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.


From ABC News:
Sen. Amy Klobuchar launches 2020 presidential campaign


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

How Bernie’s 2020 Map Might Change Without The #NeverHillary Vote

Bernie Sanders picked up support in some unusual places during his 2016 campaign to be the Democratic presidential nominee. The self-described democratic socialist won states such as Oklahoma and Nebraska that are typically associated with right-of-center policy views. He also did surprisingly well with self-described conservative voters — granted, a small-ish part9 of the Democratic primary electorate — picking up almost a third of their votes. Perhaps less surprisingly given that Sanders isn’t technically a Democrat, he performed really well with independent voters, winning them by roughly a 2:1 margin over Hillary Clinton.

So as Sanders launches his 2020 campaign as a candidate with both formidable strengths and serious challenges, his biggest problem might seem to be that there’s more competition for his base this time around, with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others also competing for the leftmost part of the Democratic electorate. An equally big problem for Sanders, however, is that voters this time around have more alternatives to Hillary Clinton — left, right and center — to choose from.

Roughly one-quarter of Sanders’s support in Democratic primaries and caucuses in 2016 came from #NeverHillary voters: people who didn’t vote for Clinton in the 2016 general election and who had no intention of doing so. (The #NeverHillary label is a little snarky, but it’s also quite literal: These are people who never voted for Clinton despite being given two opportunities to do so, in the primary and the general election.) This finding comes from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study, a poll of more than 50,000 voters conducted by YouGov in conjunction with Harvard University. The CCES asked voters who they voted for in both the primaries and the general election; it also asked voters who didn’t vote in the general election who they would have chosen if they had voted. Here’s the overall breakdown of what Sanders primary voters did in November 2016.10

What Bernie Sanders primary voters did in November 2016
Voted for Hillary Clinton 74.3%
Voted for Donald Trump 12.0
Voted for Gary Johnson 3.2
Voted for Jill Stein 4.5
Voted for other candidates or voted but didn’t recall 2.5
Didn’t vote but said they would have voted for Clinton 1.6
Didn’t vote and didn’t say they would have voted Clinton 1.9

Voters in shaded categories are #NeverHillary voters.

Source: COOPERATIVE CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION STUDY

About 74 percent of Sanders’s primary voters also voted for Clinton in November 2016. Another 2 percent didn’t vote but said on the CCES that they would have voted for Clinton if they had voted; it doesn’t seem fair to consider them anti-Clinton voters, so we won’t include them in the #NeverHillary camp. The remaining 24 percent of Sanders voters were #NeverHillary in the general election, however. Of these, about half voted for Trump, while the remaining half voted for Gary Johnson, Jill Stein, another third-party candidate or didn’t vote.11

Overall, Sanders won 43 percent of the popular vote in Democratic primaries and caucuses in 2016. If 24 percent of that 43 percent were #NeverHillary voters, that means Sanders’s real base was more like 33 percent of the overall Democratic electorate. That isn’t nothing — it could easily carry the plurality in a divided field — and there were plenty of Clinton voters who liked Sanders, so he could pick up some of their votes too. But it does jibe with polls showing that Sanders and Warren together have around 30 percent of the Democratic primary electorate in 2020 and not the 43 percent that Sanders got in 2016.

You might be tempted to think that these #NeverHillary voters are leftists who thought Clinton was too much of pro-corporate, warmongering centrist. But relatively few of them were. Less than a fifth of them voted for Stein, for example. Instead, these voters were disproportionately likely to describe themselves as moderate or conservative. Among the 31 percent of self-described conservatives who voted for Sanders in the Democratic primaries, more than half were #NeverHillary voters, for example. A large minority of the independents and Republicans who supported Sanders were #NeverHillary voters as well.

