Americans Say They Would Vote For A Woman, But …

A record number of women are running for president in 2020, and now two women look like serious contenders for the presidential nomination — Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, both of whom rose in the polls after strong performances in the first Democratic debate. Joe Biden is still in the lead, but Warren and Harris may be starting to chip away at one of the central conceits of the 2020 race so far: the idea that Biden has the best shot at defeating President Trump.

For months now, voters have told reporters that they want to elect a woman — but after Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016, they simply can’t imagine a woman winning against Trump. And this calculus is often justified by beliefs about other people’s sexism — an Ipsos/Daily Beast poll in June, for example, found that only 33 percent of Democrats and independents said they believed that their neighbors would be comfortable with a female president. But the performances of Warren and Harris in the first debate may have allowed some of those voters to envision a path to victory for these candidates for the first time.

Even with Warren and Harris on the upswing, though, it’s hard not to wonder if sexism will still make it more difficult for a woman to win the nomination. After all, the other women in the race — including Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar, who seemed at the outset like promising contenders — are still barely registering in the polls. Whether these women are struggling because of their gender is pretty much impossible to say right now; in part, this is because there is, of course, no research to tell us how six female candidates might fare against 17 male competitors in a presidential primary.

But that doesn’t mean we’re completely in the dark about how sexism affects women’s electoral chances. Political science research has established that women who run for elected office have to navigate a thicket of stereotypes and double standards that their male counterparts are unlikely to experience. And while most scholars agree that partisanship usually overpowers voters’ biases about female leaders, no matter how deeply held, a long and crowded presidential primary could be especially challenging.

So with the caveat that we will learn a lot about gender and elections over the next 16 months (not that we’re counting), here’s a link-heavy introduction to what we know already — and how that could influence the Democratic primary.

Americans say they will vote for a woman, but they’re still influenced by stereotypes

These days, it’s hard to find voters who openly admit that they’re reluctant to support a woman for president. Only 13 percent of Americans believe that men are better suited for politics than women, according to the 2018 General Social Survey. And a Gallup poll conducted in May found that 94 percent of Americans say they would vote for a woman for president.

But many people’s assumptions about what it means to be a woman and what it means to be an elected leader still don’t line up, which can put female candidates at a disadvantage when they step into the political sphere. The traits most people associate with politicians — for example, competence, ambition, aggressiveness, confidence, toughness — are linked to masculine behavior. And studies have found that as a result, men are often assumed to be viable candidates from the get-go, while women must work to be taken seriously. “Men have a leg up in politics because there’s a basic assumption that they’re qualified to run,” said Nichole Bauer, a professor at Louisiana State University who studies political psychology.

These stereotypes are mostly unconscious — these days they rarely emerge, fully formed, in our political discourse. But we can see them bubbling underneath the surface, like when female candidates are asked if they’re “likable” — a question that’s already in the air in 2020. (Gillibrand was asked this question within minutes of formally announcing her campaign.) And trying to seem “likable” can quickly morph into an impossible bind for female politicians because they’re trying to fill two roles with very different sets of expectations — “woman” and “leader.” Appearing both qualified and likable can mean walking a narrow tightrope between the stereotypically masculine qualities that are associated with political leadership and feminine qualities like warmth, kindness and empathy.

This can be a hard act to pull off. Research has shown that being liked has outsize importance for women because voters will support a man they dislike, but they will not support a qualified, unlikable woman. Take what happened in the 2016 presidential election: Trump and Clinton both had historically low favorability ratings, but Trump still eked out a victory despite Clinton’s political credentials. That speaks to another trap several political scientists told me that women often face: A long political track record can open a candidate up to more criticism, but without an established résumé, a woman might not be taken seriously at all. Men, meanwhile, can run with less experience and get away with talking more vaguely about their policy positions, according to Amanda Hunter, research and communications director at the Barbara Lee Foundation, a nonprofit group that has done research on gender bias and elections. “Women are judged more harshly if it seems like they’re learning on the job,” she said. “So that means they have to be uber-prepared to run, while men can kind of figure it out as they go.”

There are some stereotypes that can work to female candidates’ advantage — but they can be a double-edged sword. Women are more likely to be seen as having expertise on issues that are stereotypically associated with women, like health care or child care, which can give them a boost when those issues are at the top of voters’ minds — a nice edge until you learn that men have an advantage on issues like the economy or national security. Female politicians are generally assumed to be more liberal, too, which can be a good thing in the Democratic primary but can quickly go south in a general election. And studies have shown that women are generally perceived as possessing more honesty and compassion than men — qualities that many voters say are important for politicians. But Cecilia Mo, a professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley, cautioned that even being seen as the more civil or morally upright candidate can become a liability because there’s more room for disappointment.

“We assume female political leaders are more of these good things — warm, honest, caring, smart,” Mo said. “But when women candidates are shown to be flawed in some way, voters are much less forgiving than they are of their male counterparts.” Mo’s recent research suggests that voters punish female candidates more than male candidates for scandals or political attacks, perhaps because voters have higher expectations for women’s judgment or integrity.

There are plenty of metaphors for the limitations female candidates face, but whether they’re on a pedestal or a tightrope, there isn’t much room to maneuver, and there’s a long way to fall. And all of these biases — helpful or not — end up narrowing the possibilities for how a viable female candidate can behave. Of course, the six women running for the Democratic nomination will navigate these stereotypes differently and won’t all be affected by them in the same way. Other factors like race, age and political ideology will also shape how the candidates are perceived by voters, which means that gender bias could have a bigger effect on some candidates than on others.

Stereotypes may not stop women from winning elections — but they probably make it harder

The question, then, is not whether women face gender stereotypes when they run for elected office — they do. But do women actually lose elections because of sexism?

It’s very difficult to get a definitive answer to this question when it comes to presidential races, since only one woman — Hillary Clinton — has ever run on a major party ticket. So instead, researchers have focused on lower-level races to figure out whether voters actually penalize women because of their gender. And they found that women do well at the ballot box, in spite of the barriers they face.

In congressional races, for example, several studies have shown that women win at about the same rate as men. To some political scientists, this suggests that the problem isn’t with voters, who seem entirely willing to elect women when given the opportunity. The logic here is fairly simple — if more women run, more elections will be like the 2018 midterms, in which a historic number of female candidates were elected to Congress.

Despite these promising statistics, some scholars still think sexism is fueling women’s underrepresentation, at least to some extent. For one thing, lurking within those studies of women’s performance in congressional elections is a revealing data point: Female candidates are generally more qualified than their male rivals. “That’s actually a sign that voters may still be biased against women because why else aren’t the higher-quality candidates winning at a higher rate?” said Sarah Anzia, a professor of political science at the University of California, Berkeley. And other researchers have found that when a man and a woman run against each other and are equally qualified, the woman is more likely to lose.

It’s also possible that gender bias still poses a significant risk, but women have just gotten better at figuring out how to neutralize it. “If you’re a woman in politics, you know voters are less likely to think you’re qualified or competent,” said Kelly Dittmar, a professor of political science at Rutgers University. “So your goal is to make sure that when Election Day rolls around, you’ve responded effectively to those concerns. But that means that on every other day of your campaign, gender bias is influencing your strategy and your experience.”

Presidential races are especially difficult for women, starting with the primary

So what does all of this mean for 2020 and, say, the chances of Harris or Warren in the Democratic primary? It’s hard to arrive at a definitive answer because the vast majority of the studies on how often women win look at general election matchups — not primary contests, in which the candidates are from the same party.

And Kathleen Dolan, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin, said that while these studies tell us a lot about the power of party loyalty, they can’t signal how voters will act in all elections. “Your uncle Joe could think that women aren’t as good as men,” she said. “But there’s no evidence that he will actually cross over and vote for the other party’s candidate to avoid voting for a woman.” How uncle Joe will behave when he’s choosing between two candidates of the same party is pretty much anyone’s guess.

