer-in-the-headlights on a specific question. And he really knows how to work emotion, if you recall his performance in the 2008 VP debates.

natesilver: Who do we expect to be an effective debater? Kamala Harris? Elizabeth Warren? Pete Buttigieg?

Although, maybe it’s not a good thing if expectations are high. Everyone’s going to expect Harris to be super incisive with every response and for Buttigieg to speak Norwegian or something.

julia_azari: I am OUT if I have to learn Norwegian for these debates.

I think people expect Warren to be wonky and unlikable, but my impression is that she’s actually pretty good in front of a crowd, so maybe she’ll do well.

natesilver: For Warren, I think you can argue that she is someone for whom the fundamentals are misaligned. She’s an “objectively” strong candidate and “should” be doing better (I know how loaded those terms are — it’s a chat, so give me a break). Maybe the same is true for Harris. So they both stand to gain.

Or to put it another way, if Harris and Warren don’t benefit from the debates, then maybe we have to start concluding that they’re products that voters just don’t like very much for whatever reason.

sarahf: So who … do we think won’t make the debate stage? Because it does seem as though we’re headed toward some sort of tiebreaker, right?

nrakich: Maybe Marianne Williamson? She’s the only candidate currently who’s qualified via the donors criterion but not the polling criterion.

sarahf: If Marianne Williamson is the one who’s cut … it’s kind of like what was the point of the DNC introducing the 65,000-unique-donor threshold anyway.

geoffrey.skelley: But Williamson only needs to earn 1 percent support in one more survey to qualify via polls. So I actually like her chances if it comes down to a polling-average tiebreaker because she might hit both the polling and donor criteria.

And yeah, Sarah, that’s a big question mark: How many of the candidates who have qualified via polls but not via donors will actually get 65,000 donors?

It sounds like Inslee is close on the donor count, for instance. But what about John Hickenlooper or Kirsten Gillibrand or John Delaney, etc.? I haven’t found any new information about their donor counts.

natesilver: There’s no particular reason to limit it to 20 candidates instead of 21 or whatever.

nrakich: We live in a base 10 world, Nate. Get used to it.

natesilver: But it just sort of seems to defeat the purpose of being inclusive if you’re excluding just Williamson.

Moulton might not make it.

geoffrey.skelley: Yeah, Moulton is the one who is really up a creek without a polling paddle — he doesn’t have a single qualifying survey yet.

nrakich: The new hot take: I should be considered a serious candidate for president even though I have raised no money whatsoever.

natesilver: Sorry, but you’re not a major candidate according to our criteria, Rakich.

sarahf: OK, so as we’ve discussed, there are pros and cons to having a debate stage as wide-ranging and inclusive as what the DNC has settled on. But it’s also really hard to do any of this fairly. So to end today’s chat, what would you have liked to see the DNC do differently?

julia_azari: I mean, the DNC is in somewhat of a no-win position, but given that I’m not sure they can actually regain (or gain) legitimacy by having 20-candidate debates, it might have made sense to just raise the thresholds to begin with.

nrakich: Overall, I think the DNC did well. The criteria are arbitrary, sure, but they’ve turned out to be well-calibrated, at least for someone like me who wants initial debates to include (almost) everyone.

geoffrey.skelley: I think 10 Lincoln-Douglas debates between pairs of candidates would be the best approach.

Oh sorry, Newt Gingrich took over my Slack account for a second there.

But seriously, I think the DNC could’ve made a case for higher thresholds, such as polling at 2 percent instead of 1 percent.

nrakich: I think this chat did convince me that stricter thresholds are appropriate for later in the primary season, closer to the actual voting. We’ll see if the DNC agrees.

natesilver: I think maybe there should have been both a money qualifier and a donors qualifier for the donor threshold. Like, you have to raise donations from 65,000 people and raise at least $5 million, or something.

