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Sick Of 2020 Already? Most Voters Aren’t.

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

Democrats have lost their edge in voter enthusiasm, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll out this week. When asked how interested they were in the 2020 elections on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being the most interested), 73 percent of Democratic registered voters and 75 percent of Republican registered voters responded with a 9 or a 10.

At first glance, this doesn’t look good for Democrats. We don’t know what the difference in enthusiasm was between Democrats and Republicans at this point in the 2018 cycle, but in December 2017 (the earliest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll we could find that asked the question for that cycle), Democrats had a clear advantage. At that time, 59 percent of Democratic voters rated their interest in the 2018 elections as a 9 or 10, compared with just 49 percent of Republican voters who did.

But this might not be as good a sign for Republicans as it seems. And that’s because the enthusiasm gap practically disappeared by the time the 2018 elections rolled around. When NBC News/Wall Street Journal asked the same question in September 2018 — just a month and a half before the elections — 65 percent of Democratic registered voters reported high interest in the elections, but so did 61 percent of Republican registered voters. In other words, there is plenty of time for the 2020 numbers to change. And, of course, the blue wave washed ashore in 2018 just the same — Democrats picked up 40 House seats and won the national popular vote by 8.6 percentage points.

To me, the real takeaway from this poll question is not the enthusiasm gap between the parties, but the high level of voter interest overall at this point in the cycle. Voters are currently more interested in the presidential election than they were at this point in the 2016 cycle. In the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 69 percent of registered voters said their interest in the 2020 election was a 9 or a 10; in April 2015, that number was 60 percent. The share of voters who are very interested in the upcoming election is roughly similar to the share who told the pollster that they were very interested throughout 2016, much closer to the vote than we are now:

We couldn’t find any NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls that asked the enthusiasm question at this point in the 2008 or 2012 election cycles, but the share of voters who are highly interested in the 2020 election now exceeds or matches the share of highly interested voters in every NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll from January through August 2012.1 As for 2008, the share of voters with a lot of interest in the presidential election was consistently higher that year than it is now — but it wouldn’t take that much of an increase for 2020 to be in 2008’s ballpark.

It’s not just the NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls that show voters are amped up; other polling backs up the theory that voters are particularly enthusiastic about this cycle.

Last month, for instance, Fox News found that 52 percent of registered voters were “extremely” interested in the 2020 election. In July 2015 — the earliest Fox News poll asking this question that we could find for the 2016 cycle — just 31 percent of voters were “extremely” interested in the presidential election; in September 2011, the earliest Fox News poll we have in the 2012 cycle, 32 percent were “extremely” interested in the presidential election. In fact, “extremely” high interest in the 2012 and 2016 cycles did not hit 52 percent in the Fox News poll until the month before the election.

And according to a CNN poll from late April, 74 percent of registered voters reported being “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic about voting for president in next year’s election. That beats out the numbers from the earliest CNN polls we could find for the 2016, 2012 and 2008 elections, all of which were taken at around this point in the cycle. In CNN’s July 2015 poll, 48 percent said they were “extremely” or “very” enthusiastic; in March 2011, 58 percent said it; and in June 2007, 54 percent said it. Indeed, that 74 percent was the highest such number CNN has recorded since 2003 — at any point in the election cycle!

Of course, it’s still early, and we don’t know how these voter enthusiasm numbers will change — whether they will increase or whether one party’s numbers will diverge from the other’s. But there is at least a chance that 2020 could blow away all other recent elections for voter enthusiasm.

Other polling bites

  • After Attorney General William Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian interference in the 2016 election, several pollsters asked about Barr’s popularity. According to HarrisX, 28 percent of registered voters said they viewed him favorably, while 32 percent said they viewed him unfavorably. According to Morning Consult, 22 percent of registered voters said they had a favorable opinion of him, and 34 percent said they had an unfavorable opinion. And according to YouGov, 33 percent of registered voters said they had a favorable opinion, and 43 percent said they had an unfavorable one. That might validate Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats’ decision to go after Barr, although it’s worth noting that a sizable chunk of voters in all three polls did not know enough about Barr to form an opinion.
  • On Oct. 12, Louisiana will hold the first round of voting (an all-party primary) in its 2019 gubernatorial election. According to a new poll by JMC Analytics and Polling, if that election were held today, incumbent Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards would receive 38 percent of the vote, Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham would receive 23 percent and Republican businessman Eddie Rispone would receive 7 percent. Thirty-two percent of voters said they were undecided. If no one receives a majority of the vote, the race will advance to a Nov. 16 runoff. According to JMC, Edwards leads a hypothetical runoff with Abraham 40 percent to 36 percent. (Edwards is a pretty popular governor for a Democrat in a pretty red state, according to our Popularity Above Replacement Governor scores.)
  • On Monday, the U.S. Treasury Department said it would refuse to provide President Trump’s tax returns to Congress. According to a YouGov poll conducted the next day, 46 percent of Americans said they think the Treasury should not be allowed to do that; 31 percent said it should.
  • The Pew Research Center is out with a new survey that shines a light on the technology gap by income. More than 90 percent of all Americans with household incomes of at least $100,000 a year have a smartphone, desktop or laptop computer and broadband internet access. But among Americans with annual household incomes of less than $30,000, 71 percent have a smartphone, 54 percent have a desktop or laptop computer and 56 percent have broadband internet access at home.
  • If you’re a fan of both our election forecasts and European politics, check out Politico Europe’s seat projections for the May 23-26 European Parliament elections. Euroskeptic parties are expected to gain ground in the elections, which could give them significant influence in the parliament.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.4 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 52.7 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.3 points). At this time last week, 41.8 percent approved and 53.1 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -11.3 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.0 percent and a disapproval rating of 52.7 percent, for a net approval rating of -10.7 points.

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.


  1. A note of caution: These polls weren’t taken on a regular schedule, so don’t read too much into them.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.