In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, most prioritize winning over finding a nominee who agrees with them on the issues, which helps explain why former Vice President Joe Biden remains atop the preference polls. Democrats are more likely to say that Biden can beat Trump than say this about any of the other leading candidates.
The Democratic preference for nominating a candidate who can win next November is particularly strong. A year before the presidential elections in 2004, 2008, and 2016, CBS News/The New York Times Polls found Democratic primary voters far more interested in supporting candidates who agreed with them on issues than candidates who could win. In those three years, between 62% and 73% of Democratic voters said they preferred a candidate that agreed with them on the issues, while 36% was the highest percentage saying it was more important to find a candidate who could win [In 2015, Republican voters said the same thing, prioritizing issue agreement over electability, 60% to 35%.]
This year, liberals and older Democratic voters are especially likely to prioritize winning over policy positions. African-Americans are far more closely divided on what is more important.
Voters who care about winning choose Biden. Overwhelmingly, they choose Biden both as their first choice preference and on the broader question of which candidates they are currently considering. Those who care about agreement on the issues are equally divided between Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. California Senator Kamala Harris, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg perform better among those who want a winner than among those looking for policy agreement.
Liberals who want a winner favor Biden, with Sanders in third place behind both Warren and Biden. The Vermont Senator leads among the smaller groups of liberals who want a nominee that agrees with them. Biden and Warren are tied for second place with this group.
Of course, it is still early in the competition. Sometimes perceptions of who is likely to win can change quickly – after a campaign gaffe, for example. And the first Democratic candidate debates take place later this month, and may improve public perceptions of some candidates and worsen the perceptions of others.
By 51% to 32%, Democratic primary voters believe President Trump is likely to lose in 2020. But they have different assessments of who can beat him. After all, once a nominee is chosen, that person’s qualities and defects become part of the campaign. Right now, however, Biden does far better than other candidates when it comes to the question of electability. Belief in Biden’s ability to beat President Trump is seen as much higher among Democratic voters than belief in the electability of any of the other current frontrunners.
Democratic voters – as of now – are even less sure about the electability of some of the other men and women running this year. Some of that is because many Democratic voters don’t know them yet. But many voters see special challenges for women candidates and for gay candidates. A majority believe the country is not yet ready to elect a gay president, while a one in four think the country isn’t ready to elect a woman (even in an election to be held a century after women received the right to vote throughout the country). Four in 10 n overall (and six in 10 Republicans) say they would be personally uncomfortable having an openly gay man as president; one in five overall (and a third of Republicans) would be personally uncomfortable with a female president.