That’s basically what airlines’ frequent flier programs do now — you have to fly a certain amount of miles and spend a certain amount of money.

nrakich: The DNC should be more like airlines — there’s a winning electoral position!

natesilver: ThE AiRLiNe InDuStRy Is UnFaIrLy MaLiGnEd

julia_azari: This debate has been canceled due to mechanical failure. Tomorrow, we fly you to Poughkeepsie instead of Atlanta.

natesilver: And if I were the DNC, I’d stipulate my criteria for future debates sooner rather than later. Because otherwise it’s going to look like they’re engineering the rules around which candidates they do/don’t like.

geoffrey.skelley: Which would defeat the point of being so inclusive in the first place.

A Lot Of Americans Say They Don’t Want A President Who Is Over 70. Really?

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

Gallup recently released new data on Americans’ willingness to vote for presidential candidates with certain traits. About 1,000 adults were asked3 whether they’d vote for a well-qualified candidate who was nominated by their party and was black, gay or had one of 10 other characteristics that are rarely or never seen in presidential nominees.

Almost all Americans said they’d be comfortable voting for a woman (94 percent), or a Catholic (95 percent), Hispanic (95 percent) or black (96 percent) candidate. But there are characteristics that big swaths of Americans said would be disqualifying — in particular being older than 70, being an atheist and being a socialist.

What types of candidates would Americans NOT vote for?

Share of respondents to an April survey who said they would not vote for a “generally well-qualified” presidential candidate from their own party if the candidate had each of the following characteristics

Democrats Independents Republicans Overall
Socialist 24% 48% 80% 51%
Atheist 28 33 56 39
Older than 70 35 37 37 37
Muslim 14 26 62 33
Younger than 40 21 28 34 28
Gay or lesbian 17 18 39 24
Evangelical Christian 27 20 6 18
Jewish 5 9 5 7
Woman 3 6 9 6
Catholic 4 6 3 5
Hispanic 3 3 8 5
Black 1 4 5 3

Source: Gallup

These results are fairly similar to what Gallup found when it previously asked this question, in 2015. There were a couple of interesting exceptions, however. Americans in 2019 said they were slightly more comfortable with a candidate who is an evangelical Christian (the share who said they’d vote for such a candidate rose from 73 percent in 2015 to 80 percent this year) or a Muslim (from 60 percent to 66 percent). Socialists, meanwhile, remained unpopular (47 percent in both 2015 and 2019).

So with Democrats obsessed with finding an “electable” candidate, does this mean that Bernie Sanders (who’s over 70 and identifies as a democratic socialist) and Joe Biden (who’s over 70) have big problems? Not so fast. So how seriously am I taking these numbers?

For the 2020 presidential election, I’m not taking them too seriously. Thirty-seven percent of Republicans said they would not back a GOP presidential candidate over the age of 70. Well … yep, President Trump was 70 on Election Day in 2016, and he’ll be 74 in 2020. I’ll bet that more than 63 percent of Republicans will vote for him — his job approval rating among GOP voters is currently in the 90s. In short, it’s important to remember that the survey question asks about categories of people, not individuals. The negative feelings that some Americans might have toward the idea of a gay or socialist presidential candidate, for example, might not apply to Pete Buttigieg or Sanders specifically.

On the other hand, these numbers could be understating some Americans’ resistance to certain characteristics. In particular, I’d view the numbers on ethnicity, race and gender skeptically. It could be true that virtually all Americans are comfortable with a black, female or Hispanic president, as the Gallup data implies. But I’d expect Americans who aren’t comfortable to be unlikely to express that view to a pollster. So I wouldn’t use this data to suggest that, say, Julian Castro wouldn’t run into electoral problems caused by racism or Elizabeth Warren because of sexism if either were the Democratic nominee.

In terms of which groups might face overt discrimation in the U.S., I’m taking these numbers more seriously. The results generally lined up with my expectations of which categories of people Americans are both somewhat wary of and willing to say so to another person.

Being a socialist is an expression of left-wing political views, so it’s natural and unsurprising that a lot of Americans, particularly Republicans, would openly oppose a socialist candidate. Similarly, it’s not surprising that some Americans wouldn’t want a president who is in her 70s as president (maybe they suspect that person wouldn’t have the energy for the job) or who is younger than 40 (a lack of experience). This is also a view that is perhaps not particularly controversial to express — columns suggesting that Biden (76) and Sanders (77) are too old to be running for president are published regularly.

