By Jim Ellis
March 22, 2019 — The CNN television network released their new national survey of the Democratic presidential contest (conducted by SSRS research company; March 14-17; 1,003 US adults, 456 self-identified Democrats and those Independents who lean to the Democratic Party, 448 self-identified Republicans and those Independents who lean to the Republican Party), and while the ballot test results were consistent with most other polling, some different and interesting questions were asked.
CNN compared this poll to their previous study conducted during the Dec. 6-9 period. The first four finishers remain in relatively the same order, but the percentages have shifted and some significantly.
In the current poll, former Vice President Joe Biden continues to lead the pack of 17 tested candidates. He tops the field with 28 percent, down from the 30 percent support he held in December. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is second with 20 percent, making a big jump from the 14 percent base CNN found three months earlier.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) surpasses former US Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), and tripled her preference from December. Sen. Harris leaps from 4 to 12 percent support. For his part, O’Rourke drops to fourth but still gains two percentage points in comparison to December (rising from 9 to 11 percent). All of the others remain in single-digits, though Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) doubled her support from 3 to 6 percent.
The tightening field, even before Biden officially enters the race, tells us that the potential clearly exists for a wide-open contest to form with four or more legitimate contenders having a path to the party nomination.
The CNN poll, as virtually all others have found, detects major polarization within the electorate. This becomes clear when examining the favorability ratings. Of the tested candidates — and, for an unknown reason Biden’s favorability index was not included — only Sen. Sanders has a positive rating, albeit by just three percentage points (46:43 percent positive to negative) and even with registering a 10:82 percent mark among Republicans and Republican leaners. Democrats and Democratic leaners post Sanders to a 74:14 percent positive ratio and he scores 46:41 percent among Independents, thus allowing him to overcome his negatives.
President Trump, not surprisingly, is viewed negatively within this particular polling sample, and a bit more so than seen in most other polls. He posts a 41:54 percent negative job approval rating, but this again is largely due to his 7:90 percent ratio among Democrats. His Democratic cell score is largely neutralized by an 89:9 percent mark within the Republican/Republican leaner segment, however.
Trump’s ratings among Independents appears to be a microcosm of the entire polling universe as he records a 40:55 percent mark among those who claim to be unaffiliated with a political party. It is this latter percentage that appears as the president’s biggest problem, and one he must overcome at least to a degree before Election Day 2020 if he is to win a second term.
He must also improve among women. While the president is rated favorably by men (49:45 percent), his job approval score among women is a poor 33:63 percent.
Several unique questions were raised before this sample group. The Democrat/lean Democrat respondents were asked whether they would prefer that one or two candidates battle for the nomination or do they perceive the field as being wide open. By a 59-37 percent majority, the respondents answered, “wide open.”
The pollsters also asked if the respondents would rather see the Democratic Party nominate a presidential candidate who has a strong chance of beating President Trump or one who shares the individual’s issue agenda. Here, the margin was 56-35 percent in favor of a candidate who could defeat President Trump.
Then, the Democratic cell was asked if the party has a better chance in the general election with Biden or another candidate, and then repeated the same question with Sen. Sanders as the named candidate. On the Biden question, 51 percent answered that the party has a better chance of winning with the former vice president as the Democratic nominee, while 36 percent feel they would be better off nominating someone else.
But, when the same question was asked surrounding a Bernie Sanders nomination, only 33 percent felt the Democrats would have a better chance of beating President Trump and 56 percent said the odds were better with another candidate.
Though the 2020 presidential campaign is just beginning, already we are seeing definitive polling trends forming. It is clear that whomever the Democrats nominate, the race against President Trump has the strong potential of finishing as close as the 2016 result, and likely tighter in the Electoral College.