Who Is Leading the 2020 Democratic Primary? No One

When it comes to polling in Iowa, the standard-bearer is the Des Moines Register. That is why their most recent numbers for the 2020 Democratic caucuses have garnered so much attention. The major story coming from that poll is that Biden still leads, but his margin has narrowed. But what caught my eye was that, in addition to asking likely caucus-goers for their first choice, they also asked for a second choice, as well as which of the other candidates they were actively considering. If you total all three categories, this is the result.

  • Biden—61 percent
  • Warren—61 percent
  • Sanders—56 percent
  • Buttigieg—52 percent
  • Harris—52 percent
  • Booker—42 percent

While Cory Booker is the first choice for only one percent, he leads the field with the number of Democrats who are considering support for him at 36 percent. Sanders leads Warren by one point on voter’s first choice, but she leads him by six points with those who name her as their second choice combined with those who include her on the list of candidates they are considering.

As we’ve seen from previous polling, all of that indicates that a lot of Iowa Democrats haven’t made up their minds yet about who they will support at the caucuses that take place seven months from now.

A recent national poll from YouGov demonstrates why Biden and Sanders appear to be leading the field.

[T]he two male frontrunners may have an advantage today because just over a quarter (28%) of voters claim they are only considering one of the current Democrats running, and most of them say that person is either Biden or Sanders. No other candidate is in double digits with this group. Nearly all of those considering the other candidates are thinking about several candidates, not just one.

Nate Silver picked up on those results and created this chart.

Where that 67 percent of voters land will determine the outcome of the primary. The number of possiblities at this point are so numerous that it is impossible to predict the most likely nominee. While Biden and Sanders have an advantage, given that they have a group of supporters who are primarily loyal to them, that is to be expected given their long political histories and name recognition.

The first debate will take place in a little over two weeks and will provide some indication of whether the four that are planned for 2019 will have an impact on Democrats who are considering multiple candidates. After that, we can rest assured that the early caucuses and primaries will begin to consolidate support. In that case, ground game—particularly in Iowa—will be an important factor, making reports like this worth watching.

In the early state where field organization has traditionally mattered the most, Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have quietly and patiently concentrated their resources toward building grassroots machines designed to power them on caucus night.

It showed here on Sunday as 19 Democratic presidential candidates converged for the first time in one venue to make their five-minute pitch to the party faithful. The gathering, designed to honor Iowa Democrats in a Hall of Fame dinner, offered the first glimpse of a sprawling Democratic primary field — and the organizational strength and enthusiasm each campaign could muster…

“I feel like the people who are doing well in Iowa — I’m not talking about polls, I’m talking to other activists — are the people who are organized on the ground in campaigns. Warren, Booker,” said Rosfjord. “[Kamala] Harris has a good campaign. She’s still fresh to getting boots on the ground. Beto [O’Rourke] is one of the good campaigns, all their staff isn’t out yet.”

Most major media outlets require a frontrunner and one or two challengers to boost their horse race coverage, but contrary to what they are reporting at this point, the 2020 Democratic primary race is still wide open. That’s because a substantial majority of Democratic voters haven’t made up their minds yet.

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Nancy LeTourneau

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