What views about candidates are more controversial? Disqualifying people based on gender, race, ethnicity or sexuality. Again, I’d expect some Americans with negative attitudes toward certain religious groups, racial groups and sexual orientations not to admit that to a pollster.

Here’s where it gets interesting, however: The share of Americans who were willing to tell a pollster that they would not back an atheist, evangelical Christian, gay or Muslim presidential candidate was nonetheless fairly high. That lines up with how these four groups are treated in American culture — they face open, direct criticism based on their identities. (I don’t want to cast all parties as equal here — Republicans’ high level of opposition to an atheist or Muslim candidate jumps out.)

In terms of understanding the diversity of the Democratic Party, I’m taking these numbers very seriously. I’ve written that Biden is essentially the candidate of the un-woke Democrat (or maybe “less woke” is more accurate) and that those voters still represent a substantial bloc of the Democratic Party. This data is more evidence of that bloc’s existence. I was surprised that the share of Democrats who are uncomfortable with an evangelical Christian president was matched by about an equal share wary of a president who is an atheist or a socialist, since the Democratic Party is often characterized as becoming less religious and more liberal on economic issues. The share of Democrats who said they would not vote for a gay or Muslim candidate was also larger than I anticipated.

Other polling bites

  • 46 percent of likely Democratic primary voters in South Carolina say they would vote for Biden, according to a new Post and Courier/Change Research poll, with only two of his rivals reaching double digits. Sanders (15 percent) and Kamala Harris (10 percent) are far behind the former vice president, as is the rest of the 2020 Democratic field.
  • Biden leads in Pennsylvania too, with 39 percent of the vote, according to a new Quinnipiac University survey. The only other candidate in double digits was Sanders (13 percent).
  • The Quinnipiac survey also found Biden leading Trump 53 percent to 42 percent in Pennsylvania in a hypothetical general election matchup. Sanders also bested Trump (50-43).
  • In the Republican nomination contest, Trump leads former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld 72 percent to 12 percent in New Hampshire, according to a recent Monmouth University survey.
  • 61 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, and 31 percent oppose it, according to a Pew Research Center survey. Support for same-sex marriage varied by party (75 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, compared with 44 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents). It varied by race (62 percent of white Americans, 58 percent of Hispanic Americans, 51 percent of black Americans). And it varied by religion (79 percent of those who are religiously unaffiliated, 66 percent of white mainline Protestants, 61 percent of Catholics, 29 percent of white evangelical Protestants).
  • 47 percent of registered voters rated the economy as “excellent” or “good,” according to a new Fox News poll.
  • Also from that Fox News poll: The share of voters who said Trump hasn’t been tough enough with North Korea is up to 50 percent; that number was 19 percent in September 2017.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.0 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53.1 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -11.1 points). At this time last week, 42.4 percent approved and 52.7 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -10.3 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.1 percent and a disapproval rating of 52.3 percent, for a net approval rating of -10.2 points.

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.

Biden Is Way Out In Front. Second Place Is Anyone’s Guess.

Last week, when he launched his presidential campaign, I made the case for why Joe Biden is the front-runner for the Democratic nomination. This week, with the release of several new polls, that case has become clearer.

Four national polls released on Tuesday all showed Biden’s support significantly higher than it was in previous editions of the same surveys. CNN’s poll found Biden at 39 percent — up 11 points from 28 percent in their previous poll in March — and well ahead of Bernie Sanders, who was at 15 percent. Quinnipiac University had Biden at a similar 38 percent, but with Elizabeth Warren nominally in second place at 12 percent of the vote, compared with 11 percent for Sanders and 10 percent for Pete Buttigieg.


Biden leading FiveThirtyEight's endorsement tracker


Morning Consult also released its weekly tracking poll, and it showed Biden at 36 percent, up from 30 percent last week — an impressive result, especially considering that about half the poll was conducted before Biden officially launched his campaign. In interviews conducted after Biden’s announcement, he was polling closer to 39 percent. A HarrisX poll for ScottRasmussen.com found the smallest bounce, with Biden at 33 percent, up from 29 percent in its poll last month.1 The Morning Consult and HarrisX polls still had Sanders fairly clearly in second place.