Several political scientists told me that gender could play a bigger role early in a primary than it does later on. When voters don’t have much information about the candidates beyond basic information like gender, they’re more likely to rely on stereotypes. Several studies have even suggested that voters who make their choice with little or no outside knowledge are more likely to support a man. “There’s more room for gender bias to actually influence your decision if you know very little about who someone is beyond the fact that they’re a woman,” Anzia said. This could help explain why Harris’s and Warren’s standing rose after the debate, when they were able to make a strong impression on millions of potential primary voters who may not have known much about them before tuning in.

But voters’ prejudices about women may also just be stronger when it comes to the presidency. Studies have found that voters may be more biased against women when they run for executive offices. So women in a presidential campaign will likely have to do more than their male rivals to convince voters that they deserve to sit in the Oval Office, even if those voters also say they’re fine, in theory, with the idea of a female president.

If you’re a woman running for president, Democratic primary voters will probably be an especially friendly crowd. A recent experiment conducted by CBS and YouGov looked at the qualities prioritized by Democratic voters in a series of matchups between hypothetical candidates, and it found that Democrats showed a clear preference for female candidates. One of the studies about executive leadership indicated that Democrats are more likely than Republicans and independents to see women as viable leaders, and a meta-analysis of multiple studies also found that Democrats are more likely than Republicans to support female candidates, all things being equal.

This enthusiasm for female candidates, though, has to contend in voters’ minds with the still-fresh memory of the sexism Clinton faced on the campaign trail and her ultimate defeat in 2016. And Democratic voters also aren’t wholly immune to sexism, and some do seem more reluctant to vote for women. One ongoing study suggests that gender bias hurt Clinton in her race against Bernie Sanders in 2016. Political scientists Erin Cassese and Kevin Banda looked at how Democratic primary voters in 2016 scored on a scale designed to measure sexism. They found that some Democrats held hostile views toward women, and those voters were less likely to vote for Clinton in the primaries. Cassese expects these voters will be especially open to the notion that women are less electable than men. A survey conducted just before the first debate found that support for Warren and Harris was, in fact, lower among voters with more sexist views.

Scholars, meanwhile, are still divided about the role that sexism played in Clinton’s downfall. But the fact that she lost a campaign defined by her gender — and by Trump’s sexism — could make it hard for voters to imagine another woman charting a different path, at least while Trump is the opponent.

But it’s also too early to know exactly how all of this will play out. Two months ago, Warren’s campaign still hadn’t taken off, and now she has out-fundraised Sanders and is pulling ahead of him in some polls. Harris, similarly, has surged in the polls only in the past few weeks. Their recent success certainly doesn’t mean that they have figured out the key to running for president as a woman — everything can (and probably will) change over the coming months. And, of course, it remains to be seen whether any of the other four women will be able to emerge from the crowded purgatory of candidates who average around 1 percent or below in the polls.

It’s clear that female candidates can win despite sexism, but as the research shows, they probably can’t escape it entirely. This time around, voters and candidates alike are acutely aware of the barriers that remain for women seeking the White House. But will gender biases assume their familiar shape with an unprecedented number of women in the race? We’re about to find out.

Meredith Conroy contributed research.

Second Place In The Democratic Primary Is Crowded — That’s Not Good For Sanders

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup. Hope you didn’t miss us too much over the holiday weekend.

Poll(s) of the fortnight

You’ve probably heard that the first Democratic primary debate was bad for former Vice President Joe Biden’s polling numbers and good for Sen. Kamala Harris’s and Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s. But what about Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s long been second to Biden in the polls? Well, his standing appears to be slipping — and his runner-up status is now in real danger.

For example, a CNN/SSRS poll conducted in the days after the debate gave Sanders 14 percent of the vote, which was down 4 points from late May, when CNN/SSRS last polled the primary. And a Quinnipiac poll from after the debate gave Sanders 13 percent of the vote; earlier in June, the pollster had him sitting at 19 percent.

Granted, not every poll showed Sanders losing ground. According to Reuters/Ipsos, Sanders enjoyed the support of 15 percent of Americans a few weeks before the debate and 16 percent right after it. And the poll we partnered with Morning Consult on to track debate reaction in almost real time found Sanders’s support virtually unchanged from before to after the debate. But RealClearPolitics’s overall polling average does suggest that Sanders did indeed lose a couple of points from the debate.

And his standing might be even more endangered because Warren and Harris improved so much that they are now in a rough three-way tie with Sanders for second place. That’s a problem for Sanders because there are now two newly competitive rivals whom he needs to vanquish to win the nomination. Your baseball team may be only a few games out of first place, but if four other teams are too, it hurts your odds of finishing first; not only must you perform well, but you also need multiple other teams ahead of you to stumble.

More importantly, Sanders is arguably in a worse position than Warren and Harris are, despite their nearly tied horse-race polling. And that’s because someone with near-universal name recognition like Sanders needs to be polling higher to have a good shot at winning the nomination (or at least that’s what our research on historical early primary polls has found). On the other hand, lower-name recognition candidates like Warren and Harris arguably have more room to grow than Sanders does, as there is still a pool of potential supporters out there who haven’t heard of them. And unlike Sanders, Warren and Harris both outperformed their polling average in the first half of 2019 when you adjust for name recognition.

Another potential pitfall for Sanders is that he has so far limited himself with a campaign strategy that doesn’t appear designed to expand beyond his base. But to win the nomination, he’ll need to win over some new fans — especially if he keeps losing old ones. Ardent progressives have more options (most obviously Warren) to choose from than they did in 2016, and Sanders may have underestimated how much of his 2016 support was simply a protest vote against Hillary Clinton. An Emerson College poll out this week found he was getting only 25 percent of the vote among those who said they supported him in 2016.

So yes, Sanders is going through a rough patch — but he could still recover. With eight months until the first ballots are cast, there is plenty of time for him to change campaign strategies. He certainly has the money — a reported $30 million cash on hand, plus the proven ability to fundraise even more — to go on the offensive again. Then again, so do his rivals — Warren reportedly raised even more money than Sanders in the second quarter. Sanders might want to act quickly to turn his campaign around, as his margin for error is rapidly shrinking.

Other polling bites

  • In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released this week, support for Roe v. Wade (the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a woman’s legal right to an abortion) has tied its all-time high in their polling — 60 percent of Americans. Notably, Democrats (specifically, 71 percent of them) were more likely than Republicans (57 percent) to say abortion would be an important issue in their 2020 vote for president, yet another sign that Republicans may have lost their advantage in this arena.
  • In the first poll we’ve seen of the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in Colorado (one of the Democrats’ best pick-up opportunities), former state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff took 23 percent, Secretary of State Jena Griswold (who isn’t running — yet) took 15 percent and former state Sen. Mike Johnston took 12 percent. The poll was conducted by Keating Research and Onsight Public Affairs but paid for at least in part by supporters of Griswold.
  • A new study from Pew Research found that 64 percent of U.S. military veterans do not think the Iraq War was worth fighting. In addition, 58 percent think the war in Afghanistan was not worth fighting, and 55 percent say the same about U.S. involvement in Syria. The numbers are almost identical among the general public.
  • YouGov researched the walk-up songs of 23 presidential candidates (the music that plays when they take the stage at rallies) and asked respondents to pick their three favorites. President Trump’s “God Bless the USA” took first place with 28 percent of the vote; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” took second with 18 percent, closely followed by Sanders’s “Power to the People” (16 percent).
  • Also according to YouGov, 28 percent of Americans said it is “very likely” the government is hiding information from the public about UFOs. Another 26 percent said it was “somewhat likely.” Now I’m just thinking about what the aliens’ walk-up music would be.
  • A new Nanos poll, released Tuesday, found that 35 percent of Canadians plan to vote for embattled Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in October’s parliamentary elections; 30 percent plan to vote for the Conservative Party, 18 percent for the National Democratic Party and 9 percent for the Green Party. Then, on Wednesday, Mainstreet Research also released a poll putting Liberals at 35 percent and Conservatives at 33 percent (the NDP and Green Party took 10 percent each). The polls were a surprise because Conservatives have long been leading in the polling average, although that advantage has narrowed in recent weeks.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.5 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 52.4 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -9.9 points). At this time last week, 42.3 percent approved and 52.5 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -10.2 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.0 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.0 percent, for a net approval rating of -11.0 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 6.4 percentage points (46.3 percent to 39.9 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 6.1 points (46.2 percent to 40.1 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 5.8 points (45.9 percent to 40.1 percent).

