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Yes, Democrats Are Paying Plenty Of Attention To The 2020 Election

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Political junkies might think the whole country is devotedly following the 2020 presidential campaign (FiveThirtyEight certainly is). But remember, the election is still more than a year away. So it’s definitely fair to ask just how many people are already tuning in.

And with this in mind, a new survey from the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that just 35 percent of Democrats1 said they were paying “a good deal” or “a lot” of attention to the campaign so far. Or in other words, only about one-third of Democrats are seriously following the goings-on of the campaign.

But one-third seemed a bit low to me, given that other pollsters have found that Democrats care a lot about picking a candidate they think can defeat President Trump this year, so I took a look at what other pollsters have found this cycle. I found that Quinnipiac University has asked a version of this question three times so far in 2019, finding each time that Democrats are paying quite a bit of attention to the race. For example, 74 percent said they were either paying “a lot” or “some” attention in the most recent survey.campaign. Then, 85 percent of Democrats said they were paying “a lot” or “some” attention to the race.

Democrats aren’t sleeping on 2020

Amount of attention Democratic respondents are paying to the 2020 campaign, according to three 2019 Quinnipiac surveys

Dates None at all Not much Some A lot
June 6-10 8% 18% 29% 45%
May 16-20 4 19 34 44
April 26-30 3 12 27 58

* Don’t know/not applicable not shown.

Source: Quinnipiac University

So what’s going on here? Well, it’s probably not that there’s a huge discrepancy in the number of Democrats paying attention to the election, but rather just a difference in how AP-NORC and Quinnipiac have asked this question. AP-NORC gave respondents five choices: “a lot,”, “a good deal,” “some,” “not much,” “no attention so far,” whereas Quinnipiac only offered four choices, not giving respondents the “a good deal” option.3 This means that in the AP-NORC survey, “some” is used as a middle-of-the-road response, whereas “some” is one of the Quinnipiac poll’s more attentive options. This means these polls aren’t directly comparable, but if you were to add the “some” response in AP-NORC’s survey to those who said they were paying “a lot” or “a good deal” of attention, you’d get 71 percent of Democrats in the AP-NORC poll who say they are following the race at least to “some” degree, which is roughly in line with what Quinnipiac has found.

And if we go back to previous cycles, the numbers from Quinnipiac actually suggest that Democrats are paying just as much attention as they normally would, or even more than usual. A CBS News/New York Times poll from early August 2015 that gave respondents options similar to Quinnipiac found that 72 percent of Democrats were paying either “a lot” or “some” attention. In other words, a poll that came out in August 2015 found Democrats to be just as attentive as a June 2019 survey. Plus, if you compare the people who said they were paying “a lot” of attention in both surveys, you’ll see that only 28 percent said that in the 2015 poll, compared to 45 percent in the Quinnipiac poll. And if we rewind eight more years to a late June 2007 survey from CBS News/New York Times, 71 percent of Democrats said they were paying “a lot” or “some” attention to the race, which is analogous to what Quinnipiac found in its June survey, with, once again, the share saying they were paying “a lot” of attention to the race (20 percent) much lower than what Quinnipiac has found in its 2019 polls.

So don’t read too much into that one AP-NORC survey. It turns out that Democrats may be paying as much attention as usual (or even more).

Other polling bites

  • A new report from the Pew Research Center shows a huge partisan gap over Americans’ attitudes toward capitalism and socialism. Republicans had sharply positive views of capitalism, with 78 percent holding a positive view and just 20 percent holding a negative one. But Democrats held mixed views: 55 percent had a positive impression while 44 percent had a negative one. Conversely, socialism was thoroughly disliked by Republicans, with only 15 percent holding a positive view and 84 percent holding a negative one. But Democrats were much more positive. Sixty-five percent had a positive impression and 33 percent had a negative one.4
  • New polling from Democratic pollster Global Strategy Group suggests that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might make a better target for Democratic candidates in 12 battleground states than President Trump. The survey, sponsored by campaign finance reform group End Citizens United, found Democrats ahead 48 percent to 45 percent on the generic ballot in those swing states. The pollster tested three different messages using McConnell, Trump and Republicans in Congress as foils to see how they changed voting intention. The language about McConnell produced the largest Democratic gain in the margin on the generic ballot — nine percentage points — while the language about Republicans in Congress and Trump increased the Democratic edge by six and three points, respectively.
  • According to a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation conducted just before the first Democratic debates, health care was the topic Democrats5 wanted to hear about most — 87 percent said it was very important for the candidates to talk about it. Other issues that were top priorities included: issues affecting women (80 percent), climate change (73 percent), gun policy (72 percent) and income inequality (70 percent).
  • Speaking of the debates, a number of candidates spoke in Spanish at different points, and YouGov recently found that 42 percent of Americans thought candidates are “pandering” when doing this versus 31 percent who believed they are being “respectful.” Among Democrats, 46 percent felt it was respectful compared to 32 percent who said it was pandering. Hispanic Americans also were more likely to view it as respectful (37 percent) than pandering (27 percent).
  • Young voters were an important part of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign in 2016, and new polling from Chegg/College Pulse found that Democratic college students6 are more supportive of the Vermont senator than other candidates. The group’s latest data showed Sanders with 26 percent, Elizabeth Warren at 20 percent, Biden at 17 percent and Pete Buttigieg at 10 percent. However, this represents continued improvement for Warren, who was in the single digits in April, while Sanders has slid from the low 30s to where he is now.
  • A new report from the Public Religion Research Institute found that only a relatively small share of Americans support refusing services to various minority groups for religious reasons, but that the share has increased in the past five years. Among the key findings was that 30 percent of Americans support business owners refusing service to LGBTQ individuals if it violates their religious beliefs. In 2014, only 16 percent of Americans supported this position.
  • Last week, President Trump decided to hold off on ordering a military strike against Iran, which had shot down a U.S. surveillance drone. A new HarrisX poll found that 26 percent of Americans support taking military action against Iran while 39 percent oppose such a move. Another 34 percent said they were not sure.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.3 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 52.7 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10.4 points). At this time last week, 42.5 percent approved and 53.1 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -10.6 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 41.2 percent and a disapproval rating of 54.0 percent, for a net approval rating of -12.8 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 5.8 percentage points (46.1 percent to 40.3 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 6.2 points (46.0 percent to 39.8 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 5.0 points (45.4 percent to 40.4 percent).

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



  1. Including independents who lean Democratic.

  2. Granted, enthusiasm has seen a dip in the Quinnipiac polls; it’s not as high as it was the first time the pollster asked the question in April after former Vice President Joe Biden announced his campaign. Then, 85 percent of Democrats said they were paying “a lot” or “some” attention to the race.

  3. Both polls also had a handful of Don’t Know or Refused responses.

  4. These figures include independents who lean toward each party.

  5. Including independents who lean Democratic.

  6. Including independents who lean Democratic.

Geoffrey Skelley is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.