New national polls show Biden clearly in front

Democratic primary polls released on April 30, 2019

CNN HarrisX Morning Consult Quinnipiac
Candidate Latest Change Latest Change Latest Change Latest Change
Biden 39% +11 33% +4 36% +6 38% +9
Sanders 15 -4 16 -2 22 -2 11 -8
Warren 8 +1 6 +1 9 +2 12 +8
Buttigieg 7 +6 5 +2 8 -1 10 +6
Harris 5 -7 5 -1 7 -1 8 0
O’Rourke 6 -7 5 -1 5 -1 5 -7
Booker 2 0 3 -1 3 -1 2 0
Klobuchar 2 -1 1 -1 2 0 1 -1
Castro 1 +1 1 0 1 0 1 0
Yang 1 N/A 0 -1 2 0 1 +1
Gabbard 2 +2 1 +1 1 0 0 0
Gravel N/A 1 N/A N/A N/A
Gillibrand 1 0 1 0 1 0 0 0
Hickenlooper 0 0 2 +2 1 0 0 -1
Delaney 0 0 1 0 1 +1 0 0
Inslee 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 +1
Williamson 1 N/A 0 -1 N/A 0 0
Swalwell 1 N/A 1 N/A N/A 0 N/A
Ryan 0 N/A 0 N/A 1 0 0 N/A
Moulton 0 N/A 1 N/A 0 N/A 0 N/A
Messam 0 N/A 0 N/A N/A 0 N/A

Source: polls

On average between the four national polls, Biden has gained 8 percentage points. Where did he take that support from? It came from all over the place. Sanders is down 4 points, on average, as is Beto O’Rourke. Kamala Harris is down 2 points; Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar are each down 1 point.

But some other Democrats have also gained ground. Warren is up 3 points, on average, in the new national polls. So is Buttigieg, although that’s a little misleading since the previous HarrisX, Quinnipiac and CNN polls were conducted before his surge had really kicked in. In the poll that offers the most recent basis for comparison, Morning Consult, Buttigieg is actually down 1 point from last week’s edition.

Biden’s support is driven by older Democrats and by nonwhite Democrats — two groups that aren’t always well-represented on social media or in other forums that sometimes dictate the conventional wisdom about the candidates. Biden had 50 percent of nonwhite voters in the CNN poll, well ahead of Sanders’s 14 percent. In Morning Consult’s poll, Biden polled at 43 percent among black Democrats, compared to Sanders’s 20 percent. Biden had 46 percent support from Democrats age 50-64 in CNN’s poll and 50 percent support from those 65 and older.

In addition to the various national polls, Suffolk University also released a poll of New Hampshire on Tuesday, and it can’t leave any of the Democratic contenders feeling especially satisfied. Biden was in first place at 20 percent, with Sanders and Buttigeg tied for second at 12 percent and Warren in fourth place at 8 percent. Suffolk has not previously polled New Hampshire this cycle, but compared with other recent polls of the state, this is clearly a poor result for Sanders, while it’s roughly in line with the previous polling for the other candidates.

The latest New Hamphire poll shows weakness for Sanders

Recent New Hampshire Democratic primary polls as of April 30, 2019

Latest Poll Earlier Polls in April
Candidate Suffolk UNH Saint Anselm Coll.
Biden 20% 18% 23%
Sanders 12 30 16
Buttigieg 12 15 11
Warren 8 5 9
Harris 6 4 7
O’Rourke 3 3 6
Booker 3 3 4
Klobuchar 1 2 2
Yang 1 2
Gabbard 1 1 1
Ryan 0 2
Gillibrand 0 1 1
Delaney 1 0 1
Messam 0 1
Swalwell 0 1
Hickenlooper 0 0 1
Castro 0 0
Bullock 0
Williamson 0 0
Inslee 0 0 0
Bennet 0
de Blasio 0
Moulton 0
Gravel 0

Source: POLLS

What should we make of all of this? I have roughly four conclusions:

Biden’s bounce will probably fade. Biden’s not the only candidate to have seen his numbers improve following his announcement; Sanders and Harris did too, and so, to a lesser extent, did O’Rourke. All of those candidates have since seen their numbers revert to their previous position, however. Sanders has fallen back to the low 20s in his better polls and the low-to-mid teens in his worse ones, and Harris and O’Rourke are now back to polling in the mid-to-high single digits.