#NeverHillary voters were conservative, not super liberal

The ideological and partisan breakdown of #NeverHillary voters in the 2016 Democratic primaries

Sanders Voters
Group Clinton Sanders Pro-Sanders** #NeverHillary
Very liberal 45.2% 54.6% 46.9% 7.7%
Liberal 55.6 43.7 39.4 4.3
Somewhat liberal 59.4 40.2 32.7 7.5
Middle-of-the-road 60.2 38.7 24.9 13.8
Conservative* 66.5 31.3 14.9 16.4
Sanders Voters
Group Clinton Sanders Pro-Sanders #NeverHillary
Democrats 66.2% 32.9% 28.8% 4.1%
Independents and Republicans 33.6 65.0 37.9 27.1

* Includes voters who described themselves as “conservative,” “somewhat conservative” or “very conservative.“
** Sanders voters who voted for Clinton in the general election or didn’t vote but said they would have voted for Clinton.

Source: COOPERATIVE CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION STUDY

A more complicated way to characterize the #NeverHillary vote is via regression analysis. Using the CCES — which permits fairly intricate regression model designs because of its large sample size — I took all of Sanders’s primary voters in 2016 and evaluated a host of variables to see what predicted whether they were #NeverHillary in the general election.

The most significant variables were, first, whether the voter was a Democrat, and second and third, two policy questions that have proven to be highly predictive of voter preferences in the past: whether the voter thinks that white people benefit from their race and whether the voter wanted to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Non-Democrats, voters who didn’t think whites benefited from their race, and voters who wanted to repeal the ACA were much more likely to be #NeverHillary voters. Voters who were rural, poor, who lived in the South or the Northeast, who were born-again Christians, who were conservatives, and who were military veterans were also somewhat more likely to be #NeverHillary, other factors held equal. Black people, Hispanics, women, liberals, millennials, union members and voters with four-year college degrees were less likely to be #NeverHillary voters.

In addition, some factors related to the primary calendar affected the #NeverHillary vote. After Trump won the Indiana primary, effectively wrapping up the Republican nomination, more anti-Clinton voters filtered into the Democratic primaries. And the #NeverHillary vote was lower in states where an open Republican primary or caucus was held on the same date as the Democratic one. This implies that a fair number of #NeverHillary voters would actually have prefered to vote in the Republican primary. But if they couldn’t, because the Republican primary was closed or wasn’t held on the same date, they voted in the Democratic primary (for Sanders or another Democrat and against Clinton) instead.

We can also evaluate the geographic breakdown of the #NeverHillary vote. In each state, we can estimate the anti-Clinton vote in two ways, either by directly measuring it (e.g., 19 percent of Sanders voters the CCES surveyed in Illinois were #NeverHillary) or through the regression technique that I used above (which is similar to an MRP analysis). Without getting too much into the weeds, I used a blend of the two methods in each state based on the sample size of Sanders voters there; the direct measurement is more reliable in states with a large sample, while the regression method is better in states with a smaller one. The table below shows where the largest share of Sanders voters (as well as voters who chose another Democratic candidate apart from Clinton and Sanders12) were anti-Clinton voters:

Sanders benefited from #NeverHillary voters in red states

The breakdown of Sanders and #NeverHillary voters in the 2016 Democratic primaries

