Biden Is The Front-Runner, But There’s No Clear Favorite

Joe Biden is the most likely person to win a majority of pledged Democratic delegates, according to the FiveThirtyEight primary model, which we launched on Thursday morning. This is our first-ever full-fledged model of the primaries and we’re pretty excited about it — to read more about how the model works, see here.

But saying the former vice president is the front-runner doesn’t really tell the whole story. He may be the most likely nominee, but he’s still a slight underdog relative to the field, with a 40 percent chance of winning a majority of pledged delegates7 by the time of the last scheduled Democratic contest — the Virgin Islands caucus on June 6. If one lowers the threshold to a plurality of delegates, rather than a majority, then Biden’s chances are almost 50-50, but not quite — he has a 45 percent chance of a delegate plurality, per our forecast.

I want to emphasize that there’s still a lot of room for another candidate to surge because nobody has voted yet, the primaries are a complex process, and frankly here at FiveThirtyEight, we’re a little self-conscious about how people interpret — or sometimes misinterpret — our probabilistic forecasts. The Democratic primary still features 14 candidates, and while most of them have little to no shot, there are still several fairly realistic possibilities:

So while Biden’s in a reasonably strong and perhaps even slightly underrated position, it’s slightly more likely than not that Biden won’t be the nominee. Sen. Bernie Sanders has the next-best shot, with a 22 percent chance at a majority, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 12 percent and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 10 percent. There’s also a 14 percent chance — about 1 in 7 — that no one will win a majority of pledged delegates by June 6, which could lead to a contested convention.

The model works by simulating the nomination race thousands of times, accounting for the bounces that candidates may receive by winning or losing states, along with other contingencies — such as candidates dropping out and polls moving in response to debates and news events. Like all of our models, it’s empirically driven, built using data from the 15 competitive nomination races since 1980.8

Since the primaries themselves are fairly complex process, the model is fairly complex also — which we mean as a warning as much as a brag. Models with more complexity are easier to screw up and can be more sensitive to initial assumptions — so we’d encourage you to read more about how our model works.

As an illustration of how one race can affect the following ones in our model, here are each of the leading candidates’ chances of winning a plurality or majority of delegates conditional on winning or losing Iowa:

Iowa matters … a lot

How candidates’ chances of winning a majority or plurality of delegates changes if they win Iowa, according to FiveThirtyEight’s primary forecast

With an Iowa win With an Iowa loss
Candidate Majority Chance Plurality Chance Majority Chance Plurality Chance
Biden 80% 84% 20% 26%
Buttigieg 37 42 2 3
Sanders 61 67 8 10
Warren 55 60 5 7

As of 8 a.m., Jan. 10, 2020

Biden, for instance, would be a heavy favorite if he wins Iowa, with an 80 percent chance of a delegate majority and an 84 percent chance of a plurality. His majority chances would fall to 20 percent following an Iowa loss, however. Sanders would be a slight favorite to win a majority after an Iowa win, with a 61 percent chance, but his majority chances would fall to 8 percent with a loss there. Warren would also be a slight favorite to win a delegate majority after an Iowa win, but Buttigieg would not be (although his position would be substantially strengthened).

These scenarios account for Iowa wins of all shapes and sizes — big, emphatic wins and narrow, perhaps even disputed ones. With a landslide win in Iowa, Sanders might be a fairly heavy overall favorite for the nomination. If Iowa were a four-way pileup instead — with Sanders narrowly winning and Biden in a strong second place, for instance — Sanders’s projected bounce might not be enough to help him overtake Biden in national polls and the nomination could remain fairly open-ended.

Speaking of open-ended, the first three states all have highly uncertain outcomes. Biden is the nominal favorite to win Iowa, but has just a 33 percent chance of doing so.9 In New Hampshire, Sanders has a 31 percent chance and Biden is at 27 percent. And in Nevada, Biden has a 35 chance, with Sanders at 31 percent. Biden is a clearer front-runner in South Carolina — although even that lead might not be safe if he performed poorly in the first three states.

Who’s favored in the first four states?

Candidates’ chances of winning the early states, according to FiveThirtyEight’s primary forecast

State Biden Sanders Warren Buttigieg Other
Iowa 33% 27% 14% 22% 4%
New Hampshire 27 31 15 23 3
Nevada 35 31 16 13 4
South Carolina 54 20 10 9 7

As of 8 a.m., Jan. 10, 2020.

The model also plays out the rest of the primaries on Super Tuesday and beyond — although they’re subject to more uncertainty, both because they come later in the process and because they have less polling. In states with little or no polling, our model infers odds based on demographic and geographic factors — see the methodology primer for more.

For a flavor of how this works, here are the states and territories that the model thinks each of the four leading candidates is the most likely to win.

Where each front-runner is most likely to win, in one table

The top four candidates’ chances of winning the primaries or caucuses where their position is strongest, per FiveThirtyEight’s primary forecast

Biden Sanders
Primary/caucus chances Primary/caucus chances
Alabama 61% Vermont 62%
Mississippi 58 Utah 33
Delaware 55 Washington 32
South Carolina 54 California 32
North Carolina 53 Colorado 32
Louisiana 51 New Hampshire 31
Warren Buttigieg
Primary/caucus chances Primary/caucus chances
Massachusetts 28% New Hampshire 23%
Maine 20 Iowa 22
Colorado 19 Indiana 20
Democrats Abroad 19 Democrats Abroad 16
Oklahoma 18 North Dakota 15
Minnesota 18 Minnesota 15

As of 8 a.m., Jan. 10, 2020.

Biden’s strengths are concentrated in the South, among states with large numbers of black voters. Sanders and Warren are expected to perform well in New England and in western states such as Colorado and California, where the Democratic electorate tends to be pretty liberal. Buttigieg’s strongest states figure to be largely white states in the Midwest and otherwise in the northern part of the country.

We’ll have a lot more to say about the forecast in the weeks and months ahead. But let me conclude by briefly considering the forecast from each of the major candidates’ perspectives, tackling each one in 100 words or less.

Biden. The optimistic case for Biden is fairly simple. He’s ahead in national polls. He’s also ahead in our “fundamentals” calculation. (Although Biden hasn’t raised all that much money, he has by far the most endorsements.) His strength among black voters will help him in the South, where none of the other candidates look particularly strong. So a win in Iowa would put Biden in a commanding position. And a loss there could be more survivable than it would be for another candidate. Still, Iowa is more likely to hurt him than help him, according to our model.

Sanders. Sanders’s early-state polling is fairly robust. He probably wouldn’t have any problem parlaying an Iowa win into a sequel in New Hampshire, and our model likes his position reasonably well in Nevada also. California is another potential strength for Sanders on Super Tuesday, as a source of both delegates and momentum. All that said, perhaps the biggest question about Sanders — namely, how would the establishment and voters react if he appeared to be on the verge of winning the nomination — remains unanswered, and it’s not necessarily something our model can answer by itself.

Warren. The conventional wisdom about Sanders is fairly bullish, while being fairly bearish on Warren. But it’s worth keeping in mind that there are only a few points separating them in the polls, nationally and in the early states. They’re an important few points — in part because they coincide with the 15 percent threshold that Democratic rules require candidates clear to win delegates. That’s part of why our model gives Sanders roughly double Warren’s chances of securing a delegate majority. But even a small-ish burst of momentum for Warren could restore her to a highly competitive position.

Buttigieg. Buttigieg can win Iowa — but he also runs the risk of stalling out afterward. The problem isn’t in New Hampshire, where his position is nearly as strong. But Buttigieg is weak among nonwhite voters, especially black voters, which makes Nevada and South Carolina uphill battles for him. With that said, Buttigieg is the sort of candidate who the model figures could get a relatively large bounce from wins in Iowa and New Hampshire. In general, the lower a candidate’s standing in national polls, the bigger the bounce they get from early-state success.

What about … Klobuchar? Sen. Amy Klobuchar has picked up a percentage point or two in the polls since the December debate. But if that’s all she gets, it’s probably a case of too little, too late. Her position is not hopeless — the model does have her as the fifth most likely winner. But the model simply thinks it will take a lot to leapfrog four other candidates. With that said, there’s been little polling recently, and a single strong poll in Iowa could change the equation for Klobuchar.

What about … Bloomberg? If you’re a Michael Bloomberg optimist, you could point toward the 14 percent chance that no candidate wins a delegate majority as a bullish sign. The former New York mayor’s plan clearly involves hoping for a murky outcome in the early states and playing the long game. But there are many, many questions here. The first four states probably will produce a clear front-runner or two, and even if they don’t, it’s not clear why Bloomberg would emerge as the alternative. Still, his unconventional strategy is difficult to model.

What about … Steyer? Billionaire Tom Steyer has risen in recent polls of Nevada and South Carolina after a monthslong advertising barrage there. It’s not quite clear what that gets him, though. On the one hand, his position will be weaker in those states by the time they get around to voting if he hasn’t also performed well in Iowa and New Hampshire. On the other hand, he hasn’t invested in Super Tuesday states (as Bloomberg has) to follow up on any potential success in Nevada and South Carolina. He’s worth watching, but the model doesn’t see a clear path for him.

Enjoy the weekend — and the CNN/Selzer/Des Moines Register poll that is scheduled to come out on Friday night — and we’ll be back at you with more updates soon.


How a raucous convention revolutionized our primary system


The December Democratic Debate in 6 Charts

This holiday season, the Democratic National Committee gave the gift of one last primary debate in 2019. The stage featured just seven candidates, and despite a sleepy first hour, there was a lot of tension in the two-and-a-half-hour affair. Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, Pete Buttigieg came under fire from the rest of the field, fielding attacks from Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren in particular. According to the FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll, which used Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel to interview the same respondents before and after the debate, Klobuchar had a good night, attracting the most new potential support. Former Vice President Joe Biden also did well, earning the highest debate performance score from the viewers in our survey.

Maybe you were out holiday shopping — or watching the new Star Wars movie! — and missed it (hey, we don’t blame you), or you just want to know more about how the December debate may affect the race as we move into 2020. Either way, here’s the Democratic debate, summed up in 6 charts:

Which candidates performed best?