And it’s not clear that much has changed in terms of voters’ underlying attitudes toward the candidates. Biden’s favorability ratings are strong in the Morning Consult poll, but they’re also largely unchanged from earlier editions of the poll, which suggests that some of his new support is fairly soft and consists of people who are suddenly hearing his name a lot more often in the news, and who might switch candidates again once the news cycle moves on.

Nonetheless, the bounce is sorta important. At least in the medium term — basically, from now through the Iowa caucuses — Biden is more likely to lose support than to gain it. Other candidates will become better known, and they will tend to take support from candidates such as Biden and Sanders who already have essentially universal name recognition. Biden is doing very well among black voters for now, but Harris and Booker might have something to say about that later in race. Biden benefits a lot from perceptions that he’s electable, but that could also fade over time as voters grow more comfortable with the rest of the field.

But it’s precisely for that reason that starting from a higher perch is important. If you’re polling at around 28 percent — where Biden was before his announcement — you don’t have much margin for error, given that it usually takes support in at least the low-to-mid 20s to win Iowa and New Hampshire. If you’re at 37 percent, however, you can lose 5 or 10 points and still hold up in the early states against a candidate making a late surge.

In addition, Biden’s bounce comes near an empirical inflection point of when early polling leads tend to hold up and when they don’t. Well-known candidates polling in the mid-30s in the early going2 are about even money to win the nomination, historically. Well-known candidates polling in the mid-to-high 20s have roughly a 1 in 4 shot, conversely.

In some ways, the bounce exposes the weakness of the other candidates — especially Sanders — as much as Biden’s strength. Although previous bounces, such as Harris’s, have faded, that doesn’t necessarily mean the candidates who were hurt by those bounces have regained ground. Instead, it has sometimes opened up an opportunity for yet another candidate to surge instead.

What that means is that it’s time to take stock of the three candidates who have clearly fallen from their peak (so far) in the polls — Sanders, Harris and O’Rourke. You might think that on the basis of his current polling, Sanders remains in a better spot than the other two. However, he’s also much more of a national brand name. And as I wrote last week — and as you can see from the chart — polling at 20 percent is not all that strong a position for a candidate with near-universal name recognition. Sanders, however, polled at just 16 percent in the average of the four national polls released on Tuesday. And he was at only 12 percent in New Hampshire, which should be one of his strongest states. Sanders can win — he’ll raise a lot of money, he came from way far back last time, and he’d likely benefit from scenarios where the field remains divided. But given his name recognition, those polling numbers put him right at the divide between someone whose campaign is going well and someone whose campaign is going poorly.

Harris and O’Rourke are not as widely known as Sanders, and they still have reasonably good favorability ratings and plenty of cash on hand, which suggest that they have upward potential if and when the media’s attention turns to them again. But it’s become harder to make the case that they’re on the lead lap with Biden, especially for O’Rourke, who is competing against a field that’s overstatured with white male candidates and whose polling has fallen further than Harris’s.

Buttigieg doesn’t have any reason to be unhappy; given his low name recognition, polling in the mid-to-high single digits — sometimes higher than that, especially in polls of Iowa and New Hampshire — is a pretty decent position. But if you were expecting a further immediate surge into the teens or beyond — and I sort of was — it isn’t as clear now whether that’s coming. Instead, Buttigieg will need to work to expand his support beyond his initial coalition of highly educated white voters and survive media coverage that’s both less plentiful and more skeptical than it was initially.

But Warren is in an intriguing position. Warren’s the candidate who we thought might have the least overlap with Biden and therefore would be least hurt by his entry into the race — and the polling seems to bear that out. Although both candidates are broadly within the Democratic mainstream, she’s toward the left half and he’s toward the moderate half. She’s a woman and he’s a man, obviously. His case rests heavily on electability and big, abstract, meat-and-potatoes themes; she appeals to voters on the basis of her highly detailed policy proposals. Her base is college-educated whites; his is non-college-educated white voters and black voters. Biden and Warren have directly clashed over issues such as bankruptcy laws.

