2020 Reality Check – The state of the race after the first debates – Part 1

2020 Reality Check – The state of the Democratic race after the first debates – Part 1

Bottom Line: Prior to the initial two-night debate I offered up my initial primer for the 2020 Democratic nomination process. Here’s a quick refresh... At this stage the only polls that matter are the ones that determine who’s in the debates. Aside from the debate stage, the only other reason the polls matter is to the extent donors care about them and decide that certain candidates are lost causes not worth “investing in”. For those on the stage the key to having a shot in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina is not running out of money before you get there. Most won’t make it that far. That’s all still true. And this was my summation statement.Recently I profiled the average Democrat based on preferences within the rank and file voters. The candidate that appeared to have the broadest appeal and be within the mainstream of the typical Democrats was Kamala Harris. She’s averaging just 7% in the polls. In other words, because I’m engaged, I know what the average Democrat wants more than they do at this point. Once again, I’ve not made a career out of being wrong. But the other information nugget from that story was this...

  • 22% of registered Democrats know a lot about the candidates
  • 35% say they’ve paying attention to the campaigns

That was then. What about now? After the first debate, 57% of Democrats now are paying attention according to the latest work out of Emerson. That means an additional 22% of Democrats are now engaged. So, what’s changed? It’s important not to get hung up on specific percentages of support at this point, because again, as long it’s enough to get you into debates and keep donor money coming – it's enough. In addition, only 41% of Democrats say they’re solidly behind their current choice (which doesn’t necessarily bode well for the field generally). But there are changes and takeaways from them. First, of the 23 non-Steyer candidates (since he just jumped in and we don’t have any info as to if he’ll be a player), only nine are relevant. How? Why? 

With nearly six in ten Democrats now paying attention and the debate season underway, only nine are polling above 1%. The other candidates may argue that Donald Trump started at 1%, and that’s true, but by the first debate he was leading the Republican field and only grew that lead after the initial debate. There’s never been a candidate in either party polling at 1% or less once the debates have begun that’s won a party nomination. So, who are the nine relevant candidates? In this order... Biden, Sanders, Harris, Warren, Buttigieg, O’Rourke, Yang, Gabbard, Booker. In Part two I’ll pick up on what’s changed in the race as a result of the initial debate.

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