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

A Midsummer Overview Of The Democratic Field

When people ask me who I think is going to win the Democratic nomination, I shrug my shoulders and say, “I have no freaking idea.” It’s worth keeping in mind that in a field of 20-something candidates with no runaway frontrunner, all of the candidates are fairly heavy underdogs. Joe Biden is probably going to lose. Kamala Harris is probably going to lose. Elizabeth Warren is probably going to lose. Bernie Sanders is probably going to lose. And so forth.

But the first debate last month, the subsequent polling and the latest set of fundraising numbers provide some clarity about where the race stands, sorting the candidates into what I’d consider to be four relatively distinct tiers. So after taking a couple of weeks mostly off to work on NBA metrics and vacation in Las Vegas playing poker,1 here’s how I currently see the race:

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

For the Democratic nomination, as revised on July 10, 2019

Tier Sub-tier Candidates
1 a Biden, Harris
b Warren
2 a Sanders
b Buttigieg
3 a Booker
b Klobuchar, Castro, O’Rourke
4 a Inslee, Gillibrand
b Gabbard, Yang
c Everyone else

We’ve used these tiers before, and as the headline says, they’re not to be taken too seriously. They’re mostly based on the polling — not just national polls, but also early state polls, favorability ratings, polling adjusted for name recognition, etc. — with some further adjustments upward or downward based on other factors, the most important of which I consider to be support from party elites and the ability to build a broad coalition. But they’re not based on any sort of statistical model, and they involve an element of subjectivity.

Let’s go ahead and start from the top, with the three candidates I’d consider to be front-runners.

Tier 1: The front-runners: Biden, Harris and Warren

Biden, Harris and Warren represent three relatively distinct, but fairly traditional, archetypes for party nominees:

  • Biden, as a former vice president, is a “next-in-line” candidate who is rather explicitly promising to perpetuate the legacy of President Obama and uphold the party’s current agenda. It might not be exciting, but these candidates have pretty good track records.
  • Harris is a coalition-builder who would hope to unite the different factions of the party — black, white, left, liberal, moderate, etc. — as a consensus choice.
  • Warren is offering more red meat (or should it be blue meat?) and would represent more of a leftward transformation from the status quo. But she’s simpatico enough with party elites and has broad enough appeal that she isn’t necessarily a factional candidate in the way that Sanders is. Instead, a better analogy for Warren might be Ronald Reagan; they are not comparable in terms of their backgrounds or their political styles, but they are both candidates who straddle the boundary between the ideological wings of their party and the party establishment.

On an empirical basis, the Biden and Harris strategies have produced more winners than the Warren one, although all three approaches are viable. That doesn’t mean that Biden, Harris and Warren are the only candidates pursuing these strategies. Cory Booker’s coalition could look a lot like Harris’s, for instance, were he ever to gain traction. But they’re the only candidates who are both (a) taking approaches that have worked well in the past and (b) polling reasonably well at the moment. That puts them in the top tier.

How you would rank them within the top tier is harder. But we should probably start with the fact that Biden is still ahead of the other two in the polls. It’s closer in early state polls, and it’s closer once you account for the fact that Harris and Warren still aren’t as well-known as Biden is. But Biden’s lead is nontrivial — he’s ahead of Harris by 12 percentage points (and Warren by 13) in the RealClearPolitics average.

And while you might claim that Harris and Warren have momentum, you need to be careful with that. Often, polling bounces from debates and other events fade, so it’s at least possible that Harris and Warren are at their high-water marks. Or not. But Biden is (POKER ANALOGY ALERT!) a bit like a poker player who’s just lost a big pot. Before, he had way more chips than Warren and Harris did; now, he has only slightly more than they do. But you’d still rather be the candidate with more chips than fewer, momentum be damned.

Unless … the way you lost that hand reveals something about your game that could come back to bite you again in the future. Biden wasn’t very effective in the debates, according to the voters we surveyed along with Morning Consult. And some of his decline in the polls has to do with what could be Biden’s two biggest vulnerabilities: his electability halo bursting and voters expressing concern about his age. The age problem isn’t going away. And while Biden can still make an electability case — there are plenty of polls showing him doing better than other Democrats against President Trump — voters are at least likely to scrutinize his argument rather than take it for granted.

Biden and Harris are a fairly clear No. 1 and 2 in endorsements, meanwhile, with Harris having recently picked up a number of endorsements from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, an indicator that coincides with her gaining support among black voters in polls. Warren lags in endorsements, meanwhile. Also, it’s worth noting that whichever candidate wins the plurality of black voters usually wins the Democratic nomination — something that Biden and Harris probably have a better chance of doing than Warren does. For those reasons, I have Biden and Harris a half-step ahead of Warren. That said, I see the dropoff from Biden and Harris to Warren as being considerably smaller than the dropoff from Warren to the rest of the field.

Tier 2: They can win Iowa, but can they win the nomination?

For Sanders and Pete Buttigieg, the data is a lot more mixed.

Let’s start with the good news for Sanders: He’s still roughly tied for second place in most polls. His favorability ratings are pretty good. He had a decent second-quarter fundraising number. He should have a pretty good on-the-ground organization in Iowa and other early states. He potentially has a fairly high floor relative to the other candidates, and voters know what he stands for.

The bad news: His polling is less impressive given his high name recognition; in fact, he’s in a zone (15 percent-ish in the polls with 100 percent name recognition) that’s usually associated with losing candidates. He’s polling worse in Iowa than he is nationally, a bearish indicator given that it should be a strong state for him demographically. He’s failing to win the support of influential progressive groups like MoveOn.org that backed him four years ago, or to receive many endorsements of other kinds. His fundraising totals are underwhelming as compared with the numbers from his best quarters in 2015 and 2016. Warren’s emergence has produced another strong candidate in his lane. And to the extent that age is a consideration for voters, it’s a problem for Sanders as much as it is for Biden.

That’s a pretty long list of negatives to weigh against decent-but-not-great topline polling numbers. And it leaves out what might be the biggest problem of all for Sanders, which is that even if he were to win Iowa — and New Hampshire — that might not slingshot him to the nomination in the way it would for the other candidates. That’s because Sanders doesn’t have a particularly broad coalition. He has some support among black voters but not a ton, he doesn’t perform well with older voters, and he’s alienated enough moderate and pro-establishment Democrats that he’s usually near the top of the list when pollsters ask voters who they don’t want to see win the nomination. Meanwhile, the party establishment probably won’t do him any favors in the event of a campaign that remains undecided late into the race.

I don’t want to go overboard. If you’re comparing Sanders against, say, Booker, all of Sanders’s liabilities aren’t enough to outweigh the fact that Sanders is at 15 percent in the polls and Booker is at just 2 percent. But they do explain why I don’t have Sanders in the same tier as Warren and Harris, who are in a superficially similar position as Sanders is in national polls. None of those candidates are in a position to win the race right now with 15 percent of the vote, but Sanders has the least obvious path toward expanding his coalition.