In short, Biden and Warren make pretty good foils for one another, probably better foils than Biden and Sanders make, as both are old white men who aren’t especially well-liked by party activists. A showdown between Biden and Buttigieg, or Biden and O’Rourke, could also leave big segments of the party unhappy, including parts of the left and many women and nonwhite voters.3

So in the scenario where the nomination comes down to a battle between Biden and one other Democrat — not the only way the race could unfold, but one plausible path — Warren could turn out to be that Democrat. Together, they capture most of the major Democratic constituencies. I’m less convinced that you could have a Biden-versus-Sanders showdown. I think a lot of voters, and certain parts of the Democratic establishment, would go shopping for a third candidate in that eventuality.

But Warren could also become a major player in the race in other ways. Independently of Biden’s entry to the race, she seems to be gaining ground from the candidates who are fading, including gathering some of Sanders’s support on the left, some of O’Rourke’s college-educated whites, and perhaps some of Harris’s support among women.

With that in mind, it’s time for one more rendition of my not-to-be-taken-too-seriously presidential tiers. I’d already had Biden as the front-runner — note that doesn’t mean I think he has a better-than-50-percent chance to win (I don’t), just that I think he’s more likely to win than anyone else. But we probably need to create an additional half-step between Biden and everyone else. That means I’m demoting Harris, Sanders and Buttigieg from tier 1b (which we’ll leave empty for the moment) into tier 1c. However, I’m moving Warren up to tier 1c from tier 2. Harris, Sanders, Buttigieg and Warren can all make interesting arguments for why they’re the next-best-positioned candidate after Biden, and I really have no idea whose argument is best, so it makes sense to group them together.

Nate’s not-to-be-taken-too-seriously presidential tiers

For the Democratic nomination, as revised on April 30, 2019

Tier Sub-tier Candidates
1 a Biden
b [this row intentionally left blank]
c Harris ↓, Sanders ↓, Buttigieg ↓, Warren ↑
2 a O’Rourke
b Booker, Klobuchar, Abrams*
3 a Yang, Castro, Gillibrand, Inslee
b Hickenlooper, Bennet*, Ryan, Bullock*, Gabbard ↑

* Candidate is not yet officially running but is reasonably likely to do so.

Beyond that, O’Rourke, Klobuchar and Booker probably belong in the next tier down. But the safest conclusion right now is that this is a race with one frontrunner — Biden, who has both some clear weaknesses and some overlooked strengths — and no clear No. 2.


From ABC News:
Joe Biden on his 2020 run and Barack Obama


Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.

Fox News Can’t Stop Talking About Bernie Sanders

Fox News loves talking about Bernie Sanders. Every week since the Vermont senator launched his 2020 campaign, Fox News has outstripped MSNBC and CNN in terms of how much coverage each network dedicated to Sanders. Last week, viewers got a chance to hear directly from the candidate at a Fox News town hall in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “Your network does not necessarily have a great deal of respect in my world,” Sanders said, “but I thought it was important for me to be here and have a serious discussion about serious issues.”

The town hall meeting was a ratings success for Fox News and seems to have been a boon for the Sanders campaign as well. It led to the highest Google search interest in Sanders since he announced his candidacy and helped Sanders remain the most talked-about candidate on cable news for the third consecutive week, with 969 mentions1 across the three networks last week according to data from the TV News Archive.2

Now other 2020 Democratic candidates want in on the post-town-hall coverage bonanza. Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar has already booked an appearance on Fox News next month, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s campaign told The Hill that they are in talks with the network.

While Sanders and Buttigieg have been getting the most cable news coverage this month, that could change if former Vice President Joe Biden officially jumps in the race this week, as he is expected to do. Biden, who is leading in many early polls of the Democratic primary, managed to get 486 mentions on the three networks this week, which means that even though he’s not officially in the race, he got more cable news coverage than every declared candidate except Sanders and Buttigieg.

