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Four Interesting Findings From The Recent Flurry Of 2020 Polls

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll(s) of the week

We’ve had a flurry of new polls about the 2020 presidential race released over the last week. The results confirm some broad dynamics that have been clear for months. President Trump’s poor job approval ratings make him vulnerable to defeat next year. Former Vice President Joe Biden leads the Democratic primary field, largely because of support from voters who are black, over the age of 50, more moderate and/or without college degrees. Democratic voters like many of the 2020 candidates but are particularly obsessed with “electability,” and many think Biden is the most likely candidate to defeat Trump.

But some of the other findings from these surveys1 were more surprising, so for this edition of Pollapalooza, let’s just run through a few of the numbers that stood out.

Hispanic Democrats don’t seem to have a favorite yet.

A lot of polls of the 2020 race don’t include a large enough number of Latino respondents to break out the group’s results. But in its newly released survey, the Pew Research Center interviewed 237 Hispanic respondents who either identify as Democrats or lean towards the party. Biden had the support of 27 percent of Latino Democrats, with Bernie Sanders (15 percent) and Elizabeth Warren (14) the only other candidates in double-digits. Morning Consult found fairly different results among Hispanic voters: Sanders at 29 percent, Biden 22 and Warren 10.

In short, exactly where Hispanic voters stand is somewhat unclear. While basically every poll shows Biden well ahead among blacks, Hispanic voters as a bloc seem more up for grabs.

Perhaps Hispanic voters won’t unify behind a single candidate — unlike black Democrats, they haven’t historically. But if they do, or even if they partially do, that could substantially alter the race — Hispanic adults represent about 12 percent of registered Democrats and will likely be particularly pivotal in Nevada, which votes third in the 2020 primary process, and in California and Texas, which both vote on Super Tuesday.

And Hispanic voters could be especially important to Warren, whose support comes predominantly from white Democrats. If Warren struggles to get traction with black and Hispanic Democrats, that complicates her path to the nomination — both in terms of raw votes and perceptions. White liberal Democrats are increasingly conscious of race, and I suspect that they will be hesitant to coalesce around Warren if her coalition is almost exclusively white. But the Pew poll, for example, found Warren doing better among Hispanic than black respondents (though she still did best among whites), so Hispanic voters represent both a challenge for Warren and an opportunity to diversify her coalition.

There’s a gender gap — but not between male and female voters.

Biden does about equally well among men and women. In fact, the leading Democratic candidates — Biden, Sanders, Warren and Kamala Harris — all have coalitions that are roughly balanced in terms of gender, according to Pew. So there’s not really a gender gap among Democratic primary voters — at least so far.

But the gender of the candidates appears to be more of a factor. Polling suggests Harris and Warren are appealing to the same kinds of voters: people with college degrees — both men and women. A disproportionate share of both Harris and Warren’s support comes from college graduates, per the Pew data. In short, maybe college graduates, more so than women, are open to or excited about a female presidential candidate — or at least Harris and Warren in particular. Or conversely, non-college voters — both men and women — have so far been less likely to support the top-tier women running.

Cory Booker and Beto O’Rourke are still way behind.

The New Jersey senator had what was widely considered a strong performance in the second Democratic debate. The recent mass shooting in El Paso, O’Rourke’s hometown, not only increased media attention around the ex-congressman, but seemed to spur him towards a more aggressive campaign focused on combating racism and taking on Trump. But neither man showed any real gains in recent surveys from CNN and Morning Consult; both are still stuck in the low single digits.

Again, please don’t pay much attention to general election polls.

OK, this is more of a public service announcement than a surprising finding from a recent poll. But the last week or so has seemed to bring a flurry of attention to general election survey results. We don’t mean to be dismissive of other news organizations or pollsters. But as we’ve noted before, general election polls this far out are not particularly predictive. And polls that ask people if they would vote for Trump versus an unnamed Democratic candidate are even less useful. A real-life candidate — Biden or Warren or anyone else — has specific advantages and flaws that a generic Democrat does not.

So Democrats should not take comfort in the new national NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in which 52 percent of Americans said either they would or were likely to vote for a generic Democratic candidate in 2020, while only 40 percent said they either would or were likely to vote for Trump. Similarly, Republicans shouldn’t take comfort in the new Crooked Media/Change Research poll that found Trump at 45 percent in Wisconsin, compared to 46 percent for an unnamed Democrat. (A nearly tied race in Wisconsin would suggest a super close race nationally.)

Other polling bites

  • The majority of Americans (50 percent) think that colleges and universities are having a positive effect on the country. But there is a big partisan divide on this question, according to a new Pew Research Center survey: 67 percent of Democrats said colleges and universities are having a positive impact; among Republicans, only 33 percent agree.
  • 46 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s handling of the economy, while 51 percent disapprove, according to a new AP-NORC poll. His approval numbers are lower on other issues, including gun policy (36 percent approve, 61 disapprove), health care (37-60), immigration (38-60) and foreign policy (36-61).
  • 66 percent of Democratic voters think Biden would probably defeat Trump in the general election, according to an Economist/YouGov survey released this week, the highest mark for any Democratic candidate. A majority of Democrats also think that Sanders (60 percent) and Warren (58 percent) would be likely to win a general election.
  • According to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, Americans have fairly favorable views — 52 percent positive, 27 percent negative — of Planned Parenthood. They have less positive views of the National Rifle Association (40 percent positive, 41 percent negative), Warren (31-32), Sanders (37-40), Biden (34-38) and Trump (39-53).
  • 63 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning adults said they are excited about several of the 2020 candidates, compared to 35 percent who said they are excited about their first choice candidate only, according to Pew.
  • Trump has a 95 percent to 2 percent lead over former South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford among likely GOP primary voters in the Palmetto State, according to a recent poll conducted by the Post and Courier and Change Research. Sanford is considering a primary challenge to Trump.
  • Warren leads among likely Democratic primary voters in Wisconsin with 29 percent of the vote, according to the Crooked/Change Research poll. Sanders, with 24 percent, and Biden, at 20 percent, are the only other candidates in double digits.
  • 78 percent of Americans think that the way information is spread on social media served as a contributing factor in the recent mass shootings in Ohio and Texas, according to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey. Other contributing factors included a lack of effective treatment of mental illness (75 percent), media coverage of mass shootings (72 percent), Trump’s rhetoric (54 percent), and assault-style weapons (60 percent).

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 41.5 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 54 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -12.5 points). At this time last week, 42.2 percent approved and 53.4 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -11.2 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.7 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.0 percent, for a net approval rating of -10.3 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 6.3 percentage points (46.2 percent to 39.9 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 6.2 points (46.1 percent to 39.9 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 6.4 points (46.2 percent to 39.8 percent).

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections, including the latest Democratic primary polls.


  1. We’re using new surveys from CNN, Crooked Media/Change Research, NBC News/Wall Street Journal, Morning Consult and the Pew Research Center for this piece.

Perry Bacon Jr. was a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.