How The 2020 Candidates Do With The Voters Who Know Them Best

In politics, the people who really know you are your friends and neighbors. At this stage in the election cycle, many Democratic presidential candidates have low name recognition nationally, which means that their popularity at home might be one way to help us understand whether they can appeal to a larger, national audience. Or if they should consider not running.

To figure out how politicians’ constituents feel about them, we looked at two measures. The first is how popular they were among Democratic voters in their home states, which might be an indicator of their ability to attract support in their party’s presidential primary. The second is how popular they were among all voters in their states compared with the states’ partisan tendencies, which might give us a sense of how effectively the candidates can appeal to the broader general electorate.

When it comes to appealing to both the party and the broader public, Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar get strong marks in their home states. While this doesn’t necessarily mean either will be the Democratic nominee in 2020 — Vermont and Minnesota are not the same as the U.S., of course — it does offer evidence of their potential, particularly for the relatively unknown Klobuchar. Let’s start with approval ratings among Democrats in the table below, where these two senators lead the way.

How Democrats rate candidates from their state

Presidential candidates’ approval ratings among registered voters who identify as Democrats in the candidates’ home states in the final three months of 2018

Among Democrats
Candidate Home State Approval Disapproval Net Approval
Bernie Sanders VT 91.5% 6.2% +85.3
Amy Klobuchar MN 85.9 4.6 +81.3
Elizabeth Warren MA 79.8 10.6 +69.2
Cory Booker NJ 71.1 10.8 +60.3
Jay Inslee WA 71.6 12.5 +59.1
Kamala Harris CA 68.0 10.2 +57.8
John Hickenlooper CO 69.7 14.0 +55.7
Kirsten Gillibrand NY 66.0 11.6 +54.4

Among candidates who have declared they are running and who are included in Morning Consult’s approval polls of senators and governors.

Source: Morning Consult

In the table above, 2020 hopefuls are ranked by their net job approval rating (approval rating minus disapproval rating) among Democrats in their state. The data was collected by Morning Consult in the last quarter of 2018; every quarter, the pollster reaches out to hundreds of thousands of people to create its rankings of “America’s most and least popular” senators and governors. Of course, not all the declared Democratic presidential candidates were either a senator or a governor in the closing months of last year, which means that a few hopefuls have been left out, including former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii.

Sanders and Klobuchar scored these high marks among Democrats in their home states while also being the best-known — based on the share of people who were able to form an opinion of them (approval rating plus disapproval rating). Notably, despite being so well-known, both Sanders and Klobuchar had disapproval ratings below 10 percent among Democrats, unlike the other six contenders. Sanders is already well-known nationally from his 2016 presidential bid, but that he remains beloved by Vermont Democrats — even as he has technically served as an independent — suggests that he hasn’t lost ground despite continuing to turn his gaze toward national politics. As for Klobuchar, she doesn’t have Sanders’s national profile, and only 2 percent or 3 percent of Democratic voters named her as their pick in the latest polls of the primaries. Yet, her net approval rating among Minnesota Democrats of +81.3 percentage points is nearly as high as Sanders’s (she easily won all three of her Senate races even though Minnesota is not nearly as blue as Vermont). So we shouldn’t underestimate her ability to make inroads among Democrats around the country once she becomes better-known.

The remaining candidates — except for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whom we’ll talk about in a minute — had net approval ratings between +54 and +60 points. That suggests that they’re relatively popular among their party bases but not as overwhelmingly popular as Sanders and Klobuchar. Part of that may be because most of them simply aren’t as well-known among their own constituents. Each of these candidates will be working to raise their profiles nationally in the coming months, but support at home could benefit at least one of them in a relatively early primary contest: California has more delegates available than any other state, and Sen. Kamala Harris is very popular there, and already leading in at least one poll.

While home-state popularity within the party may indicate strength in the primaries, winning the general election requires broader appeal. So we also looked at candidates’ approval ratings among all voters and how those numbers compare to the partisan lean of their states.1 This shows us how much more or less popular a candidate is than we might expect based on the political makeup of their state.

Along with former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, Klobuchar and Sanders again led the way, as you can see in the table below. Because Minnesota is a purple state, its electorate includes a higher percentage of Republicans and independents than heavily Democratic Vermont’s does, so Klobuchar has more non-Democrats available to win over than someone like Sanders, which may make it easier for her to top this particular ranking. But the fact that her overall net approval rating far exceeds Minnesota’s slight Democratic lean shows that she is successfully appealing to voters outside her base. The same could be said of Hickenlooper. Democratic candidates who are able to appeal to independents and Republicans in purple states might be better able to win over the same types of voters around the country, having had to win some of those voters to get elected in the first place.

Who’s getting more home-state support than their party?

Presidential candidates’ net approval rating among registered voters in their home state in the last quarter of 2018 vs. the partisan lean of that state

candidate Home
Candidate state Partisan lean Net Approval at home home net approval vs. lean
Amy Klobuchar Minnesota D+2.1 +31.6 +29.5
John Hickenlooper Colorado D+1.5 +18.5 +17.0
Bernie Sanders Vermont D+24.1 +35.9 +11.8
Cory Booker New Jersey D+13.3 +14.3 +1.0
Jay Inslee Washington D+11.6 +11.7 +0.1
Kirsten Gillibrand New York D+22.0 +18.8 -3.2
Kamala Harris California D+23.7 +14.0 -9.7
Elizabeth Warren Massachusetts D+29.4 +15.4 -14.0

FiveThirtyEight’s partisan lean metric is the average difference between how a state votes and how the country votes overall, where 2016 presidential election results are weighted 50 percent, 2012 presidential election results are weighted 25 percent and results from elections for the state legislature are weighted 25 percent.
Among candidates who have declared they are running and who are included in Morning Consult’s approval polls of senators and governors.

Source: Morning Consult

Hickenlooper’s situation is particularly interesting because even though he ranked lower in net approval rating among home-state Democratic voters, his net approval rating among Colorado voters overall was strong, especially relative to the partisan lean of Colorado, which is a highly competitive state. Of the eight Democratic presidential candidates we’re looking at, Hickenlooper had the best net rating (-17.1 points) among Republicans in his home state. This might not bolster Hickenlooper’s appeal to the left wing of the Democratic Party nationally, but he could perhaps use those numbers to argue that he has the potential to broadly appeal to a general electorate and even chip away at the small share of Republicans who may be willing to oppose President Trump.

Warren stands out here. Although the senator had a strong net approval rating among Democrats in her home state in the first table above, her net approval rating among Massachusetts voters overall is weak relative to how Democratic her state leans. (She also underperformed her state’s partisan lean in her re-election victory last year.) That’s because her net approval ratings among home-state independents (-0.3 points) and Republicans (-61.4 points) were the worst among the eight candidates we’re examining here. That could be a sign that Warren will encounter problems when trying to appeal to the broader electorate. Maybe it’s not surprising then that in a recent Gallup poll of U.S. adults, Warren had the highest unfavorable rating of the seven Democratic presidential candidates whom respondents were asked about.

Although home-state approval ratings may not end up proving predictive of how the 2020 Democratic primary and general elections turn out, they may offer us some insight into the national candidacies of people who aren’t well-known across the country — like Klobuchar — or provide clues about the potential strengths or weaknesses of candidates who are more recognizable — like Warren. If the folks who know you best really like you or don’t like you as much as we’d expect, that might be a clue for how voters nationally will receive you.


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