Buttigieg offers a different mix of positives and negatives. Pluses: the best second-quarter fundraising numbers of any Democrat; high favorability ratings among voters who know him; stronger polling in New Hampshire and Iowa than he has nationally. Minuses: his topline standing in the polls has reverted back to only about 5 percent of the vote as college-educated voters flock to Warren and Harris; his credentials aren’t as impressive as the other leading candidates; his media attention has atrophied from his initial bump to some degree.

And then there’s Buttigieg’s big challenge, which is similar in some respects to Sanders’s: It’s not clear if Buttigieg can build a broad-enough coalition to win the nomination. He has very little support among black or Hispanic voters and relatively little support among non-college Democrats. Is there a niche for college-educated white voters who think Warren and Sanders are too far to the left, but Biden is too old and/or too moderate? Sure, and it’s a niche that probably includes a lot of FiveThirtyEight readers. 😬 But it’s not a particularly large niche, and that helps explain why Buttigieg is at 5 percent in the polls instead of 20 or something.

With all that said, a Buttigieg win in Iowa would be expectations-defying enough that it could reset how the media covers him. It could also sway voters who like him, but don’t necessarily have him as their first choice, to overcome their doubts about his campaign.

Tier 3: There’s potential, but these candidates are underachieving — for now

One of the lesser-noticed aspects of polling after the first debates is how several candidates who were deemed to have performed well in the debates by voters didn’t really see their topline numbers improve. That especially holds for Booker and Julian Castro. Both got high marks for their debate performances, and both saw their favorability ratings improve, but they’re still polling at just 1 or 2 percent in the toplines. That ought to read as a bearish signal for Booker, Castro and other candidates in this tier. They can have a good night, and it still isn’t necessarily enough to move the vote choice needle for them.

Perhaps that’s a sign that the top four or five candidates are fairly strong. Biden, Harris, Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg collectively give almost every voter in the Democratic Party something to be happy with. Some of the other candidates are more redundant, meanwhile. A potential Beto O’Rourke voter probably sees a lot of what he likes in O’Rourke in Buttigieg, for instance; or a Booker voter could gravitate toward Harris, instead. So it’s not clear what’s distinctive about what these candidates have to offer to voters, although I should note that Castro is the only Hispanic candidate in the field.

With that said, it’s early, and an alternative way to interpret Harris’s and Warren’s emergence is that serious candidates with good résumés will get their opportunities sooner or later. And Booker, Castro and Amy Klobuchar are all serious, well-credentialed candidates.

O’Rourke is in a slightly different category. He’s a little bit like (BASEBALL ANALOGY ALERT!) a baseball player who gets called up from the minors and surprises everyone by hitting .330 in 100 at-bats in September, only to hit .206 when he’s named the starting third baseman the next season before promptly getting sent back to the minors. What O’Rourke accomplished against Ted Cruz in Texas’s U.S. Senate race in 2018 was genuinely impressive — but he may not get another chance to prove that he wasn’t a flash in the pan.

Tier 4: These candidates are also running for some reason

Pretty much everyone else is in asterisk territory in the polls, and is raising relatively little money, and so is in danger of missing the third debate in September. To the extent I have any of these candidates ranked ahead of any of the others, it’s pretty much entirely subjective. But I think Kirsten Gillibrand and Jay Inslee are well-enough credentialed and have distinctive-enough messages — Gillibrand around women’s issues, Inslee around the environment — that they’re slightly more likely to surge than the others.

Beyond that … I’m deliberately avoiding listing overall percentage chances (i.e. “Biden has an X percent chance of winning the nomination”) until and unless we release a statistical model to forecast the primaries. But just to be clear, once we get down to Tier 4, we’re not talking about candidates with even a 10 or 20 percent chance of winning the nomination. Maybe it’s 1 or 2 percent. Maybe it’s 0.1 or 0.2 percent. Maybe it’s even less than that. I haven’t really thought about it much. The chances are not high, though.

How to differentiate such small probabilities from one another is tricky. But other things being equal, if you’re betting on extreme longshots, you’d probably prefer weird candidates who have higher variance to milquetoast candidates with lower variance. Maybe 98 out of 100 times, Andrew Yang or Tulsi Gabbard fade out after failing to qualify for one of the debates and are never heard from again. But the two times out of 100, it turns out that American politics are way different than we thought — it wouldn’t be the first time! — and their eccentric approach proves to be effective. It’s a weird world where Gabbard becomes the Democratic nominee. But I’m not sure there’s any world where, say, Seth Moulton does.

How The Top Candidates’ Supporters Rated The Debaters, In One Chart

We’ve done a lot of post-debate analysis unpacking the findings from the panel survey we conducted with Morning Consult. But while we’ve looked at how respondents as a whole rated the candidates’ performances, we also wondered: How did each candidate’s supporters rate the performances of each of the seven front-runners?3 (Hint: There were two candidates who everyone thought seemed to do well — Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, each candidate’s highest rating came from his or her own supporters. While Harris and Warren got good grades across the board — generally, an average debate performance score of 3.9 or higher on a scale of 1 to 5 — Joe Biden and Beto O’Rourke, in particular, did not do well with other supporters. (Even their own supporters rated their debate performances lower than other supporters rated the performances of their candidates.) And as for the undecided voters in our survey, they, too, were most impressed with Harris and Warren — and least taken with O’Rourke.

CORRECTION (July 3, 2019, 2:30 p.m.): A previous version of this post incorrectly said that the supporters of each candidate gave that candidate the highest rating. The candidates got their best marks from their own supporters, but some of those supporters gave other candidates higher ratings.

Where Kamala Harris’s New Voters Came From

Last week, FiveThirtyEight partnered with the survey firm Morning Consult to poll how Democratic voters’ opinions changed as a result of last week’s two-night presidential primary debate. Before the debate, Morning Consult asked thousands of likely Democratic voters questions such as whom they supported and whether they had favorable or unfavorable views of each candidate; then, they asked the same voters the same questions after the debate was over, as well as who the voters thought performed the best.1 The poll yielded some fascinating findings, the toplines of which you can see at our “Who Won The First Democratic Debates?” page, and the details of which we’ll be writing about here. (Note: This, of course, is just one poll — others have been released since the debate.)

We’ll start simple: How did the debate (or coverage of the debate — as we shall see, not everyone in our poll actually watched it) change people’s prospective primary votes?

Roughly speaking, before the debate, our poll showed a clear front-runner in Joe Biden (35.0 percent support), a clear second tier in Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (both in the teens) and a single-digit bottom tier led by Kamala Harris.2 After the debate, Biden was still alone in the first tier, albeit much weakened. And Harris had joined Sanders and Warren right in the thick of the second tier. Everyone else, led by Pete Buttigieg at 5.3 percent, remained in the third tier.

Harris more than doubled her support; Biden took a hit

Share of support for candidates before and after the debate

Candidate Pre-Debate Post-Debate Change
Joe Biden 35.0% 28.2% -6.8
Bernie Sanders 19.2 18.3 -0.9
Kamala Harris 6.9 16.3 +9.4
Elizabeth Warren 13.2 14.1 +0.8
Pete Buttigieg 6.6 5.3 -1.3
Beto O’Rourke 4.1 2.7 -1.4
Cory Booker 2.4 2.3 -0.1
Andrew Yang 1.5 1.6 +0.1
Julián Castro 0.4 1.5 +1.1
Tulsi Gabbard 0.6 0.7 +0.1
Kirsten Gillibrand 0.8 0.6 -0.1
Amy Klobuchar 0.5 0.6 +0.1
John Hickenlooper 0.4 0.3 -0.1
Michael Bennet 0.2 0.3 +0.1
Tim Ryan 0.2 0.3 +0.0
John Delaney 0.3 0.2 -0.1
Marianne Williamson 0.2 0.2 +0.0
Bill de Blasio 0.0 0.2 +0.1
Jay Inslee 0.4 0.1 -0.2
Eric Swalwell 0.1 0.1 +0.0
Don’t know/no opinion 6.5 5.9 -0.6
Someone else 0.5 0.3 -0.2

Numbers may not add up due to rounding

Source: Morning Consult

In other words, perhaps because of how Harris and Biden’s exchange on race seemed to dominate impressions of the debate, Harris and Biden were the only two candidates whose vote shares changed significantly in the wake of the debate. But it’s not as simple as a big chunk of voters switching from Biden to Harris. Here’s whom people who supported Biden before the debate said they supported after the debate:

About one in 10 Biden supporters switched to Harris after the debate. That made Harris the biggest single beneficiary of Biden’s loss of support. But about twice as many people — about one in five Biden supporters — switched from Biden to a non-Harris candidate or became undecided. And as a reminder that debates usually don’t turn elections completely on their head, more than two-thirds of Biden supporters stuck with him after the debate.

