I have given myself a rule for all my 2020 coverage in 2019: I must lead every polling piece with the fact that if early presidential polling were definitive, President Giuliani’s legacy would be a central topic in American politics and President Obama would sound like a weird/potentially offensive SNL skit. The first primary of 2020 is a little less than a year away, and winning it gives a candidate significant momentum thanks to our horse race media that will cover anything that draws eyeballs. As Trump’s 2016 rise demonstrates, American media has an inertia-like quality to it where victories draw outsized coverage, which itself makes it easier to win future victories. It may seem bizarre that a state with four electoral college votes is this important (and it is), but welcome to politics in America.
This is the the only major revelation in the new UMass/YouGov poll of the 2020 New Hampshire electorate:
Asked if respondent selected a candidate when asked for their preference in 2020 Presidential Democratic primary
Is there any chance you might vote for someone else?
Yes — 82%
No — 18%
The most immovable folks in the Democratic Party are the Democratic Socialist wing and the establishment wing, and given that the establishment has yet to coalesce around a single candidate yet, it’s safe to bet that a big chunk of that 18% who will not vote for someone else are Bernie voters. In a field this crowded, that’s a major advantage to start with. That said, eighty-two percent is an avalanche.
Here are where the candidates stand in New Hampshire as of February 20, 2019:
If the 2020 Presidential Democratic primary were held today, which one of the following candidates would you support in the primary
[Percentages below are without leaners]
Joe Biden — 28%
Bernie Sanders — 18%
Don’t Know — 14%
Kamala Harris — 13%
Elizabeth Warren — 9%
Beto O’Rourke — 6%
Cory Booker — 3%
Given the question I presented first, Bernie at 18% looks likelier to hold through to next year than Biden at 28%, as Biden’s inflated lead over the rest of the field is no-doubt largely due to name recognition, and he is clearly the candidate most threatened by the 82% of folks willing to change their mind.
Because negative partisanship is a huge driver of politics in America, it may be more instructive to look at this question asked towards both New Hampshire Independents and Democrats to figure out where candidates’ ceilings lie in the first 2020 primary:
Now thinking ahead to the general election in 2020, if any, would you NOT be willing to vote for if they were the Democratic Party’s candidate for president? Please select all that apply.
Won’t vote for any of these candidates — 26%
Elizabeth Warren — 26%
Michael Bloomberg — 23%
Don’t Know — 21%
Bernie Sanders — 21%
Every other candidate is in between 11 and 14%, demonstrating that there is a serious aversion among a small slice of New Hampshire Democrat + Independent likely voters to the leftward shift of the Democratic Party. This slice is where the focus of the Democratic Party has lied for the last forty years, while people like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have demonstrated that there are far more nonvoters who can be persuaded to vote for Democrats than likely voters who can be persuaded to vote for a Democrat or Trump.
Ultimately, the takeaway from all this is that Democrats are excited about liberal politics right now. There’s a new crop of candidates pushing new policies and there is an open-minded atmosphere to the Democratic electorate, as demonstrated by the 82% of New Hampshire Democrats and Independents who may change their mind by the time the first 2020 primary rolls around. Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris have early leads as well as serious financial and political advantages that make them the clear front-runners, but as the cliché goes, a lot really can change between now and this time next year.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.