The 2020 Democratic Primary Is Still Wide Open

As Democratic candidates were making their announcements about joining the 2020 presidential primary, a Washington Post/ABC News poll asked respondents an open-ended question: “If the 2020 primary or caucus in your state were being held today, for whom would you vote?” They found that, among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, 56 percent had no preference. That is why I surmised that, while Joe Biden hadn’t entered the race yet, his lead in most national polls was based on him being a placeholder.

Three months later, Biden and Sanders have maintained their lead in most national polls when respondents are given a list of candidates from which to chose. But a Washington Post/ABC News poll recently repeated their open-ended question and found that the results were similar to their previous poll.

Asked to name the candidate they currently support, 54 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents did not volunteer anyone. That figure is little changed from 56 percent in January, despite a slew of candidate announcements, vigorous campaigning in the early primary and caucus states, multiple cable television town halls and interviews and constant fundraising appeals.

Of the minority who named their preference, here are the results.

Biden tops the field with 13 percent among Democrats and Democratic-leaning adults, followed by Sanders at 9 percent and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 5 percent. Sens. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) are at 4 percent, while former congressman Beto O’Rourke of Texas is at 3 percent. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Cory Booker (N.J.) are at 1 percent each.

In a poll with a margin of error at 5.5 percent, that is clearly not good news for Biden and Sanders—who have been identified as the “frontrunners.” But perhaps the most interesting revelation has to do with who has made up their mind.

In the open-ended question, 61 percent of college graduates volunteer support for a candidate. That compares with 35 percent of Democratic-leaners without college degrees. Liberals are 17 points more likely to name a candidate at this stage than are moderate or conservative Democrats. Men are 15 points more likely to name a candidate at this stage than are women. Race and age also factor in, with whites and Democrats 40 and older more likely to state support for a candidate.

The slight lead by Biden and Sanders among those who have decided on a candidate is skewed to college educated liberals who are predominately male, white, and older in a party that is currently dominated by women, people of color, and young voters.

For Democrats who don’t already have an allegiance to Biden or Sanders due to their history, these results prove that the majority of voters haven’t settled on a candidate at this point. In a year when it is critical to defeat Donald Trump, and Democrats have so many qualified people to chose from, that is understandable.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.