Can Julian Castro Rally Latino Voters?

Latinos became the nation’s largest minority group in the early 2000s. Next year, the country’s pool of eligible voters is expected to include more Latinos than African Americans for the first time. But more than 10 years after black voters proved pivotal in nominating and electing the first African American major party presidential candidate, a Latino candidate has never come particularly close to winning the Democratic or Republican presidential primaries.

Julian Castro, of course, hopes to change that. So far though, he’s polling in the low single digits. Whether it’s Castro or another candidate in another election cycle, will Latino Democrats mobilize behind electing one of their own for president, as black Democrats have in the past?

Before we get to Castro, let’s start with understanding the role of the Latino vote in the Democratic primary process. While the eligible voter pool is expected to include more potential Latino voters then black voters in the 2020 general election, black voters are still likely to outnumber Latino ones in the Democratic primary. That’s true for several reasons, most notably because African Americans tend to vote at higher percentages and because Latinos are more divided between parties (about 25 percent are Republican and about 60 percent are Democrats) than African Americans are (close to 90 percent are Democrats). So part of the reason media coverage of the 2020 Democratic primary, including the coverage at FiveThirtyEight, tends to emphasize the role of black voters more than Latino voters is simply that there will likely be more black voters in the primary. As a rough estimate, I would expect somewhere from 18-25 percent of Democratic primary voters in 2020 to be black and 10-20 percent to be Latino.

But the size of the black vote is not the only reason it’s important in the primary — black Democrats also sometimes vote as a big, unified bloc. In four modern, competitive Democratic primaries, black voters overwhelmingly got behind one candidate — Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988, Barack Obama in 2008 and Hillary Clinton in 2016 — with more than 75 percent of the African American voters backing a single candidate, according to exit polls.

The Latino vote, in contrast, has tended to be less unified, regardless of whether a Latino candidate was on the ballot. The most prominent Latino Democrat to run for president was then-New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson in 2008. He dropped out after lackluster finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire, so his campaign didn’t last long enough to compete in states with large Latino populations. The overall Latino vote is much smaller on the GOP side, but neither Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas nor Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida did particularly well in 2016 with Latino voters in any of the three states where we have detailed exit poll results — each won a plurality of the Latino vote in their home states, but President Trump won at least a quarter of Hispanic voters in both Florida and Texas and a plurality in Nevada.

The candidate who has done best with Latino voters in recent primaries is Hillary Clinton, but even her performance was not dominant. In 2008, Clinton won more than 60 percent of the Latino vote in the Democratic primary. In 2016, few exit polls were conducted in states with sizable Latino populations,1 but of the four states where we do have detailed results, Clinton basically split the Latino vote in Illinois and Nevada against Bernie Sanders, while winning about 70 percent in Florida and Texas.

What does all this history mean for Castro’s candidacy? Castro, who served as mayor of San Antonio from 2009 to 2014 and then as secretary of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration, is not a civil rights leader in the mold of Jackson or an already famous political figure like Clinton. But you could see him taking a path somewhat similar to another Harvard Law School graduate who ran for president in his 40s: Barack Obama.

In 2007, before the voting began, polls suggested that Clinton and Obama were running neck-and-neck among black voters. Then, Obama won Iowa and narrowly lost New Hampshire, two states with very small black populations. Once the primary moved to the South, Obama overwhelmingly won the black vote. It’s impossible to know for sure, but it seems likely that black voters moved decisively toward Obama as they saw that he had a real chance to win. And that black support helped Obama win many Southern states, including a number with heavily black Democratic electorates.

For Castro, then, the ideal scenario is that he is a viable candidate when the primaries start in February, so he can galvanize Latinos behind him in three key states in particular: California, Nevada and Texas. Nevada (where about 20 percent of Democratic primary voters are likely to be Latino) is currently scheduled to be the third state to vote.2 California and Texas, the two states with the largest Latino populations, hold their primaries along with several other states on Super Tuesday, on March 3, but both states allow early voting, so lots of voters in both states will cast ballots in February.3

In short, Castro will have less time, post-Iowa, to show Latino voters he has a real chance. That means he’ll need to use Iowa and New Hampshire as a springboard as much as possible, while also trying to rally Latino voters for strong showings in Nevada, California and Texas regardless of what happens in the first two contests.