To kick us off, which candidates did viewers think had a strong performance? A weak one? To answer this, we compared each candidate’s pre-debate favorability rating1 to viewers’ ratings of his or her debate performance to see how candidates performed. This time, Biden walked away with the highest marks from respondents in our poll. But if it’s hard to see a decisive winner from last night, that’s because Biden, Warren and Sanders all performed roughly as well as we would expect given their pre-debate favorability. Buttigieg and Steyer received the worst marks for their performances, relative to their pre-debate favorability ratings.

How did voters’ priorities affect their views of the candidates?

According to our Ipsos survey, nearly two-thirds of likely Democratic primary voters prefer a candidate who has a good chance of beating President Trump over someone who shares similar stances with them on the issues. How these types of voters evaluate the candidates and their performances can vary, though, even if the differences are relatively small.

Voters who prioritize beating Trump thought Biden had the best debate performance, with Warren, Sanders, Klobuchar and Buttigieg tied with the second-highest marks. Among voters who prioritized issue stances, Sanders and Yang fared best.

Among voters who prioritize beating Trump, Biden did best

How well debate-watchers thought candidates performed in the sixth Democratic debate, by which type of candidate they prefer

Type of candidate preferred
candidate Similar issue positions Able to beat trump
Biden 2.8 3.3
Warren 2.9 3.1
Sanders 3.1 3.1
Klobuchar 2.7 3.1
Buttigieg 2.5 3.1
Yang 3.0 3.0
Steyer 2.5 2.8

From a survey of 3,543 likely Democratic primary voters who were surveyed between Dec. 13 and Dec. 18. The same people were surveyed again from Dec. 19 to Dec. 20; 720 responded to the second wave and said they watched the debate. The average ratings are out of 4 points, where 4 is best and 1 is worst.

Source: Ipsos/FiveThirtyEight

Who left a good impression?

We also wanted to see if any of the candidates managed to leave a good impression, as captured by their net favorability rating (favorable rating minus unfavorable rating) before and after the debate. By this metric, Yang and Klobuchar saw the largest gains, roughly six points each. But even with these increases, their net favorability scores are still lower than much of the rest of the field — better-known candidates like Biden, Sanders and Warren are viewed more favorably.

Yang and Klobuchar made positive impressions

Change in net favorability for candidates in a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll taken before and after the December Democratic primary debate

Net favorability
candidate before debate after debate change
Yang +16.1 +22.4 +6.3
Klobuchar +11.0 +17.1 +6.1
Steyer +4.3 +7.3 +3.1
Warren +40.0 +43.0 +2.9
Sanders +40.5 +42.6 +2.1
Biden +43.2 +45.1 +1.9
Buttigieg +29.4 +27.5 -1.9

From a survey of 3,543 likely Democratic primary voters who were surveyed between Dec. 13 and Dec. 18. The same people were surveyed again from Dec. 19 to Dec. 20; 1,908 responded to the second wave.

Who spoke the most?

Klobuchar stole the mic Thursday, speaking the most words of any candidate. This was the first time the Minnesota senator earned this distinction, significantly improving upon her position in the last debate, where she came in fifth for words spoken. Buttigieg wasn’t too far off from Klobuchar, though, speaking just 200 fewer words.

Who held the floor?

Number of words candidates spoke in the sixth Democratic debate

Candidate Words Spoken
Amy Klobuchar 3,557
Pete Buttigieg 3,327
Elizabeth Warren 3,087
Bernie Sanders 2,891
Joe Biden 2,869
Tom Steyer 1,937
Andrew Yang 1,729

Source: Debate Transcript via ABC News

The fact that Klobuchar and Buttigieg spoke the most last night may be surprising given that they are significantly behind Biden, Sanders and Warren in the national polls. Normally, higher-polling candidates tend to get more air time, but in Thursday’s debate, the relationship between a candidate’s polling average2 and the amount of words he or she spoke was not particularly strong.3 For instance, while Sanders spoke about as much as his polling average would suggest, Biden spoke far less than expected.

Who mentioned Trump the most?

The candidates may not have spoken for equal amounts of time, but one thing they did have in common was name-dropping Trump. Klobuchar, for example, talked about Trump way more than Warren, who only mentioned him once. (This doesn’t seem to be a new strategy for Warren: She came in second to last in Trump mentions at the November debate, too, saying his name just twice.)

Who talked about Trump?

How often Trump’s name was mentioned by candidates in the sixth Democratic debate

Candidate Trump Mentions
Amy Klobuchar 11
Bernie Sanders 8
Joe Biden 6
Pete Buttigieg 6
Tom Steyer 4
Andrew Yang 4
Elizabeth Warren 1

Source: Debate Transcript via ABC News

On average, each candidate said Trump’s name about six times. But of course, this doesn’t cover every reference to Trump, as some didn’t call out the president by name — like when Sanders said “we have a president who is a pathological liar.”

Do you want even more debate coverage?

Cool graphics from other sites:

  • Going into the debate, The New York Times had a cool primer, which included tidbits like which candidates they expected to attack each other. It’s fun to look back now and see whether they were correct; notably, their speculation that Buttigieg might come under fire proved prescient, particularly in the back and forths with Warren and Klobuchar.
  • And if you want to see exactly how many times the candidates attacked one another, NBC News tracked it! Buttigieg came under fire the most, while Sanders dished it out more than any other candidate.
  • The New York Times also tracked how long each candidate spoke on each issue. Sanders spoke the most about health care, while Klobuchar dominated the conversation on electability. And foreign policy was the longest-discussed topic of the evening, racking up 15 minutes total.

And here’s more great post-debate analysis:

But really, all you need is … our debate coverage:

Who Has The Most To Gain Or Lose In Tonight’s Democratic Debate?

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


sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): For the first time this cycle, fewer than 10 candidates qualified for Thursday night’s debate. Under the DNC’s tougher criteria (4 percent support in at least four national or early-state polls or 6 percent support in at least two early-state polls, plus 200,000 unique7 donors), just seven candidates made the cut: Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang.

What does that mean for tonight’s debate? Are there really only seven viable candidates at this point? (There are still 15 “major” candidates running, according to FiveThirtyEight’s definition.) Fewer than seven?

nrakich (Nathaniel Rakich, elections analyst): In my opinion, the candidates who meet the DNC’s standards and the candidates whom voters are seriously considering are pretty divorced from each other.

And the latter list has been in flux all year (and may continue to be in flux through the early-state primaries).

Right now, it seems pretty clear that Biden, Sanders, Warren and Buttigieg are the most serious contenders. Earlier this year, though, that list would have been Biden, Sanders, Warren and Kamala Harris (after the first debate) or just Biden and Warren (for much of the fall).

sarahf: But you’re not arguing that candidates who didn’t make the stage are still being seriously considered, Nathaniel? Or are you?

nrakich: No, definitely not.

But I do think the DNC has two choices when it comes to debates at this stage: either 1) aim for a small debate among just the serious contenders, in which case the standards for qualification should be stricter, or 2) open the debate to all major candidates until the voting actually starts to happen.

This seven-candidate debate is neither. So it’s kinda frustrating.

geoffrey.skelley (Geoffrey Skelley, elections analyst): Yeah, the DNC is in a tough position. Cory Booker and Julián Castro have both criticized the DNC for its debate qualification criteria, and Booker even sent a letter calling on the DNC to include candidates who had hit either the donor threshold or the polling threshold. I’m not sure it would solve the problem Nathaniel is outlining, but under Booker’s suggestion, Booker, Castro and Tulsi Gabbard would have all qualified.

sarahf: But is the field really so in flux that more candidates on the stage would help voters decide?

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): A lot of Democratic voters said they are still making up their minds — 34 percent in a recent Huff Post/YouGov survey, compared to 48 percent who said they had a “good idea” of who they are voting for. So I don’t think voters are totally set yet. But I think there is a media effect here, too. Only a few candidates (Buttigieg, Warren, Biden, Sanders) are getting a lot of coverage, so I think it’s hard for voters to see other candidates as viable, but that’s in part because the DNC and the media have written off the rest of the field.

ameliatd (Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, senior writer): It seems like increasingly we’re in a situation, as Nathaniel mentioned, where there are four main contenders and the rest of the candidates are pretty much indistinguishable in terms of their support. That does make the stakes higher for Klobuchar, Steyer and Yang since they aren’t doing as well in the polls and could benefit from the spotlight tonight.

But on the other hand, many of the lower-tier candidates have had good debates (Booker, for example) and it hasn’t really made a difference for them.

nrakich: Right, we’re at the point where voters have had plenty of exposure to candidates like Booker, and they’re just not that interested.

geoffrey.skelley: But with just seven candidates, there’s a chance Klobuchar, Steyer and Yang could all get a bit more time to make their case tonight. And that could make a difference, particularly for Steyer and Yang, who spoke the fewest words in the last debate.

perry: Klobuchar has lucked out in that she is the only candidate on tonight’s stage with traditional credentials, outside the top four. (Harris would have fit in this group as well, but she’s dropped out.) Now I don’t think this necessarily means Klobuchar will pick up support, but she is the most logical person for people to go to next if they have concerns about the top four.

geoffrey.skelley: And conveniently for Klobuchar, her strongest early state is Iowa, the first state to vote. So an uptick in her numbers after the debate could pay dividends right at the start of voting.

nrakich: She does seem like the candidate most likely to go on a Carter- or Clinton-esque tear based on a strong early-state performance. But Carter and Clinton have historically been the exception, not the rule.

sarahf: What’s been so surprising to me in watching the debates is just how much the “middle tier” has struggled to break out. Arguably, Buttigieg and Klobuchar have had the most success in this regard, but as you can see from our latest poll with Ipsos there is a real disparity among the top four candidates — Biden, Warren, Sanders and Buttigieg — and everyone else.

Never say never, but it seems so unlikely that this overall picture dramatically shifts tonight.

perry: Looking back on this process, I think I have to either rethink what I consider a good debate performance (I have always thought Klobuchar and Booker did well and yet, they often went nowhere) or rethink whether debates matter much (in my view, Biden has been bad in several of the debates, yet that has not hurt him much).

ameliatd: It just seems like the issue isn’t so much that voters dislike the Klobuchars and Bookers of the race — they just have options they like more. So Klobuchar doesn’t just need a good debate performance — she needs some of her rivals to stumble. And that’s the tricky thing to predict here.

perry: That’s well put.