Those voters who switched from Biden to Harris may not have represented a big share of Biden’s support, but they made a big difference to Harris. Almost a quarter of Harris’s post-debate supporters were Biden converts — by far her biggest single source of added support. However, she also picked up support — more than two-fifths of her post-debate support — from former backers of Warren, Buttigieg, Sanders and several other candidates. Only about a third of her post-debate support was also with her before the debate.

We were also curious about how reaction to the debate might have changed minds independent of the debate itself, so we took a look at how candidate support differed between respondents who watched the debate3 and respondents who didn’t.4 Unsurprisingly, but importantly for our conception of how and why debates matter, those who did not tune in were less likely to switch their vote. For example, Harris gained just 3.9 points among non-watchers, but her support increased by an impressive 13.3 points among those who watched her performance firsthand. The discrepancy was not as stark for Biden. Although he lost more support among debate watchers than among non-watchers, he still dropped 5.9 points among those who missed the debate — the biggest change of heart that non-watchers had.

How did debate watchers and non-watchers differ?

Share of debate watchers and non-watchers who said they would vote for each candidate before and after the debate

Debate watchers Non-watchers
Candidate Before After Change Before After Change
Joe Biden 35.8% 28.0% -7.8 35.2% 29.2% -5.9
Kamala Harris 7.7 21.0 +13.3 5.7 9.6 +3.9
Bernie Sanders 17.8 16.5 -1.3 20.0 21.4 +1.4
Elizabeth Warren 14.7 14.9 +0.2 11.3 12.7 +1.4
Pete Buttigieg 7.6 6.0 -1.6 4.3 3.6 -0.7
Julián Castro 0.6 2.2 +1.7 0.2 0.4 +0.2
Cory Booker 2.6 2.0 -0.5 2.5 2.1 -0.4
Beto O’Rourke 3.9 1.8 -2.1 4.5 3.9 -0.5
Andrew Yang 1.4 1.5 +0.2 1.2 1.3 +0.2
Amy Klobuchar 0.6 0.9 +0.3 0.4 0.3 -0.1
Tulsi Gabbard 0.5 0.6 +0.0 0.8 0.7 -0.2
Kirsten Gillibrand 0.7 0.5 -0.2 0.7 0.6 -0.1
Tim Ryan 0.3 0.3 +0.0 0.2 0.1 -0.1
Marianne Williamson 0.3 0.3 +0.0 0.0 0.1 +0.0
John Delaney 0.2 0.2 +0.0 0.4 0.1 -0.2
John Hickenlooper 0.3 0.2 -0.1 0.7 0.4 -0.4
Eric Swalwell 0.1 0.1 +0.1 0.2 0.0 +0.0
Michael Bennet 0.1 0.1 +0.1 0.4 0.7 +0.3
Jay Inslee 0.3 0.1 -0.2 0.4 0.3 -0.2
Bill de Blasio 0.1 0.0 +0.0 0.0 0.1 +0.0
Don’t know/no opinion 4.1 2.6 -1.4 10.2 11.8 +1.7
Someone else 0.5 0.1 -0.4 0.7 0.4 -0.3

Source: Morning Consult

This could suggest one of three things (or two of three, or maybe even all three). First, hearing about a debate from a secondary source is less likely to change voters’ minds than something they see with their own eyes. Second, those secondary sources — be they news coverage, social media reaction, word of mouth, etc. — have communicated a fairly superficial “Biden lost” and, to a lesser extent, “Harris won” message. This second theory is further supported by the fact that other candidates, such as Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke, experienced small gains and losses in support among debate watchers, but virtually no change among non-watchers. Third, debate-watchers and non-watchers might be different in ways we’re not capturing here. (For example, the latter may be less politically engaged.) The different effects therefore also may be due to these underlying differences between the two samples.

But the horse-race question alone understates the extent to which voters’ opinions of candidates shifted, as Castro and O’Rourke can attest. Several candidates other than Biden and Harris saw significant changes in their favorable or unfavorable ratings. (That’s important because changes in how voters feel about the candidates can lead to changes in vote preference later on.) In fact, Castro and O’Rourke experienced the biggest changes in net favorability (favorable rating minus unfavorable rating) of any of the candidates — perhaps as a byproduct of their disagreement over immigration on the first night of the debate. Castro’s ratings improved by 15.5 points, and O’Rourke’s fell by 11.6 points; essentially, they switched places.

Other than Castro and O’Rourke (and Harris and Biden), Warren and author Marianne Williamson also saw meaningful increases and decreases, respectively, in their net favorability ratings. In Williamson’s case, it was enough to have more people view her negatively than positively, which is a rare (and unenviable) position to be in among members of your own party.

Overall, the debate was the biggest deal for two candidates — Biden and Harris — above all and may have bunched the top of the field closer together. And it may have downstream implications for Castro and Warren (in a good way) as well as O’Rourke and Williamson (in a bad way). While the debate did not turn the race totally on its head, it certainly appears to have been one of the few opinion-moving events of the campaign so far.

How Will Democrats Talk About Race In 2020?

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


sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): A powerful moment on the second night of the Democratic debates came when Sen. Kamala Harris confronted former Vice President Joe Biden for his remarks about working with segregationist senators, as well as his opposition to school integration via busing in the 1970s. Biden has stood by his original comments, arguing that he meant them as an example of his ability to work across the aisle, and in the debate he invoked his record of supporting civil rights.

Other candidates, notably Sen. Cory Booker, have also criticized Biden on issues of race. Nevertheless, at least going into last week’s debates, Biden was the most popular Democratic candidate among Democratic voters. But did Thursday night’s exchange show that Biden is out of touch with the modern Democratic Party? Is there a generational divide at play here? And how are the other candidates positioned — or not positioned — to talk about issues of race?

julia_azari (Julia Azari, political science professor at Marquette University and FiveThirtyEight contributor): I would say there are actually two things at stake here. First, there is the question of whether there is a divide. I don’t think the Democratic Party has a racially conservative wing anymore, but I do think there’s a split over how so-called identity issues are approached by the party.

And the second issue is about the candidates themselves, particularly how this impacts Biden’s core arguments for why he should be the nominee.

julian.wamble: (Julian Wamble, a political science professor at Stony Brook University): The Democratic Party has certainly changed on how it discusses race, and this is particularly true among white Democrats. But what we’re seeing here is both a generational divide and a change in the racial landscape of American politics.

Biden is from a generation where his past choices concerning race are coming back to haunt him in ways that he may not have expected, and that’s because issues surrounding race are at the forefront of the political conversation.

And generally speaking, white candidates have only had to contend with not being overtly racist, but now the Harris-Biden moment shows how that may have changed.

meredithconroy: (Meredith Conroy, political science professor at California State University and FiveThirtyEight contributor): I agree that the Democratic Party doesn’t have a racially conservative wing anymore. That could be because these voters have left the party. However, a recent study after the 2016 election found that white Democrats are changing their views about race to align with their partisanship.