And it’s entirely possible that he will succeed in mobilizing Latino voters. Some research has shown Latino voters are more likely to vote if a Latino candidate is on the ballot and more likely to back the Latino candidate than a white one, even in an intra-party race. But that research largely looked at state- and city-level races — we haven’t had a major Latino presidential candidate on the Democratic side, where appeals to shared racial identity are easier to make than in the GOP.

“If Latinos think that Castro has a reasonable chance of winning, they will come out in large numbers to support him,” said Melissa Michelson, a political science professor at Menlo College and an expert on Latino political activism. She suggested having key Latino leaders embracing Castro’s candidacy would be important, with Michelson specifically naming journalist Jorge Ramos as a key potential validator for Castro.

Michelson’s caveat — “a reasonable chance of winning” — is important and goes back to the Obama comparison. Castro is currently polling at 1 percent in many surveys. He is raising significantly less money than some of his rivals, and it will take a lot of money to organize and win in big states like California and Texas. There are few polls that have large samples of Latino Democrats, but the fact that, in the few polls available, he’s not doing much better in California (where 30 percent of eligible voters are Latino) than in Iowa (where 3 percent of eligible voters are Latino) suggests that he is not overwhelmingly popular with that demographic.

For Castro to even test the potential for a Latino candidate to mobilize Latino voters in a Democratic primary, he needs to first do fairly well in contexts where Latino voters are not particularly powerful: fundraising, endorsements and debates.

Castro is an experienced politician, and he seems to know all of this. He is running a campaign not unlike Obama’s in 2008 or Cory Booker’s and Kamala Harris’s this year — some targeted appeals to his racial group but also a traditional campaign aimed at the broader Democratic base. I spent a day on the campaign trail with Castro last month in and around Charleston, South Carolina. Castro started the day visiting a black church, then went to the site where a black history museum is being built and later to a barber shop. In short, the former mayor was campaigning for the black vote, just as all the other presidential candidates do when they go to South Carolina, where African Americans are likely to be the party’s biggest voting bloc. He doesn’t want to be narrowly defined as the Latino candidate and realizes he can’t be defined that way if he wants to win.

At the same time, Castro, who is Mexican American, went to Puerto Rico in January for his first major trip after launching his campaign. His staffers are trying to organize the relatively small (6 percent) Latino population in Iowa and get them excited about Castro. He has called for a “Marshall Plan for Central America,” referring to the aid that the United States offered to help rebuild Europe after World War II. Castro is one of the few Democratic candidates to put out a comprehensive immigration proposal, with a group of proposals that would add up to a total reversal of the aggressive border security regime that has existed not only under Trump but also Obama and George W. Bush. He is not shying away from issues that disproportionately affect Latinos and could cast him as defending Latino interests.

When I asked Castro how he would present himself as “electable” to Democratic voters, he named six states that he felt he could flip: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which Clinton barely lost in 2016, along with Arizona, Florida and Texas. Castro didn’t outright say this, but the implication was obvious: Arizona, Florida and Texas are the three states with the largest Latino electorates that did not vote for Democrats in 2016.

“It’s important to always campaign and to govern for everybody,” Castro said when I asked him about being the only Latino candidate in the race. “And I’ve always done that in public service.”

But, he added: “I recognize that there’s special meaning for the Latino community, especially now, because the community has been so targeted by this president, whether on the issue of immigration or his comments about the Mexican judge or any number of ways that he has scapegoated people. He has tried to paint people of color as the ‘other’ …. So I’m confident that my campaign is going to resonate with people of all different backgrounds, but of course there’s special meaning in the Latino community.”

Castro is doing exactly what he should be doing at this stage — trying to make himself a viable candidate to all Democrats while also laying the groundwork for Latino voters in particular to get behind him. But he probably has to be great at the first part to get a chance at the second part. And so far, the signs are not promising.


From ABC News:
Presidential candidate Julian Castro on his 2020 campaign