So by that logic, she really needs Buttigieg to be bad, right?

ameliatd: I do think of the top four contenders, the stakes are highest tonight for Buttigieg and Warren.

sarahf: Why Warren, Amelia?

ameliatd: She’s had the slip in the polls, and voters I’ve talked with seem pretty concerned about her health care plan. She didn’t really get a chance in the last debate to defend her plan — maybe you’d call that an escape — but it’s not great if people are looking for reassurance. So if there are questions about health care tonight, that could be an opportunity for Warren to do some reframing. On the campaign trail, for instance, she’s been talking more about voters having a “choice” with health care, perhaps in response to concerns about Medicare for All getting rid of private insurance.

sarahf: And what about the “Bernie is Back narrative” … any nibblers?

geoffrey.skelley: No, at least not yet.

For every national poll that has Sanders at 22 percent, there’s another with him at 16 percent. We shouldn’t write off Sanders, and it’s possible that his polling numbers are ticking up slightly, but to characterize it as “Sanders Surges” is misleading.

nrakich: Sanders is where he’s always been — hovering around 15 percent!

It’s just that, with Warren’s support several points lower than it was this fall, Sanders’s 15 percent (well, 18 percent according to our tracker) is good for second place now instead of third.

perry: I do think the stakes are high for Sanders tonight, though. Buttigieg and Biden will probably try to cast him as the crazy liberal tonight as much as they will Warren — or maybe even more, considering she has plunged so far down in the polls.

Warren has been attacking Buttigieg and Biden more directly on the campaign trail, so it will be interesting to watch for that as well. I tend to think this is a mistake for her, because Buttigieg is good at counterpunching and the moderators so far have been deeply invested in the “Democrats have moved too far to the left” narrative so she has that working against her, too.

nrakich: Hm, Perry, I disagree that Buttigieg and Biden should train their fire on Sanders. Buttigieg still needs to gain more ground in order to become a serious threat for the nomination, so he might want to continue chipping away at Warren’s support. And I think Biden might like having Sanders in a strong position; after all, Biden was in a much more precarious position when Warren had consolidated much of the liberal vote.

ameliatd: I tend to think Buttigieg will go after Warren simply because she’s been going after him. That back-and-forth has taken kind of a personal tinge — both of them are attacking each other’s corporate backgrounds/connections. But it can be riskier for a female candidate to go on the attack because of gender stereotypes about how women should present themselves. Not to say Warren can’t thread that needle, but it’s another layer of difficulty for her to navigate.

geoffrey.skelley: One plus for Warren is that she regularly scores well in debates. In October and November, she had the strongest rating (or was tied for it) in our polling with Ipsos.

nrakich: Yeah, Geoffrey, but she also fell in the polls right after the November debate, so that didn’t necessarily matter.

geoffrey.skelley: Sure, but she could use this debate to shift the conversation toward something more appealing to voters — say, her plan for a wealth tax — which polls significantly better than Medicare for All.

ameliatd: She has been pivoting pretty explicitly to it on the campaign trail. And as Geoffrey mentioned, that makes sense given it’s quite popular. It also helps that it’s her signature policy. But Booker also attacked it in the last debate, saying it’s “cumbersome” and pointing out that wealth taxes failed in other countries. Granted, he won’t be on stage tonight, but I wonder if Buttigieg might attack it, too.

sarahf: The Warren vs. Buttigieg conflict you all are highlighting is interesting, because even though they’re pretty different ideologically, they pretty much appeal to the same types of voters (college-educated whites). The catch, of course, and maybe one reason they should focus on attacking other candidates, is they both need a way more diverse base of support to have a serious chance at winning the nomination.

perry: Buttigieg’s lack of support from black voters has become one of the biggest narratives of the campaign. And I think it’s what I’m most interested in ahead of this debate. How do the moderators ask him about this? What do the other candidates say, since none of them are black? Does Biden, the person with all the black support, attack Buttigieg on these grounds? And most importantly, how does Buttigieg respond?

It’s not just how black voters think about this either. When I talk to white voters who like Buttigeig, they’ll say something like, “What is the deal with black people and Pete?” I think this is a real barrier for him.

ameliatd: Yeah, I think that will be really interesting to watch, Perry. I’ve also heard that concern about Buttigieg from white voters. Interestingly, not as much about Warren, even though she is also struggling somewhat among voters of color.

sarahf: This piece from The Washington Post earlier this week offered a pretty sympathetic portrayal of some of Buttigieg’s issues with winning over black voters. So part of me wonders whether he will be able to talk a bit more candidly tonight about reaching black voters or if he sticks to more rehearsed, well-trodden talking points. For instance, in that article it talked a lot about Buttigieg coming to terms (or at least thinking about) his own white privilege, and I think he could maybe have some powerful moments on what white privilege means if he chose to move in that direction.

perry: Pete’s problem right now isn’t with black voters as much as it is with white voters who need reassurance that he is good on racial issues with black people. The best way for him to win black voters is probably to win Iowa and New Hampshire. But as for these next two months, I’m not sure I know what he should do. His comments in that Post piece were kind of weird, like he was studying black people.

ameliatd: Talking about privilege is a hard thing for the white candidates to do, too. I remember when Kirsten Gillibrand said in an early debate that she could explain white privilege to white women in the suburbs — and it fell kind of flat. It’s just a challenge for white candidates to do in a way that seems genuine and unrehearsed.

sarahf: I thought that, too, in reading the piece, Perry. He’s treating it like a problem he has to fix … which is probably a very white way of thinking about things.

ameliatd: It feels very on-brand for Buttigieg, too, which I think is part of the problem. The consultant’s approach to fixing your standing with voters of color.

perry: There is a small cohort of young black people who are more liberal and who support Sanders or Warren. But the issue for Buttigieg is that the older, more moderate voters he attracts tend to be white, while the older, moderate black voters tend to be very pro-Biden. And I don’t think any of that changes in the short-term. So I feel like Buttigieg is kind of stuck. If I were him, I would talk about electability if I were trying to boost my black vote numbers.

geoffrey.skelley: It’s hard to make the case that you’re electable if the most votes you’ve ever captured in an election you won is 11,000.

perry: Yes, but it’s better than talking about white privilege, I think.

My other somewhat related question is, Yang made it to the debate, which means we don’t have to have a discussion about why there are no minority candidates. But do we think that discussion happens anyway? Do the other candidates have to pretend to be sad that Harris, Booker and Castro aren’t there? (It’s a competition, those people lost.)

nrakich: I am sure they will pay lip service to Booker and Castro. It is a competition, but it helps in a competition to appear like a gracious winner!

Also, if Booker and Castro are on the brink of dropping out, their endorsements could soon be in play.

perry: I found the whole narrative around Harris leaving the race to be odd — that somehow this is a big void because there are not enough prominent minority candidates. The concerns of black and brown voters are not being ignored. I can’t remember a field that has talked about racial issues more.

ameliatd: I think candidates like Warren are probably genuinely not happy with the fact that Steyer is on the stage and Booker isn’t. On the campaign trail, Warren has been attacking unnamed billionaires (cough cough, Bloomberg) for trying to buy their way into the race. So I wonder if lamenting the absence of Booker/Castro can also be a way to go after Steyer.

geoffrey.skelley: The question is, of course, whether it’s worth attacking Steyer, who doesn’t have much obvious space to move upward in the race.

nrakich: That’s smart, Amelia. Something like, “I’m running against a system where it’s easier for a billionaire candidate to get a public platform than it is for a black candidate.”

perry: That would be a good argument.

I am sad Bloomberg won’t be there because Warren and Sanders seem to really dislike him and I think the feeling is mutual.

ameliatd: Steyer is a less appealing billionaire punching bag, imho.

sarahf: So we’ve talked about how tonight could be crucial for Warren and Buttigieg, which makes sense considering they’re both a bit behind Biden and Sanders and need to close the gap. (In our national polling average, she’s at almost 15 percent and Buttigieg is at 10 percent. Biden, on the other hand, is in the lead by a fairly healthy margin — 27 percent — with Sanders in second at 18 percent.)

But couldn’t Biden also do something tonight to help solidify his support? That’s just as crucial a question, right?

nrakich: It is an important question, but I’m not sure his performance will matter much. We’ve seen him struggle in past debates without suffering any real polling consequences. I guess if he has a really strong performance, it could help him? But honestly, I feel like he’d have to have a few strong performances in a row in order to really convince people, “OK, yeah, this guy has it together.”

ameliatd: Biden has yet to have a really stellar debate performance. I wonder what would happen if he managed to have a gaffe-free night and stayed consistently on point until the very end. Maybe nothing? But maybe it would allay some voters’ concerns.

geoffrey.skelley: A “Biden Dominates Debate” kind of headline would certainly mark a big change of pace.

ameliatd: But does the debate really have the potential to help Biden surge? This is on the same night the new Star Wars movie opens, after all.

nrakich: Yeah, Amelia, plus the holidays are coming up … I bet this will be the least-watched debate so far.

ameliatd: On the other hand, I was in Iowa this past weekend and talked to a not-insignificant number of voters who are just starting to tune into the process. So even though I remain a skeptic about the impact of the debates, I think it’s important for us tired journalists to remember not all voters have been watching since June.

perry: One question I have is whether this is all just a 2016 replay? The candidate with the support of non-college voters in his party gets a steady lead, watches the other candidates attack each other and just wins? (This is how Trump won the 2016 GOP primary.) I’m struggling to see Biden losing — or gaining — much support from this debate until some of the candidates drop out after Iowa and New Hampshire. Like the one thing we know so far about his numbers is they are just really stable, right?

geoffrey.skelley: Right, but the state-by-state nature of the actual primary process is something we can’t forget about. Biden may be leading in the national polls right now, and will likely be leading them when Iowa votes on Feb. 3, at least at the current rate. But we don’t know how voters will react if Biden loses a couple contests coming out of the gate.