Now whether that means someone like Biden is disqualified for previous positions like opposing school integration via busing in the 1970s isn’t clear.

julia_azari: Why, in 2019, anything can still surprise me is an open question for perhaps another chat, but I was legitimately surprised to see people relitigating the busing debate of the 1970s on Twitter on Saturday.

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): Do we all agree this was bad for Biden?

On net, I think this was a bad week for Biden, but at the same time, I think there is a group of Democrats who aren’t that liberal on racial issues and basically agree with him.

A study from the Pew Research Center found, for example, that about 22 percent of Democrats thought people were “seeing discrimation where it does not exist.”

meredithconroy: It was bad for Biden because he looked ill-prepared. His record is long — and to be clear, all the candidates have a past they’ll have to defend at some point — but his defense was particularly weak.

perry: We should note that Politico/Morning Consult found that he lost 5 points since the debate (nearly 8 points among voters in our Morning Consult survey), with Harris going up by 6. A CNN poll found that Biden’s support had fallen to 22 percent, down from 32 percent this time last month. Harris was in second at 17 percent, compared to 8 percent a month ago. So it seems clear this debate and the fallout from it hurt Biden and helped Harris. That said, I think Biden is still the front-runner.

julian.wamble: I actually don’t think black voters are going to be so quick to withdraw their support from Biden given the perception that he is best situated to beat Trump. However, it is possible that discussions of his past missteps regarding race and racial policies could hurt him with black voters in the future, especially if another candidate seems poised to be able to defeat Trump.

perry: I agree. I also think that these racial controversies are as much of a problem for Biden (and Pete Buttigieg) with white liberal voters, who care a lot about racial issues, as with black people.

sarahf: So in that chart Perry shared, a majority of Democrats (78 percent) were likely to say that it’s a big problem that Americans don’t see discrimination where it exists.

This means that for these Democrats, Harris’s exchange with Biden should have been a powerful moment, right?

perry: The overwhelming majority of Democrats are liberal on racial issues. But Biden has proof that he is, too. He loves to mention that he was Barack Obama’s vice president, but more than that, I think Biden is actually in the mainstream of the Democratic Party on many racial issues.

sarahf: Do others agree? What is the evidence we have for Biden being in the mainstream on racial issues vs. Biden being out of touch?

julia_azari: As a parties scholar, I think what’s meant by “the mainstream” is malleable. That is, people are going to be responsive to elite cues about how race fits into other issues, or what kinds of problems should be prioritized (race vs. class), and how to frame both the causes of racial injustice and the solutions to it.

perry: And the elite cues are confusing right now. The post-debate media coverage for Biden has been largely negative. But influential black Democrats like Jim Clyburn and John Lewis generally defended him on comments he made before the debate. So I don’t think the message that “Biden is bad on racial issues” or “black people don’t like Biden” is clear to voters. I also think that will be a hard message to have resonate — Biden spent eight years defending Barack Obama.

julian.wamble: What we’re seeing is a crisis of what it means to be white in America, and white liberals are bearing the brunt of it. This means the need to create distance from the “bad moments” is heightened which I think the response to Biden is a manifestation of, and could foster the belief that Biden is out of touch with the Democratic Party.

sarahf: Is it fair to say that this is the next fracture point in terms of cultural issues in the primary? Or where do you see the next divide? It does seem to be an area where Biden is particularly vulnerable.

perry: Biden supporters are older and more moderate and so unlikely to break with him en-masse over these kinds of issues on race or gender. (The CNN poll showed Biden with a 12-point advantage over the next-closest Democrat (Harris) among Democrats over 45, but trailing Harris, Sanders and Warren among Democrats under 45.)

Which means that the better case for Harris and others to make is not that Biden has bad racial views, but that his debate performance suggests Biden is a weak candidate and can’t beat Trump, which cuts against one of his biggest strengths — Democratic voters care a lot about electability and generally see Biden as the most electable candidate.

julian.wamble: Yes, what Biden has going for him is the perception that he can beat Trump and that some of his “authenticity” will make him appealing to certain voters.

meredithconroy: But on the electability question, at least one poll after the debates found that voters thought Elizabeth Warren and Harris were more electable than before (although Biden was still said to be the most electable).

julia_azari: So the Democratic Party has traditionally been divided on race — the last 40 years are a break away from that. But if issues like reparations or other race-conscious policy initiatives become part of the national agenda, we might see more of a split in the party.

You can already see this happening on the question of criminal justice.

perry: Right. If reparations or really aggressive school integration programs become big issues, we might see that even some white liberals aren’t totally on board, because these policies will be perceived as giving black people things at the expense of non-black people. And if there is a racial divide on those issues, I’d imagine that more moderate whites will be more drawn to candidates like Biden.

meredithconroy: Well, the elevation of those issues don’t benefit Biden or Harris, right?

perry: No, but they might help Warren.

julia_azari: But as Meredith pointed out, this is an area of vulnerability for Harris too.

At this stage, there really isn’t a candidate who is an obvious pick for serious racial justice activists. Nearly all the major candidates have liabilities — even Julian Castro, given his background as the Housing and Urban Development secretary). But Biden, Harris and Buttigieg in particular have serious liabilities.

So it’s really unclear which candidate (if any) this would benefit.

meredithconroy: Very unclear!!!

perry: Sanders came out in support of allowing people currently incarcerated to vote, while most Democratic candidates favor voting rights only for people after they have left prison. Warren was one of the first candidate to embrace a study on whether there should be reparations for black Americans, and Castro has called to change the law to make illegally entering the country a civil offense, instead of a criminal one.

So some candidates have and will push forward fairly strong stances on racial issues in a way I’m not sure Biden, Harris or say Cory Booker are inclined to.

The question I’m most curious about is whether this was good for Harris or not.

I tend to think it was mostly good for Harris. (And the polls suggest it was.) She got more media attention and I think it’s fair to say she appealed to white liberals, who say they are progressive on racial issues. But this doesn’t mean she necessarily cut into Biden’s advantage with black voters.

julian.wamble: I’m not sure it was as good for her as some think it was. It was effective to show that Biden has some problems when it comes to race, but not that she is a better choice to represent voters with those interests.

meredithconroy: Right. In terms of positioning her as a strong candidate, who can confront opponents, it helps her. But it also opens up her Attorney General record and her time spent as a prosecutor in California to greater scrutiny.

sarahf: Biden seemed to try to push on that in the debates by pointing out his background as a public defender, but that didn’t really seem to go anywhere.

Do we think that it will come up in other debates?

julian.wamble: Harris’s prosecutorial background, particularly the truancy laws, which have been shown to disproportionately affect communities of color, will definitely come up in future debates. I think especially now, given the new polls showing her making strong gains among Democratic voters. If she is viewed as one of the candidates to beat, then her time as prosecutor will definitely gain higher levels of scrutiny.

meredithconroy: Yeah, strategically speaking, Biden probably should have leaned into that attack more. But I’ve also been critical of those questioning Harris’s record as Attorney General, given that women often have to have more experience than their male counterparts in order to gain political influence and power.

perry: My bet: The backlash to Harris’s background as a prosecutor is largely contained to a small number of very progressive voters, and is not a real barrier among the vast majority of Democratic primary voters.

When I ask voters about Harris, I hear way more often their concern that she is not electable than anything about her criminal justice record. (I also think it will be hard for Biden to campaign on the idea that a black female candidate wants to send lots of black people to jail in the same way that it will be it will be hard for Harris to prove Obama’s VP doesn’t support allowing black kids to attend integrated schools.)

julia_azari: I sort of disagree, Perry. If, say, the Bernie left came out against Harris that could get ugly fast.

perry: But she was never going to win those people.

