CNN's latest poll on 2020 Democrats

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8:58 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

TL;DR: Biden holds onto his primary lead

Our new CNN poll finds that Joe Biden continues to lead the Democratic nomination race among potential Democratic voters nationwide. He scores 26%. That’s within 2 points of where he’s averaged since September. 

Biden leads Bernie Sanders (20%), Elizabeth Warren (16%), Pete Buttigieg (8%) and Michael Bloomberg (5%). They are all within a few points of their average CNN poll since September. 

No other candidate reaches 5%. 

Here are a few other takeaways from the poll:

  • Sanders has the highest favorable rating among potential Democratic primary voters (74%), but among those 52% who like both Biden and him, Biden leads by 20 points.
  • None of the Democrats have a positive net favorability rating among the general electorate, and Biden has seen the biggest drop since October. 
  • Although Sanders has the highest favorable rating among the general electorate, Biden’s electability case is somewhat boosted by having the highest favorable rating among Republican and independents who lean Republican. 
  • Buttigieg’s unfavorable rating among nonwhite potential Democratic primary voters has nearly doubled (from 12% to 22%) since October. 
  • Half the electorate (50%) say they are extremely enthusiastic about voting in 2020, which higher than in any poll taken by CNN.
8:51 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

Record voter enthusiasm heading into 2020

Half the electorate (50%) say they are extremely enthusiastic about voting in next year's presidential election. That's the highest percentage ever recorded in a CNN poll since we started asking the question in 2003.

This isn't the first time enthusiasm has been at a high level this cycle. All top 5 levels of extreme enthusiasm we have measured were in polls taken this year.

To put the 50% in perspective, only 26% of voters were extremely enthusiasm in the final poll taken before the 2016 vote. Even on the eve of Barack Obama's election in 2008 (the previous record high before this year), a mere 37% said they were extremely enthusiastic about voting in that election.

While Democrats may be hoping for a record turnout to boot Trump from office, there's no guarantee of that. About the same percentage of Democrats and Democratic leaning independents (53%) and Republican and Republican leaning independents (52%) say they are extremely enthusiastic about voting next year.

It is quite possible that the overall level of enthusiasm portends to high turnout next year. A record percentage for a midterm said they were extremely enthusiastic heading into last year's election. That was followed by the highest turnout in a generation in 2018.

8:34 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

The numbers on Warren's electability aren't good

There are some questions as to whether Biden or Sanders can rightfully claim to be the most electable of the Democrats.

I'm not sure how you exactly build a case for Warren.

She sports the worst net favorability rating of any of the Democrats test among all voters (-10 points).

Warren also struggles mightily with Republican and Republican-leaning independents. Her favorable rating is 5% and her unfavorable rating is 78%. Put together, her net favorability with them is -73 points.

While you wouldn't expect a Democrat to do well with Republican voters, Biden comes in at -63 points and Sanders comes in with -68 points. In other words, Warren has a tougher case to make that she can win over voters on the other side.

Her weakness in the favorability department seems to be lining up with general election polling from other outfits. Warren led Trump by just a point in a Fox News poll out over the last week. Biden and Sanders were up by 7 and 6 points respectively. The average has her weaker, too.

This follows the 2018 midterm election in which Warren underperformed the statewide partisan baseline in her Senate race more than any other Democratic candidate who ran for Senate this year.

8:26 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

Buttigieg's nonwhite problem is deep

After rising in the national polls for a while, Buttigieg seems to have taken a step back. He fell from 11% in our last poll to 8% in this one.

Part of Buttigieg's problem is he continues to pull basically no nonwhite support. He's at just 2% with nonwhites in this poll.

It goes deeper than the topline. His favorable rating among white potential Democratic primary voters is 60% to unfavorable rating of 11%. Among nonwhites, his favorable rating is a mere 33% to an unfavorable rating of 22%. So despite being far less known by nonwhites, his unfavorable rating is double than that among whites.

It also seems to me that it's getting worse. In our October poll, his favorable rating with nonwhite potential Democratic primary voters was 35%, while his unfavorable rating was 12%. That is, Buttigieg has become better known over the last few months among nonwhites. And what they have learned about him has made them like him less.

To put this another way, Buttigieg is getting less of the nonwhite vote than Bloomberg (5%). Bloomberg has been critiqued by Democrats for his previous support for stop and frisk, which some have argued inflamed racial tensions in New York City.

8:05 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

Why the Democratic race may not be settled

The opening post of my analysis demonstrated the mostly stable race for president. Biden is leading with Sanders usually polling in second place. In this poll, as in other CNN polls, Biden and Sanders score the highest support among those who say they've made up their mind.

Yet if you were to look underneath the surface, there are reasons to believe that things aren't settled as they might seem.