So even if the debate isn’t all that impactful, that doesn’t mean this race is over by any means.

nrakich: I do think the January and February debates will be more impactful, for the reason Amelia says. People in New Hampshire will watch the New Hampshire debate that happens four days before they vote and is aired on their local news station, for instance.

perry: The particulars of what happens the next few months are important, yes. But right now, I am having a hard time seeing anything other than a gradual march toward a Biden victory.

geoffrey.skelley: I guess I’m leaving the door open for other changes. We’ve seen candidates have late surges in Iowa before — Rick Santorum in 2012 or John Edwards and John Kerry in 2004.

But Biden’s strength among black voters is absolutely a key factor, and none of the other candidates on stage — or Bloomberg, for that matter — have a record of appealing to that part of the Democratic base. So if no one else can make serious inroads with African American Democrats, it may be difficult to beat Biden for the nomination.

What Makes Our New 2020 Democratic Primary Polling Averages Different

Does the world really need another polling average?

Well, sure. Actually, we think having a variety of polling averages matters a lot in the presidential primaries — and the one you look at can change how you view the race. So we’ve just launched our national polling average for the 2020 Democratic primary, as well as one for every state where there’s an adequate amount of polling. Here’s Iowa, for instance:

Here’s South Carolina:

Here’s Nevada. Here’s California. We’d encourage you to click around a bit and then come back here once you’ve gotten a sense for how the numbers look.

Constructing a polling average is never quite so straightforward as it seems, but that’s doubly true in a primary campaign. Since turnout is relatively low compared to a general election, polls can differ a lot from one another given their assumptions about who’s going to vote. Public opinion can change quickly during the primaries; unlike in the general election, where the large majority of voters can reliably be expected to vote for one party or the other, primary voters are usually considering multiple candidates, so the overall process is a lot more fluid. Having a polling average that moves too slowly can be a big problem, as can having one that overreacts to every new poll. The pace of polling can be irregular — sometimes you’ll get several high-quality polls in a day, and sometimes you’ll go a couple of weeks without any. All of these factors make the methodological choices behind a polling average more important.

FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast: Democratic primary, according to the early states

So here’s a description of our version of a polling average: a relatively brief overview of the features that make FiveThirtyEight’s primary polling averages different (and, we hope, slightly more accurate) than the alternatives. I’m keeping this relatively brief for two reasons: First, none of this differs that much from the polling averages we’ve constructed in the past for general elections, and second, these polling averages will soon be followed by our full-fledged primary forecast, which uses these averages as an “ingredient” but also considers a host of other factors. We’ll save the discussion of the forecast for later, though. For now, listed in rough order of how much they can affect our averages, here are the five key things that make our polling averages a little different:

Differentiator 1: We adjust state polls based on trends in national polls

A hallmark of our general election forecasts, dating all the way back to our first versions in 2008, is what we call a “trend line adjustment.” Basically, in states that haven’t been polled recently, we make inferences about what’s going on there using national polls or polls from other states that have been surveyed recently. If President Trump gained 3 percentage points in national polls, for instance, but North Carolina hadn’t been polled recently, you could probably infer that he’d also gained 3 points, or thereabouts, in North Carolina.

We apply this adjustment for a good reason: Trend-line-adjusted averages have been quite a bit more accurate, historically. That is, once someone does get around to polling North Carolina, it usually turns out that Trump did gain about 3 points. Trend-line-adjusted averages have also been insightful so far this cycle — they anticipated, for instance, that Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s numbers would decline in state polls in November and early December once she began to slump in national polls.

So we’re now applying a slightly simplified version3 of the trend line adjustment to the primaries. (Note that all polling averages you see on our state polling pages reflect this trend line adjustment.) Say that Sen. Cory Booker has surged by 5 points in national polls, for instance, but we haven’t seen a recent poll in Nevada. Our average would assume that he’d also improved his standing by 5 points in Nevada, other things held equal.

There are a few complications: For instance, the adjustment is nonlinear, which can have meaningful effects if a candidate is polling in the low single digits. But in short, the trend line adjustment can have fairly large effects if a state hasn’t been polled much recently. It doesn’t affect our numbers much, conversely, if there are a lot of recent, high-quality polls from that state.

Differentiator 2: We adjust for house effects

House effects” are when certain pollsters consistently show better results for certain candidates. Emerson College, for instance, has usually shown optimistic results for Sen. Bernie Sanders in polls it has published so far in the primary campaign, while Morning Consult’s polls tend to have pretty good numbers for former Vice President Joe Biden.

All of FiveThirtyEight’s general election polling averages adjust for house effects, and we’re now doing the same for our primary averages. In fact, we found that the house effects adjustments we’ve used in the past were slightly too consevative for the primaries, so they’ll be a bit more aggressive this year.4

House effects are calculated for each candidate separately. So, for instance, Morning Consult has a Biden house effect adjustment, a Pete Buttigieg adjustment, a Tom Steyer adjustment, and so on. National polls can influence the house effects adjustment in the states and vice versa, and polling in one state can influence the house effects adjustment in other states.

Differentiator 3: Our average adjusts more quickly after major events

We’ve long recommended that you should consider news events when determining whether a polling shift is signal or noise. If Trump literally did shoot someone on Fifth Avenue, or the Martians invaded Washington and he valiantly fought them off, it wouldn’t be surprising if there were a sharp shift in his approval rating. Conversely, if we were in the midst of a boring news cycle where nothing much was happening, a poll showing a big swing in his numbers would be more likely to be an outlier.

We’re now applying this sort of logic to our primary polling average, though in a much more formal and rigorous way. While we aren’t expecting a Martian invasion, there are certain types of events in the primaries that predictably can have large effects on the polls (i.e. they have historically). Specifically, these include, in order of importance:

  • The outcomes of primaries and caucuses (e.g. a candidate can get a bounce after Iowa or Super Tuesday)
  • Major candidates entering or exiting the race
  • Debates

Following these three types of events, our polling average will be more aggressive about deeming swings in the polling average to be signal rather than noise. As a corollary, it will be less aggressive when there are apparent polling shifts that aren’t precipitated by one of these events. We’ll revisit this in future articles, but note that the importance the model assigns to events works on a sliding scale. No offense to our Guamanian readers, for instance, but, historically, Iowa or Super Tuesday tends to move the polls a lot more than the Guam caucus — and our averages reflect this.

Differentiator 4: We’ve carefully set our average so it doesn’t move too fast or too slow

Over the years, we’ve found that there’s no particular default set of assumptions that will give you a good polling average in every circumstance. Applying the aggressive settings from our presidential approval rating average to our generic ballot tracker makes the generic ballot much too “bouncy,” for instance. (We learned that one the hard way.) Conversely, applying the conservative settings from our generic ballot tracker would make our presidential approval rating average too sluggish to pick up on real swings in Trump’s numbers.

So we think the only good way to determine the “right” settings for a polling average is to do it empirically. There are a couple of ways that you could do this:

  1. You can tune the settings so that they optimally predict future polls. That is, if our approval rating average has Trump at 42 percent, that means 42 percent is our best guess for what a new Trump approval rating poll would say.
  2. Highly related to the above, you can tune the settings to minimize autocorrelation. That is to say, the current polling average should reflect all information about the current state of the polls and your average shouldn’t predictably move upward or downward from that point in time. For example, if Sanders improves from 15 percent to 17 percent in your polling average, he should be equally likely to continue gaining ground (improve beyond 17 percent) or to revert to where he was before (decline from 17 percent) in future editions of your polling average.
  3. For polling sequences that culminate in an election, like the New Hampshire primary poll average, you can test how accurately the polling average predicts the eventual election result.

The settings we chose for our primary polling averages are designed to optimize these qualities based on our historical database of primary polls since 1972. In general, it’s appropriate to apply relatively aggressive settings in the primaries as compared to the general election, as the former tend to be much more dynamic than the latter due to the lack of partisan guardrails.

I’ll refrain (for now) from going into more detail on exactly what these parameters are and how we’ve set them. (There are actually quite a few parameters, ranging from how you trade off recency versus having a larger sample of polls to which kernel density function to apply.) As a matter of practice, though, the FiveThirtyEight polling average represents something of a compromise between the RealClearPolitics approach of averaging recent polls and The Economist’s technique of drawing a trend line.

Differentiator 5: We use objective criteria to decide which polls to include

For many reasons, we prefer to avoid having to make any ad hoc decisions about which polls to include in our average. So our approach has always been to include almost all polls but to weight them based on our pollster ratings (which in turn reflect a combination of how accurate the pollster has been historically and the methodology it uses) and the polls’ sample size. We’re applying this long-standing process to our primary polling averages as well.

Note that I said “almost all polls” rather than “all polls” because there are some rare exceptions. We don’t include polls from firms that are banned by FiveThirtyEight because we suspect them of having faked data. And for the primaries, we won’t be including internal polls that are released to the public by one of the campaigns,5 or surveys that test super hypothetical matchups, such as a head-to-head poll conducted when more than two candidates are still running.


And that’s about it. Again, we’ll have much more detail on some of this when we launch our forecast. But in the meantime, please go click around and see how the race looks nationally and in the various states. Is Buttigieg losing steam in surveys of Iowa? Has Warren arrested her decline in national polls? Now you can decide for yourself.

How Did The Democrats End Up With A 2020 Field So White And Male? 

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


sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): The 2020 Democratic field was once hailed as the most diverse ever. But now, even as many candidates try to position themselves as the best person to build on the “Obama coalition of young people, women and nonwhite voters,” the four front-runners are nevertheless all white, and three are men.

On Tuesday, Kamala Harris dropped out of the race, and candidates like Julián Castro and Cory Booker have all struggled to break out, languishing below 4 percent in the polls nationally. Harris, in particular, had a bruising race, once sitting at 15 percent nationally to only plummet to 3 percent before ending her campaign.

Is this surprising? What are some possible explanations?

perry (Perry Bacon Jr., senior writer): My somewhat complicated theory is that Booker kind of lost the informal black candidate primary to Harris from 2017 to early 2019. Harris then got all the buzz as the most viable black candidate when she entered the race. But then she struggled. I’m not sure if her campaign had the clearest of messages, but I also think she faced electability questions, which dog female candidates in particular.

julia_azari (Julia Azari, political science professor at Marquette University and FiveThirtyEight contributor): I think it’s pretty surprising that the top of the field is now dominated by white candidates. And I think there are a couple of explanations that don’t fall under the usual “electability” catch-all, although that certainly deserves consideration, too.

