The debates are here—and Democratic voters care

June 26, 2019, 3:45 PM GMT+0

Democratic voters are interested in the first set of debates, which happen this week. Voters that are struggling to sort out the field are especially intrigued. According to this weekend’s Economist/YouGov Poll, the average Democratic voter is considering at least three candidates, but four in 10 are looking at four or even more.

People who have yet to narrow their choices to fewer than four candidates are more interested in watching than people who are considering one, two or three of them.

More than three quarters (78%) of Democratic voters express interest in watching the debates this week, including almost nine in 10 (88%) of those looking at four or more contenders. Despite the potentially unwieldy setup—with 20 candidates spread out over two nights—two-thirds of Democratic voters approve of how the debates have been set up over the two nights. Only 12% do not.

For these debates, the field was winnowed from the two dozen announced candidates. When asked about the threshold for inclusion, half of Democratic voters said they would have extended the number of invites to include everyone that is running.

Former Vice President Joe Biden continues to be the Democratic frontrunner, but among all Democratic voters today nearly as many say they are considering Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren as are considering Biden. She has surpassed Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on this measure. However, those voters who say they have narrowed their choices are more likely to be looking at Sanders than at Warren. Sanders leads Warren among the 29% of primary voters who say they are considering only one candidate. The two are effectively tied among those with one to three current choices.

When all Democratic voters are asked for their first choice, Warren is back (though narrowly) in second place. 24% choose Biden, 18% Warren, and 15% Sanders. No other candidate reaches double digits. Warren has another advantage: only one in 10 Democratic primary voters say they would be disappointed if she were the party’s nominee. Twice as many say that about Biden and Sanders.

The debates could impact perceptions of the current frontrunners. But the other candidates, who are hoping to gain more recognition and support from the debates, could also be affected. After all, many voters right now have no opinion at all about them. Democrats claim to be less interested in a candidate’s policy proposals than in whether or not they can win. More than half (58%) in this week’s poll say it is more important that a nominee can win the general election than that they have policy positions the voter agrees with. The debate performance will impact perceptions of electability, too.

Democratic voters aren’t just interested in the debates. Most of them expect the debates to impact their vote. 76% say they will—at least somewhat. For a quarter, the debates will be very important. And they say they want more. Most Democratic voters, especially those currently considering many of the candidates, claim they are looking forward to more of them.

Read the full toplines and tables results from this week's Economist/YouGov poll

Photo: Getty