Winning vs. Ideology

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 21, 2019 — As the 10 Democratic presidential candidates again took the debate stage last night, this time from Atlanta, they all needed recognize a few things: They needed to walk a fine line. The contenders needed to carefully navigate between appealing to their party’s ideological base, which is key to winning the nomination, and preparing for the general election where a more centrist approach appears to be the probable course toward achieving national victory.

The Gallup organization just completed a new national survey (Nov. 1-14; 1,015 US adults from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, 437 self-identified Democrats and Independents who lean Democratic) that compared the importance between choosing an ideologically sound nominee with one who is best equipped to win the general election irrespective of where that individual stands on the party’s base issues.

Looking at the current results in the prism of Gallup asking the same questions of Republican respondents when President Obama was running for re-election in 2012, and a Democratic cell group when President George W. Bush was seeking a second term in 2004, this sample skews towards electability over ideology in the starkest proportion.

According to Gallup’s questions asked of Democrats and lean Democrats whether they believed it is more important to find a candidate who can unseat President Trump or one who agrees with the individual respondent on issues, by a margin of 60-36 percent the poll showed that the favored candidate would be the one having the best chance to win the November 2020 election.

In 2012, Republican responses to this choice involving replacing President Obama, surveyed in mid-September of 2011, leaned toward a candidate who could win over the ideologically pure contender in a 53-43 percent spread. Eight years earlier, when President Bush was seeking his second term, the ratio among Democrats at the end of 2003 was 50-44 percent in favor of ideology, but six weeks later, in early February 2004, the margin switched to 55-40 percent toward finding the candidate who was best equipped to unseat Bush.

Regardless of the past circumstances, today’s Democratic electorate, at least according to this current Gallup research, finds the base voter overwhelmingly looking for the candidate who best matches up with President Trump on the campaign trail even if they are not the most ideologically pure.

In this configuration of candidates, who do the respondents feel has the best opportunity of winning the general election? The answer, not surprisingly, is former Vice President Joe Biden, who 51 percent of the respondent pool view in this manner. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was cited as the most electable by 16 percent, while 15 percent said this of Sen. Elizabeth Warren. No other candidate exceeded three percent on this scale.

The Gallup Democratic and lean Democratic cell sample also skews toward a moderate candidate. When asked whether they would prefer a nominee who is very conservative, conservative, moderate, liberal, or very liberal, 50 percent believe a moderate candidate would be best versus 33 percent who said liberal. Another 17 percent would favor a more conservative nominee. This from a cell sample that self-identifies as 44 percent moderate, 41 percent liberal, and 13 percent conservative.

It appears the Democratic voter base is more pragmatic than many of the candidates who will be participating in tonight’s forum. It remains to be seen who might bend in just the right manner to be acceptable to the Democratic base yet still well positioned enough to defeat President Trump come next year.

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