One is that Obama’s election removed the novelty of a person of color winning the nomination, which means it’s harder to frame media coverage in a way that doesn’t have to tackle really tough questions about minority representation and what it might mean to actually address those inequalities.

Another explanation is because people have changed their views on race to more closely match their political parties, white Democrats have adopted (superficially at least) pretty racially liberal opinions, which means all the candidates can now talk about race and the concerns of black and Latino communities to various degrees. Obviously, with varying levels of success, but still, that’s a big change from a few years ago.

geoffrey.skelley (Geoffrey Skelley, elections analyst): Joe Biden’s standing in the race has been a big hindrance, too, because he’s just so strong among older nonwhite voters, particularly black voters, who might have been a potential base for some of these other candidates.

meredithconroy: (Meredith Conroy, political science professor at California State University and FiveThirtyEight contributor): If I had to give a blanket explanation for why the nonwhite candidates aren’t polling well among Democrats, my answer is that there was never going to be a lot of room between a former VP (Biden) and former runner-up (Bernie Sanders). Beto O’Rourke, Elizabeth Warren, Harris and Pete Buttigieg all made inroads at some point, although only Warren’s has really been sustainable. Why Castro and Booker haven’t (yet) is, in my view, related to their race and the “electabilityovercorrection following 2016, or this idea that only a white, moderate male can take on Trump at the ballot box. Because sexism and racism motivated voters’ choice at the ballot box in 2016, I think Democrats are reluctant to be all-in for a candidate that will make those attitudes more salient in 2020.

julia_azari: What’s interesting to me about that, Meredith, is that this electability message seems to have somehow turned into one about race and less about gender.

sarahf: In other words, it should be equally surprising Warren has continued to do well?

julia_azari: Yeah, and while Amy Klobuchar isn’t doing great in the polls, she hasn’t really been attacked on her electability credentials (which is not to say that attacks on her haven’t been gendered). Similarly, Kirsten Gillibrand didn’t drop out because of electability critiques. She lacked elite support and did poorly in the polls.

That’s not to say that women are doing great in this field; they’re not, as a group. But the fact that concerns over electability also affect Booker and Castro after Obama won big majorities is interesting to me. Perhaps a message Democrats took away from 2016 is to be generally cautious about demographics, but not ideology. I find that odd, but there’s a lot going on.

sarahf: What’s so hard to untangle in all of this, too, is just how much of it is about the individual candidates and the competition they face. Like Meredith said at the outset, with both a former VP and a former runner-up in the race, did that ever really leave that much oxygen in the race for other candidates?

geoffrey.skelley: Sanders’s appeal is just so narrow, though. His ceiling of support just isn’t as high as some of the other candidates, which is why Biden’s relative strength looms large to me. He’s taken hits in the race, but he hasn’t really fallen down.

Perry has written about this before, but black voters have a pragmatic streak in the primaries, which means they have traditionally backed establishment candidates, which is one explanation for Biden’s continued success.

But in a universe where there is no Biden running, I think someone like Harris or Booker fills that lane better than Sanders or Warren. Considering Harris’s appeal earlier in the cycle among white college graduates, she might’ve had the best chance, too, to weave together that same sort of coalition that boosted Obama in the 2008 primary. But obviously that didn’t happen, and I think you can point to Biden as part of that, for eating up her support among nonwhite voters, and to Warren for grabbing college-educated voters.

perry: Would Stacey Abrams, Michelle Obama or Oprah have done better?

In other words, how big is the electability problem (a candidate’s gender and race) vs. the Biden problem (he is fairly popular with black people, even setting electability arguments aside)?

sarahf: In a race where a candidate’s perceived ability to beat Trump has been paramount, that’s hard for me to answer. I do think it’s notable how the conversation around electability has centered less on what characteristics voters think are important for winning vs. what they say they believe their neighbors think is important, and how that limits their choice as a result. For instance, in “magic wand” polls, where respondents are asked who they’d make president if they had the power to magically bypass the election, Warren has routinely beaten Biden, which stands out to me as a pretty stark example of just how different the race could be if electability wasn’t a factor.

julia_azari: I sort of doubt that any of those candidates would have done a lot better, Perry. That’s partly because the field is so crowded, and because there are so many existential questions about what the party should be doing.

meredithconroy: I think Abrams would’ve done fine, depending when she jumped in, because she has political experience. But I think Michelle Obama and Oprah wouldn’t have done as well because Democrats are generally more wary than Republicans of outsiders and people without formal governing experience.

julia_azari: Would Abrams have cleared the field, though? I doubt it. Sanders and possibly Warren would probably still have run, and if they’re in, then Biden jumps in, too. And I don’t see Buttigieg being put off by Abrams either.

geoffrey.skelley: Yeah, I don’t think there was a single field-clearer out there. Someone with Biden’s resume, maybe, if he or she were considerably younger and without as many failed presidential runs.

perry: Why Booker hasn’t done better is super interesting to me as well. I don’t think he actually has an electability problem, considering on the surface he’s the most similar to the last Democrat who won — black, male and running on a message of hope.

Yet, that hasn’t worked for him. Maybe he has been unlucky (people found another Rhodes Scholar mayor). Then again, maybe it’s because he’s been unable to pick a lane.

Buttigieg says I’m young; Biden says I’m experienced and electable; Warren and Sanders both say they’ll bring big structural change.

Booker, on the other hand, says I’m kind of left, but not that left, kind of young, but not that young, etc.

sarahf: And so you think it’s kind of inexplicable, Perry, that Booker hasn’t done better given all that?

julia_azari: My hunch is that this is the year of the factional candidate.

perry: Yeah, that is my view as well.

sarahf: Wait, what does the year of “the factional candidate” mean?!?

perry: Buttigieg and Biden are running as decidedly center-left. Warren and Sanders to the left. Harris and Booker on the other hand have refused to pick a lane, and in my view, fusion is failing.

julia_azari: Yeah, it’s the year of the candidate who can excite some segment of the party, rather than someone who seems OK to most segments.

perry: Better said.

sarahf: But isn’t trying to appeal to a wide swath of the party versus any one specific group kind of Biden and Buttigieg’s whole appeal? Hence, the whole “Vote for me, I won’t rock the boat too much” strategy?

Or would you say, no — they’ve still staked out an ideological lane more explicitly.

julia_azari: Look at the demographic trends. Biden does well mainly with older voters and minority voters, while Buttigieg really only does well with white voters, particularly those with a college degree. Which is similar to Warren, although she does a little bit better than him with nonwhite voters — but not by much. That’s factional support!

perry: Additionally, Harris and Booker lost the black left to Sanders and Warren, while black voters who are not-that-left ideologically flocked to Biden. That same kind of ideological split exists among white voters, except Buttigieg has done better with more moderate white voters than Harris and Booker have done with moderate black voters.

I do think, in defense of Harris and Booker, perhaps a black candidate can’t run on super-left platform and be seen as viable. There’s a reason why the Jesse Jackson model (a black candidate running on populist platform) has not been replicated and why there is no black Bernie Sanders-style candidate in the race.

sarahf: This theory of the year of the factional candidate is an interesting one and would also help explain to me why someone like Andrew Yang has overperformed expectations as an outsider-y type candidate in a field that has otherwise been not that receptive to candidates of color like Harris and Booker, who have taken a more middle-of-the-road approach. Tulsi Gabbard falls under this category as well I think, given her small-but-loyal fan base.

But this still doesn’t explain someone like Castro, right? After all, he did make being super liberal a core part of his campaign at one point — remember how he got everyone (except O’Rourke) to raise their hand at the first debate in support of making it a civil, not criminal, offense to cross the border without the proper documentation?

perry: In my view, Warren and Sanders don’t leave a lot of room for other super liberal candidates.

meredithconroy: I mostly agree. But I think Castro was smart to carve out space for a candidate who openly supports issues of social and racial justice. He is championing issues that often get sidelined. Only it hasn’t had much impact. Paul Begala, a former adviser to Bill Clinton, said that embracing progressive positions on things like immigration may not have done much to help Castro, given liberal voters’ loyalty to Sanders and Warren. So Castro’s poll numbers continue to languish.

sarahf: That’s the thing — he missed the last debate and doesn’t seem likely to make the next one in December either.

But OK, with Harris’s departure from the race, does that mean there really are only four possible front-runners at this stage? Or do people think this could still change?

julia_azari: Klobuchar-mentum!

perry: After every debate, people in the media, myself included, say Booker and Klobuchar did well. Yet they remain stagnant in polls.

Do more donors support Booker now, in part because he would be one of the few minority candidates on the debate stage and is probably more viable than Castro?

Maybe. If I had to bet on a fifth candidate to emerge, I would bet on Booker.

But I am not confident of that bet at all.

julia_azari: I agree with Perry.

meredithconroy: Sanders, Biden and Warren have cemented themselves as front-runners, I think. which I think leaves room for one, maybe two more. I would bet on Buttigieg, Booker or … maybe Yang? AM I TOO ONLINE?

geoffrey.skelley: The problem for Booker is he needs four qualifying polls for the December debate by Dec. 12, and he has zero at the moment. Maybe he can take advantage of Harris’s exit to pick up some of her support — not that there was a ton at this point — but the problem is he’s running out of time.

Yang, on the other hand, is currently one poll short of qualification and the “Yang Gang” is a legit financial resource — he raised about $10 million in the third quarter, which could keep him going for awhile.

sarahf: How will you think about the race moving forward?

julia_azari: The big question for me is whether Castro or Booker picks up any steam as a result of Harris dropping out. Or Klobuchar.

geoffrey.skelley: Maybe the absence of a nonwhite candidate at the top of the polls causes some people to shift their support, but I think we should keep in mind that many of Harris’s supporters will most likely flock to one of the other leading candidates. According to a recent poll from CBS News/YouGov that looked at who voters’ second-choice candidates would be in the early states, 80 percent of Harris supporters named one of the four leading candidates as their second choice.

julia_azari: Yeah, you’re probably right.

