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Do You Buy That … Democratic Voters Want A New 2020 Candidate?

This article is adapted from FiveThirtyEight’s weekly “Do You Buy That?” segment on “This Week.”

The New York Times and The Washington Post recently reported that some influential Democrats are clamoring for new candidates to enter the 2020 presidential race. Sure, there are 17 “major” candidates1 already running, but Democratic bigwigs are apparently convinced that that isn’t enough, and want someone — Hillary Clinton, or Sherrod Brown, or John Kerry, or Michael Bloomberg — to come to the rescue.

Is this a real possibility?

I can’t read the minds of any of those bold-faced names, all of whom have reportedly been urged by Democratic donors to enter the race. But I think these donors are out to lunch — and out of touch: I don’t buy that Democratic voters really want another candidate. And even if the voters did, I don’t think the new candidate would find it so easy to succeed.

First, Democratic voters are extremely happy with the field as is. According to a July poll by the Pew Research Center, 65 percent of Democrats rate their field as “excellent” or “good.” That’s essentially tied with 2008 for the highest enthusiasm Pew has ever found among Democrats:

Democrats really like their 2020 choices

Percentage of Democrats* with each opinion of that cycle’s presidential primary field

Cycle Poor Only fair Good Excellent
2020 5% 25% 42% 23%
2016 12 36 37 14
2008 2 29 49 15
2004 5 39 40 4
1992 11 38 24 3

* Includes registered voters who identified as Democrats or “leaned” toward the Democratic Party.

The Pew surveys were conducted in the year before each election — in July for 2020, in September for 2016, 2008 and 2004, and in October for 1992.

Source: Pew Research Center

And the numbers may have only improved since then — a HuffPo/YouGov poll conducted last week found 83 percent of Democrats were satisfied with their choices.

Second, late-entering candidates don’t exactly have a stellar track record. Remember Fred Thompson in 2008? Or Wesley Clark in 2004? Or even Rick Perry in 2012? Well, maybe not. These candidates were supposed “white knights” who entered their races late — and completely flopped. It’s not easy running for president — setting up campaign offices, public relations teams, a fundraising apparatus, etc. all takes time — and it’s no coincidence that the leading candidates got into the race early.

There’s another reason that new 2020 contender talk is likely empty speculation: Democratic donors are supposedly concerned about the flaws of the current candidates, but the names they’re floating are … deeply flawed. Democratic voters don’t want a blast from the past like Hillary Clinton, for example; in polling of Iowa caucus-goers by the Des Moines Register from late last year, 72 percent of Democrats said Clinton would detract from the field. Brown is at least pretty popular, but polls of Bloomberg’s favorable ratings show middling results at best.

Moreover, Democratic voters prize electability. And Clinton and Kerry aren’t exactly the first people you’d associate with winning a general election. Conversely, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren all lead President Trump in general election polls. (No, you shouldn’t take these polls too seriously, but they’re worth considering in this context.)

In all, I’d be very surprised if Clinton, Kerry, Bloomberg or any other big-name Democrat became a major factor in this race, let alone won the nomination. It’s a little more feasible that donors dissatisfied with the front-runners will line up behind one of the candidates who is already running, such as Cory Booker or Amy Klobuchar.

In the end, though, I think this talk of Clinton or Bloomberg is a sign of two things: first, the media getting bored with the race and searching for a new storyline. And second, the establishment’s influence is declining as candidates like Warren and Sanders are succeeding without taking their money. Some big donors might simply want back in on the action.

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  1. By FiveThirtyEight’s definition.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.


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