She is a fairly establishment-friendly candidate.

julia_azari: You’re right that she was never going to win those voters. But the question is whether their messaging does other damage. I’m not sure I would have previously considered this a possibility, but after 2016 I do.

perry: When I watched that moment, I initially thought it was bad for Harris because it could become framed by her critics as an electability issue. Obama did well in 2008 and 2012 because he rarely spoke about race in a way that might alienate white moderate general-election voters. But Harris went over that line.

And now New York Times columnist Bret Stephens has blasted Harris for “making white Americans feel racially on trial.” Granted, Stephens is an anti-Trump conservative, so not exactly representative of the Democratic primary electorate, but I still think of it as evidence that Harris may have provoked white people who don’t want to be criticized on racial issues unless they do something over-the-top like Trump.

It has the potential for a lot of backlash.

julian.wamble: Obama definitely had his own challenges with electability, particularly in 2008, but that was a question of whether the United States was ready for a black president. The 2020 election is different insofar that Democrats are looking for a candidate who can beat Trump. And the notion of “electability” is different this time around, especially for the female candidates who are seen, by some, as not being “strong” or “tough” enough to take on Trump. So I saw Harris calling out Biden as a signal that she wasn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe with a man.

julia_azari: Also, I think that Harris’s approach spoke to white Democrats who want to congratulate themselves for supporting her, which I saw as part of Obama’s calculus, as well. I know it sounds reductive, but voters feeling good about themselves often drives political decisions. (See Lilliana Mason’s work on identity politics.)

meredithconroy: Yeah, especially among Democrats who are concerned that electability arguments exclude women and people of color.

sarahf: Were there other candidates who were hurt or helped by this exchange? Or phrased another way, is a stronger Harris bad for Booker?

meredithconroy: I thought Booker opened the door for Harris’s attacks, after he went after Biden for his segregationist comments. And it seemed to elevate his candidacy (at least in terms of media coverage), so I’m not sure its bad for Booker, necessarily.

perry: A stronger Harris is probably bad for Booker. A Harris who disqualifies Biden (by showing him as an inept) but also raises questions about herself (can she be cast as too left and unelectable in the general) is good for Booker.

A weaker Biden is good for everyone.

meredithconroy: Yeah, I think Perry is right.

julian.wamble: A strong Harris isn’t great for Booker in the long run, but considering he’s also getting media attention and talking about race as a result, it’s not bad for him yet.

Which I think is to Perry’s point — a weaker Biden is good for everyone else.

The First Democratic Debate In Five Charts

Thursday night was the conclusion of the first Democratic primary debate, and, like everybody else, we’re trying to make sense of what we watched. Some candidates had breakout moments while others were pushed to the sidelines. But did these moments really make a difference to viewers?

In an attempt to answer this question, we are trying to sum up the first debate in five charts, including: our poll with Morning Consult, which is tracking the same group of voters’ feelings about the candidates and how they change after the debates; a look at which candidates gained the most followers on Twitter; and of course, how much each of the candidates spoke, including whether they mentioned President Trump.

Who overperformed?

Going into the debates, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris both had favorability ratings of more than 50 percent among likely Democratic voters. And after their respective debates, they came out even stronger — respondents who watched the debates gave them the two highest average ratings on performance, according to our poll with Morning Consult.

The debates were also big for some lesser-known candidates, such as former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro. He went into the debates with a favorability rating just under 30 percent, and respondents rated his debate performance highly, which suggests that it’s more than just his existing fans who thought he did well (as you can see in the chart below). Sen. Cory Booker also had a strong debate performance. But the two candidates currently leading in the polls, Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, both underperformed.

Who’s gaining followers?

After the first night of the debates, Castro was the one to watch — at least on Twitter. He had gained more than 50,000 followers by Thursday afternoon.

But following Thursday night’s debate, Harris gained nearly 60,000 new followers — the most new followers acquired by any of the Democratic candidates between the day of their debate and the following afternoon. This might not come as a surprise, as Harris had a particularly powerful moment when she called out Biden for his remarks about working with segregationist senators and his opposition to school integration via busing in the 1970s, saying the issue affected her personally.

“There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”

Who gained the most Twitter followers?

Change in Twitter followers from the afternoon before each candidate debated to the afternoon after their debate night

No. of Twitter followers
Debate Night Candidate Before debate Increase
2 Harris 2,729,541 59,588
1 Castro 220,987 54,886
2 Buttigieg 1,160,106 40,209
2 Yang 404,329 39,363
2 Williamson 2,621,444 31,246
1 Warren 2,673,496 30,240
1 Gabbard 381,316 19,278
1 Booker 4,258,986 10,676
2 Sanders 9,341,166 7,299
1 Klobuchar 706,774 5,480
1 Inslee 65,487 4,366
2 Gillibrand 1,427,945 3,785
2 Biden 3,607,252 3,751
1 De Blasio 157,535 2,666
1 Delaney 22,467 2,483
1 O’Rourke 1,432,328 2,426
2 Swalwell 93,960 2,098
1 Ryan 22,365 1,460
2 Hickenlooper 146,734 1,312
2 Bennet 23,459 1,145

Who held the floor?

Of course, in order for any of these candidates to impress viewers or gain followers, they needed to get their message out. As you can see in the table below, Harris and Booker were among the candidates with the highest number of words spoken on either night. But just holding the floor wasn’t enough. Biden, for instance, spoke more words than any other candidate, but according to results from our poll with Morning Consult, he lost supporters, dropping from nearly 42 percent before the first night of the debate to 32 percent after his appearance on Thursday.

Who spoke the most?

Number of words spoken by candidates participating in either night of the first Democratic debate

Debate Night Candidate Words spoken
2 Joe Biden 2475
1 Cory Booker 2181
2 Kamala Harris 2147
2 Pete Buttigieg 2072
1 Beto O’Rourke 1932
2 Bernie Sanders 1676
1 Elizabeth Warren 1637
1 Amy Klobuchar 1614
1 Julián Castro 1588
2 Michael Bennet 1462
2 Kirsten Gillibrand 1421
1 Tim Ryan 1383
1 Tulsi Gabbard 1243
1 John Delaney 1060
2 Marianne Williamson 983
2 Eric Swalwell 966
2 John Hickenlooper 951
1 Bill de Blasio 881
1 Jay Inslee 875
2 Andrew Yang 594

Excludes words spoken in Spanish

Source: Debate Transcript via ABC News

So we also compared the number of words candidates spoke to their polling averages (using all 23 polls that the Democratic National Committee sanctioned for candidates to use in qualifying for the debate). And, perhaps unsurprisingly, the number of words spoken by each of the candidates roughly correlated with their polling averages over both nights, with the correlation being somewhat stronger during the second debate.

But there were notable outliers, like Booker and Harris, who both spoke more than their polling averages might have predicted. Sanders and Warren were also outliers, in that they spoke less than their standing in the polls might have suggested. And then, of course, there’s Andrew Yang, who spoke the least out of all the candidates even though he was in the middle of the pack in polling average.

Avoid Trump, or invoke him?

One of the most obvious differences between the two nights of debates was how many times the candidates mentioned — or didn’t mention — Trump’s name. The candidates on stage Thursday mentioned the president a total of 34 times, while the candidates on Wednesday mentioned him just 20 times. Notably, Sen. Elizabeth Warren did not use his name a single time on the first night, making her the only one of the five polling front-runners not to mention Trump explicitly.

But on the second night, Trump and his administration’s policies took center stage. For example, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has positioned herself as the most anti-Trump candidate, mentioned the president eight times (the most of any candidate on either night), at one point saying he has “torn apart the moral fabric of who we are.”

Which candidates talked about Trump?