I’m on Twitter too much.

geoffrey.skelley: That said, I do think that Gabbard and Yang have very committed supporters who will keep them in the race for a while, but if I’m trying to figure out if there’s a nonwhite candidate who can actually win the Democratic nomination. That list may be empty at this point if Booker doesn’t improve substantially.

meredithconroy: Big picture, the lack of nonwhite front-runners signals to me that a vast number of voters are reluctant to support a nonwhite candidate because they are worried about winning swing states. For voters who are more concerned with policy than beating Trump, my thought is they have probably already settled on Sanders or Warren, which leaves a candidate like Castro — who also has a progressive agenda — out to dry. Long term, it should be a wake-up call for the Democratic party as an organization. They need to continue to build a diverse bench and do more to elevate nonwhite and non-male candidates.

geoffrey.skelley: General election turnout really matters for Democrats. Yes, Hillary Clinton lost for multiple reasons in 2016, but one big reason was lower turnout among black voters. Now, I don’t think anyone expected it to be at the same level as in 2008 or 2012 with Obama not on the ballot, but if you look at cities like Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia, which were located in the three states that decided the election, black voter turnout was down in all three. Clinton only lost those states by a combined 78,000 votes or so.

So if you’re a Democrat trying to figure out how to win electorally important and fairly white states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, turnout among nonwhite voters is key. The same is true if you’re thinking about other potential swing states like Arizona and North Carolina.

Which means it should be at least somewhat concerning for the Democratic Party that there are really no viable nonwhite candidates left in the race two months before Iowa.

Our Poll Shows That Buttigieg’s Post-Debate Bump Is Still Just His Base

The past few weeks have been pretty good for South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg: His polls are on the upswing in Iowa, he’s getting more media coverage, and he even led in a New Hampshire poll. It seems that he carried this momentum through the fifth Democratic debate as well. According to our FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll conducted using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, he saw the largest increase in the number of people considering supporting him, going from 26 percent before the debate to 32 percent afterward.

But where did that 6-point increase come from?

To answer this, we looked at a few metrics in our poll, which surveyed the same group of respondents before and after the November debate. One of the indicators we considered is how support shifted among respondents who prioritized the top five issues in our poll, which were health care, the economy and jobs, wealth and income inequality, climate change, and discrimination. As you can see in the table below, Buttigieg gained potential supporters among voters who prioritized all of the top 5 issue areas — he is the only candidate for which this was true. His gains were not marginal either, mostly around 5 percentage points.

Buttigieg gained among voters who prioritize …

Change in the share of respondents considering supporting each candidate before and after the fifth Democratic debate by which issue respondents said was most important to them, per a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll

candidate Health care The economy and jobs Wealth and income inequality Climate change Racism, sexism, discrimination
Biden +1.9 +0.8 +2.4 -2.6 +3.0
Sanders +1.3 -2.9 +3.1 +0.5 +0.6
Warren +0.5 -2.3 +0.3 +2.5 -5.7
Buttigieg +5.0 +4.8 +5.7 +6.3 +3.7
Harris +5.3 +2.2 +2.2 +6.2 -3.0
Yang +1.7 +0.0 +0.8 +1.3 -0.2
Booker +3.7 +1.8 +1.6 +3.5 -0.4
Klobuchar +0.8 +1.3 +1.2 +3.1 -1.1
Gabbard +0.1 +0.6 +0.7 +0.4 +0.5
Steyer +3.8 +1.3 +0.7 +1.2 -0.3

Showing the top five issues out of a set of twelve respondents could choose from. Uses respondents’ pre-debate answer for which issue is most important. From a survey of 3,786 likely Democratic primary voters who were surveyed between Nov. 14 and Nov. 18. The same people were surveyed again from Nov. 20 to Nov. 21; 2,077 responded to the second wave.

When respondents were asked to rate candidates’ chances of beating President Trump, Buttigieg gained ground there as well, earning a post-debate average of 49.5 percent, 3 points higher than his pre-debate average. He still trails former Vice President Joe Biden (67.5 percent after the debate), Sen. Bernie Sanders (58.5 percent) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (57.8 percent), but notably, he was the only one of these four candidates who gained in this metric — the other three either lost ground or saw no change.

But if Buttigieg was hoping his high debate marks would help him diversify his base of support, that hasn’t happened yet. The demographic cross-tabs in our poll show that he mainly made inroads among groups where he already enjoyed a disproportionate amount of support, like the college-educated, white voters and older voters. He had little success winning people over among groups where he has tended to struggle, like with black and Hispanic voters.

Buttigieg’s gains were mostly confined to his base

Share of respondents considering supporting Buttigieg in a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll, broken down by demographics

Age pre-debate post-debate change
65+ 36.6% 44.5% +7.9
50-64 30.1 37.8 +7.7
18-34 19.7 24.4 +4.7
35-49 22.0 24.5 +2.4
education pre-debate post-debate change
College or higher 34.2% 41.6% +7.4
Some college 23.9 28.4 +4.5
High school or less 17.9 22.0 +4.1
race pre-debate post-debate change
White 34.5% 42.4% +7.8
Black 12.2 15.9 +3.7
Hispanic 17.4 16.3 -1.1

Only groups with a sample size of 200 or more were included. From a survey of 3,786 likely Democratic primary voters who were surveyed between Nov. 14 and Nov. 18. The same people were surveyed again from Nov. 20 to Nov. 21; 2,077 responded to the second wave.

This lack of diverse support may be a part of why Buttigieg is struggling to gain traction outside Iowa and New Hampshire and continues to sit at about 8 percent nationally, far behind the other three front-runners in the race. And if Buttigieg can’t appeal to people outside his existing base, he might have a hard time getting his numbers up any higher.

Are Some Democratic Voters Reluctant To Support A Gay Candidate?

There’s nothing like a national election to illuminate the complex and slippery nature of bias at work in the country today. Just ask Pete Buttigieg. Always something of an underdog in the Democratic primary, Buttigieg has started to poll well in Iowa and New Hampshire relative to his national numbers and has proved to be a formidable fundraiser. But as his profile has risen, murmurs about how his sexual orientation might affect his bid have gotten louder and louder.

There are plenty of reasons, of course, why Buttigieg might struggle to gain traction among more voters. His lack of statewide or national political experience is one potential stumbling block. Voters of all races may also balk because he has faced criticism for his handling of the predominantly white police force in South Bend, where a white officer recently shot and killed a black man, and for implementing economic policies that some feel ignore or harm communities of color. And another scapegoat has emerged: Last month, a leaked memo described the results of a focus group conducted by Buttigieg’s own campaign in July, which found that some black voters in South Carolina were uncomfortable with his sexual orientation.

It’s hard to know how much that discomfort truly matters — even a number of the skeptical focus group voters were still open to supporting Buttigieg — and to the extent that it exists, it’s certainly not confined to one group. But regardless of the reasons behind his depressed support, Buttigieg’s candidacy is a case study in the dilemma facing gay and lesbian candidates running at all levels of office today. It’s remarkable, in one sense, how little Buttigieg’s sexual orientation has come up in the primary so far, considering that only 10 years ago, the election of a lesbian woman as Houston’s mayor was enough to make national headlines. Voters’ willingness to support gay and lesbian candidates is at an all-time high, and multiple studies by political scientists have suggested that Democrats are especially unlikely to discriminate against candidates like Buttigieg. “If anything, there are some subgroups of Democrats who would be more likely to vote for a gay candidate,” said Gabriele Magni, a political science professor at Loyola Marymount University.

Stop there, and you’d have a pretty rosy electoral prognosis for Buttigieg — focus group skepticism notwithstanding. But it also isn’t the full story. Some Democrats haven’t moved as quickly to the left as others on gay rights issues. And a substantial chunk of Republicans are still comfortable saying they wouldn’t support a gay candidate. As ever, it’s difficult to know what actually keeps a voter for pulling the lever for a particular candidate, but Buttigieg’s sexuality could be a sticking point for some. Experts like Magni said Buttigieg might find it tough to draw support from the most conservative or religious corners of the Democratic primary electorate, not to mention Republicans in the general election. And in a primary driven by voters’ concerns about how electable the candidates are, the perception that a significant slice of voters would never support a gay candidate might be an even bigger hurdle than the reluctant voters themselves.

Just a few election cycles ago, a debate about the electoral impact of a gay candidate’s sexual orientation would have had a clear answer — because being gay was a dealbreaker for almost half the country. As recently as 2007, only 55 percent of Americans said they would vote for a gay or lesbian candidate for president, which is only slightly higher than the share who currently say they would vote for a socialist. But many voters’ qualms about the prospect of a gay or lesbian president evaporated over the following decade, and 76 percent of Americans — including a majority of Republicans — now say they wouldn’t have a problem supporting a gay candidate for president. That’s still not the near-uniform level of hypothetical support the same polls show for a female or black candidate, but it’s also not obviously disqualifying. After all, only 63 percent of Americans say they’d vote for a candidate over the age of 70, which describes the three top-polling candidates in the Democratic primary.

There are plenty of signs, too, that a Democratic primary is particularly friendly terrain for a gay candidate. Political scientists have found in studies and interviews with candidates that gay and lesbian candidates overwhelmingly run as Democrats, in part because Democratic voters don’t seem to penalize candidates for their sexual orientation. A recent experimental study co-authored by Magni found that voters who identify as very liberal and nonreligious were more likely to support a gay candidate over a straight candidate.

The impulse to size up the electoral landscape and run where their support is strongest can partially help explain why gay and lesbian candidates often don’t find their sexuality to be a serious barrier. “When you talk to gay and lesbian candidates, they’ll generally tell you their sexual orientation didn’t matter much in their race, and that’s in part a function of the fact that they tend to run in more liberal areas, like cities,” said Donald Haider-Markel, a political science professor at the University of Kansas and the author of “Out and Running: Gay and Lesbian Candidates, Elections, and Policy Representation.”

