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Democrats’ Most Plugged-In Voting Bloc Seems To Be Coalescing Behind Warren

As political journalists, we follow the 2020 presidential primary race day by day — or even minute by minute. Still, we know that plenty of Democrats have been paying attention, too. But which Democrats are most likely to be plugged in?

It turns out that the most ideological voters tend to be the most politically engaged, so in this case that means very liberal Democrats are the ones paying the closest attention. In fact, if we look at the five most recent Quinnipiac University polls where Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters were asked if they were paying “a lot” of attention to the presidential campaign, you’ll see that, on average, about 64 percent of those who identified as “very liberal” were paying a lot of attention, compared to about 48 percent of “somewhat liberal” Democrats and 47 percent of “moderate/conservative” Democrats.

The most liberal voters are the most tuned-in

Share of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters who said they were paying “a lot” of attention the presidential campaign, by ideology

Dates Very liberal Somewhat liberal moderate/ conservative
June 6-10 50% 49% 39%
June 28-July 1 65 41 47
July 25-28 66 51 47
Aug. 1-5 69 53 55
Aug. 21-26 69 45 47
Average 63.8 47.8 47.0

Source: Quinnipiac University

These super plugged-in, very liberal voters are also increasingly backing one candidate: Sen. Elizabeth Warren. In June, 29 percent of these voters said they supported Warren, and by early August — after her strong performance in the second primary debate — that number had grown to 40 percent. The latest August survey put her at 34 percent among these voters, while no other candidate earned more than 22 percent.

Warren is the top pick among very liberal Democrats

Share of “very liberal” voters who support each candidate, among Democrats and those who lean Democratic

Poll Dates Warren Sanders Biden Harris Buttigieg
June 6-10 29% 29% 16% 3% 12%
June 28-July 1 27 21 13 21 4
July 25-28 29 15 25 12 9
Aug. 1-5 40 20 19 7 5
Aug. 21-26 34 22 15 12 5
Average 31.8 21.4 17.6 11.0 7.0

Source: Quinnipiac University

And since 46 percent of Democrats now identify as liberal, that subset of Democratic primary voters could offer a big boost for Warren’s campaign if she can continue to make inroads among these very liberal (and somewhat liberal) Democrats. That 46 percent number, which was published in a Pew Research Center report that tracked the ideological views of adults who identify as Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, was the largest share to identify as liberal since Pew first asked the question in 2003. To be clear, though, the majority of Democrats (53 percent) still identified as “moderate” or “conservative,” which could open up a path to the nomination for a candidate like former Vice President Joe Biden.

But the fact that those who identify as very liberal also tend to be more politically engaged means it’s also quite possible that the people who actually turn out to vote in the Democratic primary will be more liberal than Democrats as a whole. For instance, in the five most recent Quinnipiac polls, the Democratic respondents were, on average, roughly evenly split between those who identified as “very” or “somewhat liberal” and those who identified as “moderate” or “conservative.” So if the Democratic voting base is slightly more liberal than the party as a whole, a candidate like Warren could benefit.

Nonetheless, someone like Biden who appeals to more moderate members of the party may still have an advantage, even if his base isn’t quite as engaged. And that’s because Biden has solid support among moderate Democrats — 41 percent of moderate or conservative voters backed him in the latest Quinnipiac poll — plus he gets a decent backing among somewhat liberal voters, who were about 6 points more likely to support him than Warren in that same poll (29 percent for Biden to 23 percent for Warren).

And winning over just the very liberal voters won’t be enough for Warren either, as Quinnipiac’s data suggests that they make up about a quarter of the party. So even if very liberal voters are more engaged, Warren will still need to expand beyond these voters to have a chance of winning the nomination.

Geoffrey Skelley is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.