Nearly two-thirds of Democrats are intending to watch tonight's debate

Democrats are still waiting for Vice President Joe Biden to make up his mind whether or not to enter the race for the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination.  Biden won’t be in Tuesday night’s debate, but Democrats seem willing to give him time to decide what to do. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, 57% of Democrats (and a similar percentage of the public overall), don’t believe it’s too late for Biden to throw his hat into the ring. 

Even without Biden’s participation, Democrats are still looking forward to the Tuesday debate.  They are just about as likely to say they will watch the Democratic debate as Republicans were with their first two debates.  Some of the GOP interest was attributed to the rise of Donald Trump as the GOP’s frontrunner, and while the Democrats may not have a Trump, they are just as likely to care about their party’s debate as Republicans cared about theirs.

Even 44% of Republicans claim they will watch the Democratic event; just about the same proportion of Democrats (48%) said they would watch the first GOP debate.

80% of Democrats say they are very or somewhat interested in the debate, matching the level of interest Republicans expressed before their August and September debates, though Republicans were more likely than Democrats to describe themselves as “very” interested.  In both cases, three in four partisans said debate performance would be important in determining their primary support – and in both cases, one in four said debate performance would be “very” important.  There is little difference in the answers given by supporters of the major Democratic candidates to these questions: the debate matters to most of them. 

However, there is no single topic Democrats agree is the most important for them to learn about in the debate:  the topics Democrats mention range from immigration and gun control to the economy, foreign policy and the environment.

Benghazi and the Clinton emails, which will be the subject of Clinton’s testimony at a House Select Committee hearing next week, have dominated coverage of Hillary Clinton recently.  But Democrats don’t mention them among the debate topics they are interested in.  However, Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner who will be center stage during the debate, may have the most to lose from it.  She continues to be the party’s frontrunner.  In this week’s poll she leads Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders by 25 points, about the size of her lead in recent weeks.  Biden has the support of 20% of Democrats who are registered to vote. 

Adding in Democrats’ second choice increases Clinton’s margin over Sanders.  Nearly three in four Democrats choose her first or second.  Just about half of Democrats select Biden as one of their top two candidates, while four in ten pick Sanders.   Clinton is the most popular second choice of both Sanders and Biden supporters.  However, Sanders voters are the most enthusiastic about their choice: 77% of them would be enthusiastic is Sanders won the nomination, compared with the 67% of Clinton supporters who would be enthusiastic about her winning the Democratic nod. 

Sanders is particularly weak among minority Democrats.  Only 4% of blacks and 12% of Hispanics choose him. 

Clinton continues to be seen as the likely nominee: two in three Democrats expect she will be nominated.  85% say if that happens she would have a good chance to win the general election, more than think that about Biden and far more than think that about Sanders. 

See the Economist/YouGov results

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

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