But there are still pockets of the Democratic electorate where voters’ views of gay people aren’t as liberal. And that poses a few potential problems for Buttigieg, who has to run a national campaign. A significant chunk of his base is composed of white college-educated Democrats; this is also a subset of voters where his sexual orientation is highly unlikely to be a roadblock, given that several decades of data from the General Social Survey shows that people in this group are especially likely to say that homosexual relationships are never wrong.

But as my colleague Nathaniel Rakich wrote recently, Buttigieg has some fierce competition from Elizabeth Warren for white college-educated voters. And while the groups with whom he might be hoping to expand his support — like religious voters or whites with lower levels of education — are certainly not uniformly opposed to gay candidates, they are groups where his sexual orientation might be more of an issue. People who attend church frequently are much less likely than non-churchgoers to believe same-sex marriage should be legal, according to the Pew Research Center. Likewise, lower levels of education tend to come with lower levels of support for gay marriage.

Voters’ feelings about gay candidates could show up in more nuanced ways as well. The specter of electability, for example, could turn out to be a bigger roadblock for Buttigieg than outright hostility toward gay people. For instance, a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll found that voters were basically split on whether the country was ready for a gay or lesbian president, and only 26 percent said that their neighbors were ready.

To be clear, several experts told me these electability concerns don’t have a lot of evidence to support them, although that may be partially because there hasn’t been a lot of research on how gay candidates perform in real-life elections, and candidates may also avoid contests — like Republican primaries — where they’re all but destined to lose. But discomfort with gay marriage or homosexual relationships won’t necessarily stop voters from ultimately supporting a gay candidate. And Haider-Markel pointed out that the people with the strongest prejudices against gay people are also highly unlikely to vote for any Democrat, which means that in a general election, Buttigieg’s sexuality would probably matter less than the “D” next to his name. Dislodging gut-level intuitions about electability can be tricky business for a candidate, though. That’s particularly true when significant chunks of the electorate — including almost 40 percent of Republicans — are still perfectly comfortable telling a pollster they wouldn’t vote for a gay candidate. It’s hard not to assume that a neighbor’s stubborn opposition to gay marriage will shape their vote in some way — even though in reality, the forces that influence our choice of candidate are far more complex.

This complexity makes it nearly impossible to say for certain whether it’s Buttigieg’s sexual orientation — rather than his age, or his political inexperience, or his policy positions, or some ineffable combination of factors — that has kept him from rising further in the polls. And that will also make it hard to assess, when all the ballots are cast and the Democratic nominee is chosen, just how much Buttigieg’s electoral chances were affected by his sexuality.

But it also means that even if some voters are being held back by Buttigieg’s sexual orientation now, other parts of his biography, like his military service or Christian faith, could still change the way they think about him. The good news for Buttigieg is that there are months to go before the primaries begin, and he has plenty of cash to spend on introducing himself to voters who might currently know next to nothing about him. “At a very basic level, Buttigieg could reduce some bias just by getting voters to see him as a gay man who was also in Afghanistan and goes to church on Sunday,” Magni said. “Sexual orientation is less likely to play a role in vote choice when people move past the stereotypes they have in their mind about who gay people are supposed to be.”

The October Democratic Debate In 6 Charts

Last night, 12 candidates duked it out in Westerville, Ohio, in the fourth Democratic debate. Sen. Elizabeth Warren built on her past debate successes, receiving high marks from both voters who care more about defeating President Trump and voters who care more about a candidate whose positions they agree with. But she was not the only winner in the FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll conducted using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel. Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar had strong performances, too, and used the debate as an opportunity to push back on whether Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders’s progressive policies are realistic.

We will be keeping an eye on the polls to see if Warren’s solid performance will help her pull ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden, or if Buttigieg and Klobuchar will manage to shore up more support. But for now, here’s a look at how the candidates performed, summed up in six charts:

Which candidates performed the best?

First, we wanted to see which candidates impressed the viewers we surveyed. To do this, we compared each candidate’s pre-debate favorability1 to debate-watchers’ rating of their performance to see if any well-liked candidates disappointed during the debate or if any less-liked candidates received good ratings. By this metric, Klobuchar and Buttigieg were the two candidates who exceeded expectations given their pre-debate favorables, though Warren still received the highest debate grade overall.

Warren performed well among voters who care about defeating Trump

In our poll, about two-thirds of Democratic voters said they value a candidate who has a good chance of beating Trump over someone who agrees with them on the issues — and that didn’t change after the debate. So with “electability” central to the election thus far, we wanted to see whether there was a difference in debate performance evaluations from respondents who said they cared about electability and respondents who said they cared about issues. Differences were small, but there are a few things that stand out.

First, even though Warren has pitched herself as the “issues” candidate — and she did do well among voters who care about the issues — her performance also appealed to respondents who said they prioritized defeating Trump. In fact, they rated her performance higher than that of any other candidate. Sanders also got high ratings from both voters who care more about defeating Trump and voters who care more about the issues, which means candidates making more issued-based appeals can still do well among voters who care about defeating Trump. But it’s a tricky balance. Buttigieg and Biden, for instance, did not do quite as well among voters who cared about the issues, but they did almost as well as Warren among voters who care about beating Trump.

How voters who care about the issues, defeating Trump rated the candidates

How well debate-watchers thought candidates performed in the fourth Democratic debate, by which type of candidate they prefer

Type of candidate preferred
candidate Similar issue positions Able to beat trump
Warren 3.1 3.3
Buttigieg 2.9 3.2
Sanders 3.1 3.1
Biden 2.7 3.1
Klobuchar 2.7 2.9
Booker 2.6 2.9
Harris 2.7 2.9
Yang 2.8 2.7
O’Rourke 2.5 2.7
Steyer 2.4 2.6
Castro 2.5 2.6
Gabbard 2.4 2.3

From a survey of 3,360 likely Democratic primary voters who were surveyed between Oct. 7 and Oct. 14. The same people were surveyed again from Oct. 15 to Oct. 16; 712 responded to the second wave and said that they watched the debate.

Source: Ipsos/FiveThirtyEight

Who made a positive impression?

We also wanted to see how viewers’ opinions of the candidates changed as a result of the debate. So, to see who made a positive (or negative) impression, we calculated the candidates’ net favorability (favorable rating minus unfavorable rating) before and after the debate.

Although both Buttigieg and Klobuchar were on the attack, their net favorability increased by 2.6 points and 3.2 points, respectively. That said, even with her modest bump, Klobuchar is still not viewed as favorably as candidates like Buttigieg, Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Kamala Harris. And not every candidate made a positive impression: former Rep. Beto O’Rourke lost the gains he made in the last debate and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s return to the stage did not impress viewers either.

More people like Klobuchar; O’Rourke took a hit

Change in net favorability for candidates in a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll taken before and after the fourth Democratic primary debate

Net favorability
candidate before debate after debate change
Klobuchar +11.8 +15.0 +3.2
Buttigieg +30.9 +33.5 +2.6
Warren +52.1 +54.3 +2.2
Sanders +43.1 +45.2 +2.1
Biden +47.4 +48.6 +1.2
Steyer +0.8 +2.0 +1.2
Yang +14.2 +14.5 +0.3
Booker +26.3 +25.3 -1.0
Harris +30.8 +28.4 -2.4
Castro +11.6 +8.2 -3.3
Gabbard -2.3 -6.8 -4.5
O’Rourke +22.6 +16.9 -5.7

From a survey of 3,360 likely Democratic primary voters who were surveyed between Oct. 7 and Oct. 14. The same people were surveyed again from Oct. 15 to Oct. 16; 1,761 responded to the second wave.

Who spoke the most?

Warren got her first taste of being the race’s front-runner, and spent much of the debate deflecting other candidates’ attacks. She spoke almost 3,700 words — more than any other candidate and 600 words more than the second-most-prolific talker, Biden. This is a notable change from the September debate, when Warren was third in words spoken behind both Biden and Booker. Impressively, O’Rourke and Klobuchar — who were both near the bottom for words spoken in the last debate — clocked in at third and fourth in words spoken, respectively. They surpassed Booker, who after being second in words spoken last time spoke the fifth-most words last night.

Who held the floor?

Number of words candidates spoke in the fourth Democratic debate

Candidate Words Spoken
Elizabeth Warren 3,695
Joe Biden 3,064
Beto O’Rourke 2,584
Amy Klobuchar 2,559
Cory Booker 2,267
Pete Buttigieg 2,266
Kamala Harris 2,256
Bernie Sanders 2,085
Andrew Yang 1,791
Julián Castro 1,666
Tulsi Gabbard 1,497
Tom Steyer 1,318

Source: Debate Transcript via ABC News

We also compared the number of words candidates spoke to their polling average, to see if higher-polling candidates spoke as much as expected or if lower-tier candidates managed to steal the mic. (The polling average is based on nine debate-qualifying polls released since the third debate on Sept. 12.)

O’Rourke and Klobuchar way outspoke their lower polling averages. Warren, Buttigieg, and Harris also outperformed their averages, but not by as large of a margin. On the other hand, Sanders and Biden held the floor less than we might expect considering their standing in the polls.

Harris led the pack in calling out Trump

In addition to tracking who spoke most, we also counted how many times the candidates mentioned the president by name:

Who talked about Trump?

How often Trump’s name was mentioned by candidates in the fourth Democratic debate

Candidate Trump Mentions
Kamala Harris 11
Andrew Yang 9
Pete Buttigieg 8
Amy Klobuchar 7
Tulsi Gabbard 6
Elizabeth Warren 5
Cory Booker 4
Bernie Sanders 4
Tom Steyer 4
Joe Biden 3
Julián Castro 3
Beto O’Rourke 3

Source: Debate Transcript via ABC News

As a group, the candidates mentioned Trump’s name almost twice as often as in the previous debate — perhaps because the first question asked about impeaching the president. Once again, though, Harris mentioned Trump the most. Candidates who barely mentioned the president by name in the last debate — like Klobuchar (0), Buttigieg (1) and Andrew Yang (2) — name-dropped Trump more often, too, trailing only Harris in number of mentions. After saying Trump’s name the second-most number of times in the previous debate, former Cabinet secretary Julián Castro dropped to the bottom of the group. The candidates who held the floor the longest, such as Warren, Biden and O’Rourke, didn’t mention Trump as much as the other candidates who spoke less.