How often President Trump’s name was mentioned by candidates participating in either night of the first Democratic debate

Debate Night Candidate Trump Mentions
2 Kirsten Gillibrand 8
2 Bernie Sanders 6
2 Marianne Williamson 6
1 Amy Klobuchar 5
2 Joe Biden 4
2 Kamala Harris 4
2 Andrew Yang 4
1 Jay Inslee 4
1 Cory Booker 3
1 Beto O’Rourke 3
2 Michael Bennet 2
1 Tulsi Gabbard 2
1 Julián Castro 2
1 Tim Ryan 1
2 John Hickenlooper 0
2 Pete Buttigieg 0
2 Eric Swalwell 0
1 Bill de Blasio 0
1 John Delaney 0
1 Elizabeth Warren 0

Source: Debate Transcript via ABC News

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.

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.

How Kamala Harris Could Win The 2020 Democratic Primary

Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who officially said she is running for president in an announcement on Good Morning America on Monday, has the potential to be among the strongest contenders in the 2020 Democratic field. There may be no other candidate who better embodies how the modern Democratic Party has changed over the last few decades in identity and ideology.

Harris, the daughter of an India-born woman and a Jamaica-born man, spent much of her childhood in Berkeley, California, before going to college at Howard University. She was the first woman, first person of South Asian descent and first black person to be elected district attorney in San Francisco. In that job, she irritated one of the Bay Area’s most influential Democrats, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, by refusing to push for a death sentence for a man accused of killing a police officer because of Harris’ personal opposition to capital punishment. In endorsing Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2007, she broke with much of the state’s political establishment, which was then behind Hillary Clinton. Harris, as a senator, has embraced the causes of the party’s liberal wing on issues of gender and racial equality. She gave a speech last year criticizing people who say Democrats spend too much time and energy on “identity politics.”

In short, post-Obama, the Democratic Party is increasingly the party of women and the “woke”, and Harris’ biography and politics align well with where the party has moved.

So Harris could have broad appeal across the Democratic primary electorate. You can see that in my colleague Nate Silver’s analysis of how each potential 2020 candidate might appeal to five key constituencies in the primary — Harris comes out looking stronger than any other potential candidate:

Her biography and record make it easy to imagine Harris doing well with African-Americans, who likely will represent about one-in-five primary voters in the Democratic primary electorate, as well as Asian-Americans. Harris narrowly lost the Latino vote in her 2016 election to a fellow Democrat1 who is Mexican-American (Loretta Sanchez), but there isn’t any particular reason to think she is disliked by Latino voters. The way Harris is likely to position herself on policy issues during the campaign — liberal as any candidate on noneconomic issues but not as liberal on economic issues as, say, Bernie Sanders — echoes Hillary Clinton’s platform in 2016 (Harris’ sister Maya was Clinton’s policy director.) So I’m sure party loyalists, particularly black voters and older women, who backed Clinton will give serious consideration to Harris. The California senator is not particularly young (54), but you could imagine millennials galvanizing around electing the first Asian and first female president in the same way they embraced Obama in 2008. (We’ll come back to The Left in a moment.)

Moreover, looking at the current primary calendar,2 I’m not sure about her prospects in Iowa and New Hampshire (more on that in a bit), but the order of the states is set up well for Harris after that. The third contest is in Nevada, a state that borders California, so voters there may more familiar with Harris than other candidates. South Carolina is next, and African-Americans will likely constitute a majority of voters there.

After those four early contests, nine states are currently scheduled to vote on March 3, and that could be a great day for Harris. Those nine primaries and caucuses include California — Harris’ home state, which also has a large Asian-American population — as well as four states in which the Democratic electorate will likely be more than a quarter black:

The racial breakdown of the March 3 primaries

Percentage of Democratic voters by race according to 2016 exit polls

State Asian Black Latino White
Alabama 1% 54% 1% 40%
California* 11 9 26 56
Massachusetts 4 4 6 85
North Carolina 1 32 3 62
Oklahoma 1 14 4 74
Tennessee 1 32 2 63
Texas 3 19 32 43
Vermont 1 1 0 95
Virginia 2 26 7 63

*No exit poll was conducted for California in the 2016 Democratic primary; these figures come from a pre-election Field Poll that found top-line results well in line with the actual vote. The Field Poll also released results by race with “Asian” and “Other” respondents combined; that number is the one shown here.

Sources: Edison Research, Field Poll, Pew REsearch Center

Also in terms of her strengths, Harris has stood out among colleagues during Senate hearings, putting her prosecutorial skills on display with her sharp and quick questioning of witnesses. Debate performances can really matter in primaries, and the hearing performances suggest she might be strong in debates.

She’ll need to be. To be clear, all of Harris’ strengths outlined above are really potential strengths. In most national primary polls conducted so far, she’s been in the single digits. Those polls mostly reflect a lack of national name recognition, but Harris will have to build her support almost from scratch. And a lot could go wrong for her.

The biggest potential problem for Harris may be that her campaign simply never really catches on with voters. Despite seeming to reporters like me to be a strong candidate on paper, Harris could be the 2020 Democratic version of Marco Rubio or Scott Walker, who both struggled in the GOP’s 2016 primary despite being hyped for years as potential GOP nominees because of their potential to appeal to a broad swath of their party.

After all, Harris likely will be competing for attention with a lot of candidates. And if she doesn’t do well in one of the first two contests, in mostly white Iowa and mostly white New Hampshire, then I don’t think there is any guarantee African-American voters or even California voters will get behind her. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey or former Vice President Joe Biden (his close relationship with Obama will help) could become the top choice among black voters — or African-Americans could split their votes among several candidates. I think a candidate who won Iowa and another early state and had momentum could carry Harris’ home state of California.

Harris’ performances in Iowa and New Hampshire are also relevant in regard to a second challenge for the California senator: Overcoming doubts from some Democrats about her “electability.” As I have written before, research on elections does not support the idea that female candidates do worse than male ones. Black and Latino candidates seem to do slightly worse with white voters but boost turnout among their identity groups, so the story is complicated there too. But discussions of electability are often used as a cudgel against candidates who are not male, Christian and/or white, because such candidates are perceived as having less appeal to swing voters. Right now, some prominent Democrats are publicly fretting about nominating a woman in 2020, fearing the American electorate is too sexist to elect a female candidate and voters with sexist views will find Trump’s persona and politics appealing, as they did in 2016. And some Democrats privately say they are even more concerned that swing voters in the Midwest won’t embrace a black woman. Harris has to worry that Democrats might decide she is too “risky” and embrace one of the male candidates mainly for this reason.

To be clear, this is a surmountable problem. Some African-American voters were doubtful of Obama’s viability in a general election in 2008 — until he won the Iowa caucuses. This is both an unfair part of the process (why should a minority candidate have to do well in a state with basically no minorities to prove viability) and kind of an odd one (winning the Democratic caucuses in Iowa does not tell you that much about a candidate’s ability to win the general election.) But I tend to think Democratic voters will be much less focused on Harris’ perceived electability if she wins a lot of voters in Iowa or New Hampshire.

Third, I expect Harris to struggle with The Left. Some voters in this group are broadly wary of criminal prosecutors, arguing they have played a key role in America’s much-maligned criminal justice system. Harris’ professional life has been as a prosecutor and some on the left already are highlighting what they view as flaws in her record — being too hard on low-level offenders of crimes like truancy but not aggressive enough in taking on those accused of white-collar offenses, for example.

Harris can overcome The Left if she is strong among other blocs of the party. But if she wins a few primaries, I can see liberals casting her as too establishment and opposing her fiercely, similar to how this bloc unsuccessfully tried to stop Clinton in 2016.

Overall, I would not be surprised if Harris won the nomination. But I don’t see her as the favorite. She ranks No. 1 in some betting markets, but with so many candidates, “the field” is really favored against any individual contender.