The percentage of Democrats who say they definitely support the candidate they are backing is actually down to 39%. That's a small dip of 3 points from last month and the lowest since May. It's not rising as we get closer to voting. The majority of potential Democratic primary voters haven't made up their mind.

We also see that the percentage of potential Democratic primary voters who are very satisfied with the field is 31%. That's the lowest in the three CNN polls that have asked that question this cycle.

Lastly, we've harped this entire cycle about how Democrats are craving electability. That's certainly the case. Still, the percentage of potential Democratic primary voters who say beating Trump is more important than candidates agreeing with them on the issues is down to its lowest point all cycle (47%).

When the underlying factors driving vote choice may be changing, vote choices may follow.

7:35 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

Is Biden or Sanders the most electable Democrat?

The belief that Biden has a better chance of beating Trump is arguably the reason he's ahead right now in the Democratic race for president. In our poll, 40% of potential primary voters say he has the best chance of beating Trump. Among those who say they are voting for him, 87% say he has the best shot.

Yet our poll also shows that Sanders has the higher favorable rating (44%) than Biden (41%) among the general electorate.

So are potential Democratic primary voters wrong? Not necessarily.

The big argument that Biden is making on electability is he can get Republican votes. When we limit the sample to Republicans and Republican leaning independents, Biden has a 15% favorable rating and a 78% unfavorable rating. Sanders has a 13% favorable rating and 81% unfavorable.

In other words, Biden may actually be in a better position to win over some Republican voters. His problem, as alluded to last post, is that Democrats like Sanders more than Biden.

The question for Biden is whether he can hold on to the Democratic voters who currently don't hold a favorable view of him. They tend to be overwhelmingly young (64% under the age of 50), which is a group that has been a problem for Biden this entire primary season.

If Biden can't win them, any appeal to Republicans may not be worth much.

7:05 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

Favorability ratings of the Democratic candidates fall

I've often argued that if President Donald Trump wins reelection it will be because he faced off against an unpopular opponent. He may just get his wish.

In our new poll, we tested the favorable ratings of the four leading Democratic candidates. Not a single one of them had a positive net favorability rating (favorable - unfavorable) among the general electorate.

Buttigieg broke even at 0 points, though less than 60% of voters held an opinion of him.

Sanders came the next closest at -3 points. That was followed by Biden at -9 points and Warren at -10 points.

All of these were big drops from October, when Buttigieg was at +6 points, Biden was at +2 points, Sanders was at +2 points and Warren was at -3 points.

Biden's 11-point drop was the most dramatic. Interestingly, a lot of that came from potential Democratic primary voters (a 16-point drop).

Either way, this is welcome news for Trump. It gives him a chance to repeat what he did in 2016. Trump was quite unpopular back then. But among the 18% of that year's electorate who had an unfavorable view of Clinton and Trump, he won by 17 points. That margin powered him to his presidency.

6:58 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

Sanders is the most popular Democrat, so why isn't he leading?

One of the more intriguing nuggets in our new poll is that Sanders is clearly the most popular presidential candidate among the Democrats, yet it's Biden out in front.

Sanders' favorable rating of 74% beats Biden's 67% and Warren's 67%. Back in October, Biden and Sanders both had a 78% favorable rating.

The problem for Sanders is that primaries are about being loved, not just liked. Many voters like multiple candidates.

Among potential Democratic primary voters who hold a favorable view of Sanders, it's Biden 26% to Sanders' 25% for their choice.

Let's narrow it down even more. In our poll, 52% of potential Democratic primary voters hold a favorable view of both Biden and Sanders.

These voters vastly prefer Biden (36%) to Sanders (16%).

This is not a new phenomenon for Sanders. Back in 2016, Sanders was often better liked than Hillary Clinton among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. Yet Clinton was the one who went on to win the nomination.

Of course, Clinton's lack of popularity among a subset of the Democratic base led to some hard feelings among some voters.

The question this time around is whether Biden would suffer the same fate, if he were to become the nominee.

6:34 a.m. ET, December 19, 2019

Biden continues to lead the 2020 Democratic Primary

Our new CNN poll conducted by SSRS shows a Democratic primary that hasn’t changed much since the beginning of the fall. Former Vice President Joe Biden leads with 26% among potential primary voters. He’s averaged 28% in our polls since September. 

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders comes in at 20%, which is a little bit better than the 18% he’s averaged since September. I should say that Sanders has generally traded in a very narrow range, so the 20% is actually his best CNN poll (by a point) this cycle. 

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 16% is the only other candidate at or above 10%. That’s 1 point below the 17% she’s averaged since September. 

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is at 8% and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is at 5%. Bloomberg’s standing comes after he’s spent about $100 million in television advertisements. 

One other notable finding from the horserace include New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker at 3% (along with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and entrepreneur Andrew Yang). While technically a point higher than he’s been hitting over the last 6 months in CNN’s polling, it suggests that his calls for a more diverse top tier of candidates are mostly falling short.