While the September debate — the first one-night event — was watched by about 15.3 million viewers, preliminary ratings indicate that this debate drew just over half of that, a mere 8.3 million people, despite featuring two more candidates. Interest may be dropping, but the debates will go on: The next debate is scheduled for Nov. 20, and so far eight candidates have qualified. We will be here live blogging and analyzing the debate, so stay tuned!

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 17 Long-Shot Presidential Contenders Could Build A Winning Coalition

It might seem obvious that having a wide-open field, as Democrats have for their 2020 presidential nomination, would make it easier for a relatively obscure candidate to surge to the top of the polls. But I’m not actually sure that’s true. Democrats might not have an “inevitable” frontrunner — the role that Hillary Clinton played in 2016 or Al Gore did in 2000. But that very lack of heavyweights has encouraged pretty much every plausible middleweight to join the field, or at least to seriously consider doing so. Take the top 10 or so candidates, who are a fairly diverse lot in terms of race, gender and age — pretty much every major Democratic constituency is spoken for by at least one of the contenders. After all, it was the lack of competition that helped Bernie Sanders gain ground in 2016; he was the only game in town other than Clinton.1

So as I cover some of the remaining candidates in this, the third and final installment of our “five corners” series on the Democratic field, you’re going to detect a hint of skepticism about most of their chances. (The “five corners” refers to what we claim are the the five major constituencies within the Democratic Party: Party Loyalists, The Left, Millennials and Friends, Black voters and Hispanic voters2; our thesis is that a politician must build a coalition consisting of at least three of these five groups to win the primary.) It’s not that some of them couldn’t hold their own if thrust into the spotlight against one or two other opponents. Instead, it’s that most of them will never get the opportunity to square off against the big names because the middleweights will monopolize most of the money, staff talent and media attention. Rather than pretend to be totally comprehensive, in fact, I’m instead going to list a few broad typologies of candidates that weren’t well-represented in the previous installments of this series.

This type of candidate has been popular in the minds of journalists ever since Gary Hart’s failed presidential bids in 1984 and 1988 — but it never seems to gain much momentum among actual Democratic voters. In this scenario, a Western governor or senator (e.g. Hart, Bruce Babbitt or Bill Richardson) runs on a platform that mixes environmentalism, slightly libertarianish views on other issues (legal weed but moderate taxes?) and a vague promise to shake things up and bring an outsider’s view to Washington.

This platform makes a lot of sense in the Mountain West, but I’m not sure how well it translates elsewhere in the country. In theory, the environmental focus should have some appeal among millennials. (That particularly holds for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who would heavily focus on climate change in his campaign as a means of differentiating himself.) And Party Loyalists might get behind an outsider if they were convinced that it would help beat President Trump, but “let’s bring in an outsider to shake things up” was one of the rationales that Trump himself used to get elected, so it doesn’t make for as good a contrast in 2020 as it might ordinarily. The Left isn’t likely to be on board with the Great Western Hope platform, which tends to be moderate on fiscal policy. And while the states of the Mountain West have quite a few Hispanic voters, they don’t have a lot of black ones. It’s not that Inslee or former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper aren’t “serious” candidates — being a multi-term governor of medium-sized state is traditionally a good credential — but it’s also not clear where the demand for their candidacies would come from.

You might say something similar about the various mayors that are considering a presidential bid.What niche are the mayors hoping to fill, and are there actually any voters there?

Maybe in “The West Wing,” a hands-on problem solver from Anytown, USA, would make the perfect antidote to a Trumpian president. In the real world, Democrats think the country is in crisis under Trump, and there are a lot of candidates who have more experience dealing with national problems.

But Eric Garcetti and Bill de Blasio, the current mayors of Los Angeles and New York, respectively, have at least had to build complicated coalitions in big, complicated cities — and so they would probably be more viable than the mayors from smaller cities. De Blasio cruised to an easy re-election in New York in 2017 on the basis of support from black, Hispanic and leftist white voters, a coalition that could also be viable in the presidential primary. (De Blasio hasn’t taken concrete steps toward a 2020 bid, but he also hasn’t ruled one out.) Garcetti, who has what he describes as “Mexican-American-Jewish-Italian” ancestry, could find support for his bid among Hispanic voters.

Bloomberg might belong in a different group, as someone who’s not just a former mayor but also fits into the entrepreneur/celebrity/rich person category below and has some of the baggage that comes with that. And unlike de Blasio, Bloomberg wasn’t especially popular with nonwhite voters in New York.

This is a group of candidates I’m quite bullish about, by contrast — especially Stacey Abrams, if she runs. In defeating longtime incumbent Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th Congressional District last year, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (who is too young to run for president until next cycle) built a coalition of Hispanics, The Left and millennials. Not that everyone necessarily has Ocasio-Cortez’s political acumen, but the potency of this coalition seems rather obvious, in retrospect. Since The Left tends to be pretty white on its own, a Hispanic, black or Asian left-progressive candidate has more potential to build a broader coalition. And millennials, who are sympathetic to left-wing policy positions but also care a lot about diversity, might prefer a Latina or a black woman to an older white man.

In fact, it’s not clear why, other than for reasons having to do with her race and gender, Abrams isn’t getting more buzz as a potential candidate than Beto O’Rourke. (It’s true that Abrams might have designs on Georgia’s 2020 Senate race instead of the presidency; it’s also true that there wasn’t a “Draft Abrams” movement in the same way that influential Democrats almost immediately called on O’Rourke to run for president after his loss to Ted Cruz.) Both performed quite well relative to how Democrats usually do in their states, with Abrams losing to Brian Kemp by 1.4 percentage points in the Georgia governor’s race and O’Rourke losing to Cruz by 2.6 points in Texas’s Senate race. (Andrew Gillum, who barely lost Florida’s governor’s race, can’t make this claim, since Florida is much more purple than either Georgia or Texas.) Both became huge national stories. And both are lacking in the kind experience that traditionally sets the stage for a presidential run. It’s not that I’m down on O’Rourke’s chances; the opposite, really (see Part 2 of this series). But if O’Rourke can build a winning coalition from millennials, Hispanics and Party Loyalists, Abrams (or possibly Gillum) could create one from black voters, millennials and The Left.

I’m not going to spend too much on this category because, in practice, both New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe are likely to have a lot of problems if they want to ascend to the presidential stage. Party nominations are not just about building coalitions but also creating consensus, and McAuliffe and Cuomo have probably picked one too many fights with liberals and spent too much time critiquing liberal policy proposals to be tolerable to a large enough share of Democrats to win the nomination. Of the two, Cuomo would probably be the more viable as he’s shifted toward his left recently, although he’d still have a lot of work to do to repair his relationship with progressives.

Were it not for their abrasive approaches, the Cuomo and McAuliffe coalitions might be a bit more viable than you might assume. In particular, those coalitions consist of minority voters plus relatively moderate Party Loyalists. Cuomo assembled a similar coalition last September and soundly defeated the more liberal Cynthia Nixon in the Democratic primary for governor before being elected to a third gubernatorial term in November thanks to a landslide 84-14 margin among nonwhite voters.

What about the various billionaires considering a presidential run? Count me as skeptical that a CEO title will impress Democrats. Money has never been terribly predictive of success in the primaries (see e.g. Steve Forbes or Jeb Bush) — and candidates such as former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Tom Steyer, the hedge fund billionaire who last week decided that he wouldn’t run for president, have fared notably poorly in early surveys of Democrats. And that makes sense, because it’s not really clear what sort of Democratic voter they’re supposed to be appealing to. The Left is likely to regard the billionaires suspiciously, at best. Nor are rich white men who have never run for office before liable to have a lot of initial success in appealing to black or Hispanic voters. Finally, their timing is poor given that the president is Trump and that the last thing most Democrats will want is another billionaire with no political experience.

Want a billionaire whose chances I’d take seriously? How about Oprah. One three-pronged coalition we haven’t discussed yet is one consisting of Black voters, Hispanic voters and Millennials and Friends; a nonwhite celebrity who was able to engage voters that didn’t ordinarily participate in primaries3 could potentially win on that basis.

Finally, there are a few people running for president who don’t have anything resembling the traditional credentials for doing so, but who at least have pitches that are a little different than what voters will be hearing elsewhere. Tulsi Gabbard, the four-term representative from Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, was one of Sanders’s early endorsers last cycle, but she also has a heterodox set of positions, such as her frequent defenses of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and her former opposition to gay rights, that won’t win her fans among any of the traditional Democratic constituencies.

Richard Ojeda, a crew-cut Army veteran and former West Virginia legislator who says he voted for Trump in 2016 and looks the part of a (stereotypical) Trump voter, is presenting what’s essentially a left-wing set of economic policies in a very different package than voters would normally to get that message from. I’m not quite sure how the pitch would go over if, say, Ojeda makes it to a debate stage, which might never happen because the Democratic National Committee and the networks might consider him too obscure. But it’s worth bearing in mind that The Left is the whitest and most male of the Democratic constituencies, so a candidate who intentionally plays into that identity might not be the best one to build bridges to the rest of the party.

Then there’s John Delaney, who decided not to run for re-election to Congress so he could run for president instead — and in fact has already been running for president for well more than a year. He’s preaching a message of bipartisanship, which could win him plaudits from the pundits on the Sunday morning shows, but which it’s not clear that many actual Democrats are looking for. Instead, more Democrats are willing to identify as “liberal” than had been in the past and fewer say they want a candidate who compromises.


That’s all for now! As I mentioned in the first installment of this series, some things we’ve written here are surely going to seem laughably wrong in retrospect. It wouldn’t necessarily have been obvious at this point four years ago that Clinton would do so well with black voters, for example (a group she lost badly to Barack Obama in 2008), or that Sanders would become such a phenomenon among millennials. Fundamentally, however, the U.S. has “big tent” parties, consisting of groups that may not have all that much in common with one another. And so, the nomination process is a coalition-building process. Candidates such as Sanders and Joe Biden, who poll well among one or two groups, may lead in the polls initially. But ultimately the candidate who wins the nomination will be the one who can best bridge the divides between the different constituencies within the party.