#NeverHillary
State Sanders’s Share of pop. vote share of Sanders voters who were #NeverHillary voted sanders Other Total
Alaska 79.6% 49.8% 39.7% 0.1% 39.7%
W.Va. 51.4 45.2 23.2 7.1 30.4
Okla. 51.9 42.3 21.9 3.7 25.6
Vt. 86.0 28.3 24.3 0.2 24.5
Idaho 78.0 30.4 23.8 0.4 24.2
Neb. 57.1 42.0 24.0 0.0 24.0
Utah 79.2 29.6 23.4 0.3 23.7
Ky. 46.3 37.9 17.6 3.9 21.4
Ore. 56.2 32.1 18.1 1.0 19.0
R.I. 54.7 32.1 17.6 1.2 18.8
Mont. 51.6 31.8 16.4 2.4 18.8
N.D. 64.2 19.6 12.6 5.7 18.3
Hawaii 69.8 25.9 18.1 0.1 18.2
Maine 64.3 28.0 18.0 0.1 18.1
Kan. 67.7 26.4 17.9 0.0 17.9
N.H. 60.1 27.5 16.6 1.2 17.8
S.D. 49.0 34.8 17.1 0.0 17.1
Nev. 47.3 35.1 16.6 0.0 16.6
Del. 39.2 36.8 14.4 0.6 15.0
Wash. 72.7 19.3 14.0 0.1 14.1
Mo. 49.4 25.8 12.7 0.6 13.3
Md. 33.8 31.4 10.6 2.0 12.7
Mass. 48.5 24.4 11.8 0.9 12.7
La. 23.2 40.8 9.4 3.2 12.6
Calif. 46.0 24.2 11.1 0.5 11.6
Ind. 52.5 22.2 11.6 0.0 11.6
Mich. 49.7 21.1 10.5 1.2 11.6
Pa. 43.5 25.1 10.9 0.5 11.4
Ariz. 41.4 24.2 10.0 1.3 11.3
N.C. 40.9 20.9 8.5 2.6 11.1
Minn. 61.7 17.5 10.8 0.0 10.8
Wis. 56.6 18.6 10.5 0.2 10.7
Conn. 46.4 20.8 9.6 1.0 10.6
N.Y. 42.0 25.1 10.5 0.0 10.5
N.M. 48.5 20.8 10.1 0.0 10.1
Ark. 30.0 23.9 7.2 2.2 9.4
Ill. 48.6 18.4 8.9 0.5 9.4
Fla. 33.3 23.8 7.9 1.3 9.2
N.J. 36.6 24.2 8.8 0.1 9.0
Ohio 43.1 19.5 8.4 0.4 8.8
Tenn. 32.5 22.7 7.4 0.8 8.2
Iowa 49.6 15.4 7.6 0.3 8.0
S.C. 26.0 28.8 7.5 0.3 7.8
Va. 35.2 21.3 7.5 0.3 7.8
Colo. 59.0 11.7 6.9 0.4 7.3
Texas 33.2 19.0 6.3 0.9 7.2
Ala. 19.2 25.5 4.9 1.7 6.5
D.C. 20.8 28.0 5.8 0.4 6.2
Ga. 28.2 19.4 5.5 0.3 5.7
Wyo. 56.7 9.3 5.3 0.1 5.4
Miss. 16.6 14.8 2.5 0.5 3.0

Source: COOPERATIVE CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION STUDY

The largest number of #NeverHillary voters, as a share of the Democratic primary electorate, were in Alaska, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Vermont, Idaho, Nebraska, Utah and Kentucky. Other than in Vermont, where extreme loyalty to Sanders generated a large number of write-in votes for Sanders and other candidates in the general election, those are obviously really red and largely rural states. Apart from Kentucky, they were also all states won by Sanders in the primaries.

Although there may have been something of a market for a populist candidate in these states, it’s also likely that Sanders benefited from being the only alternative to Clinton. In fact, there are several states where the #NeverHillary vote pushed Sanders over the top and where the pro-Sanders vote alone wouldn’t have been enough for him to win. These are Indiana, Michigan, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island and West Virginia.

The good news for Sanders is that the states where he benefited the most from the #NeverHillary vote — especially in Appalachia and in the Interior West — have relatively low delegate tallies. So they’re places that he can potentially afford to lose. It does mean, however, that Sanders will have to hit his mark in his other strong regions, including New England (where Warren will provide fierce competition), the Upper Midwest (where Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota could create problems in her home state and Wisconsin) and the Pacific Northwest (where Sanders would prefer that candidates like Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper not enter the race).

It also means that Sanders won’t just be competing against other progressives but also against relatively moderate candidates. If #NeverHillary voters from 2016 are again looking for an anti-establishment candidate, Sanders could still fit the bill. If they want a moderate instead, however, they’ll have a lot more choices than they did in 2016 in the form of candidates like Klobuchar and (if they enter the race) Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke. It’s also possible that #NeverHillary voters were mostly motivated by sexism, in which case any of the male candidates could stand to benefit.

None of this dooms Sanders by any means. On balance, he probably benefits from a divided field, in fact, wherein his extremely loyal base gives him a high floor of support. But a multi-way race is way different than a two-way one, so Sanders’s coalition may not be all that similar to what we saw in 2016.


From ABC News: