The Telling Second Choices

By Jim Ellis

May 10, 2019 — Often in political polling, asking respondents about their second choice on a ballot test is quite telling. The Morning Consult firm polls regularly and they are the only prominent pollsters so far in this presidential campaign to consistently ask the second-choice question.

Their latest national survey conducted over the April 29 through May 5 period and involving 15,770 respondents who are registered self-identified Democratic voters, or those who lean to the Democrats, found former Vice President Joe Biden pulling away from the pack of candidates, claiming 40 percent support. In a distant second place is Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who had 19 percent.

None of the other candidates even reached double-digits. In third position is Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) with a preference figure of just eight percent. Following closely is California Sen. Kamala Harris at seven percent, and South Bend (IN) Mayor Pete Buttigieg who posted six percent support. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) is next with five percent. All others have three percent or less.

After the initial question, those choosing one of the top five finishers were then asked who they would support if the candidate they originally named was not in the race. This provides a further way of gauging the depth of a candidate’s strength.

The Biden supporters predominantly break toward three candidates with Sen. Sanders being the chief beneficiary, getting 31 percent of the Biden first choice voters. Sen. Harris receives 13 percent, with Sen. Warren getting 10 percent.

The Sanders group returns the favor to the overall leader, with 36 percent of his voters saying they would support Biden if the Vermont senator were no longer contending. Sen. Warren, from the neighboring state of Massachusetts and closer to Sanders ideologically, would receive 17 percent, while Sen. Harris would get seven percent.

Those who chose Sen. Warren first would commensurately break toward Sen. Sanders if she were not a candidate. But, the margin among her top three alternatives is much closer than for the other candidates. Though Sen. Sanders would receive a quarter of her supporters, Biden would attract 19 percent, with Sen. Harris right on his heels at 18 percent.

Those opting for Sen. Harris would secondarily break for Biden (25 percent), Sen. Warren (17 percent), and then Sen. Sanders (12 percent).

Finally, the Buttigieg voters also would gravitate toward Biden (31 percent), and then consecutively Sens. Harris (16 percent) and Warren (12 percent).

The second-choice pattern generally confirms that the former vice president and Sen. Sanders do enjoy a preponderance support within the large representative polling sample. It also shows that both Sens. Warren and Harris have some latent support that could come to the forefront as the campaign proceeds.

At this point, however, Mayor Buttigieg appears to be the one who fails to command deep support, as he did not appear in the top three of any other candidates’ second choice preferences. This suggests that his campaign must further develop, and may, once he becomes better known.

Morning Consult also tested the candidates’ favorability indexes. Here, again, Biden tops the charts with a 76:15 percent positive to negative ratio among the Democratic cell sample. Sen. Sanders scores 73:18 percent but, while his positive rating is high, he also records the highest negative figure of any tested candidate.

Mayor Buttigieg had the lowest negative posting among the top finishers (10 percent), but also scored low on the positive side (39 percent). This is largely due to his lack of familiarity within the rank and file Democratic electorate. A total of 34 percent reported never hearing of Buttigieg. Both Biden and Sanders have virtually universal name recognition.

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