Journalists are famous for using taxis, barbershops, even cocktail parties to take the temperature of “real people” about people and issues in the news. Sure, such reporting is not terribly scientific and doesn’t really begin to tell you the full story about anything. But it is a good way to hear voices that don’t belong to you or your friends.
Which is why I turned to the rollicking 24-hour cocktail party that is Twitter to get some insight on the 2020 race for the Democratic nomination for president. Look, I know, Twitter is to civil political discourse what President Trump is to the rule of law. But what better way to try to take the pulse of potential Democratic voters than to pose a 118-character query and await incoming.
I just wanted to take the temperature of my decidedly Democratic Twitter following. Almost instantly, I was tut-tutted for asking such a question when we barely know where the now-21 candidates (welcome, Sen. Michael F. Bennet of Colorado!) stand on the issues. Not an unreasonable assertion. But I was looking for gut responses, not debates on who has the better criminal justice plan, for instance. Besides, with such a large field, gut responses are all we’re going to get anyway. So why not find out what folks are thinking?
What I found out was actually rather interesting. I couldn’t get through all of the more than 1,000 responses that I’d received by 1 p.m. on Thursday, but I got through enough to notice a really interesting pattern among my admittedly unscientific and self-selecting sample. While the new polls show former vice president Joe Biden as the runaway favorite in the crowded field, he’s not among the favorites of the folks who responded to me.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) was the favorite by far. She was the first choice of 117 respondents. That includes the 10 people who gave her all three of their slots and six people who gave her two out of the three. Seventy-five gave Harris their second slot, and 24 more made her their third choice.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) was the next favorite with 49 people giving her their first slot. But folks loved giving her their second slot, as 82 of them did, the most of any candidate. Another 51 responders made Warren their third choice, again the most of anyone in my count. Biden snagged 17 first slots, 17 second and 48 third.
The interesting pattern that emerged was that for many, Harris and Warren were the top two choices. It was either Harris then Warren or Warren then Harris. More often that not, I noticed a Harris-Warren-Biden troika. And, in that, you see three strands of the Democratic contest.
Let me state at the outset that none of the three are afraid of a fight with Trump, so no need to dwell on that. Harris represents the future of the Democratic Party: A woman and person of color in a party whose foundation rests with African American women. Warren is the wonk with the plans and programs for that good chunk of the base that wants to beat Trump with fearlessness and ideas. Biden was President Barack Obama’s wingman, who harks back to those saner times when the president was a decent man with a moral core, and who revered the Constitution and upheld the dignity of the office.
Eight respondents gave South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg their first slot. Nine gave him their second slot. A majority of those who mentioned him — 21 of them — gave him their third slot. Former housing and urban development secretary Julián Castro didn’t come up as often, but he did better than I expected with three giving him their first slot and 16 giving him their third slot.
Had I undertaken this exercise four months ago, former representative Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) would have dominated the Twitter responses. Not so much today. A lot of respondents noted that they were keeping their options open on that third slot designation. They want to know more. And the only time Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was mentioned it was to say “Never Bernie.” Oh, and someone even said “Never” to Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii).
What does any of this mean nine months before the Iowa caucuses and less than two months before the first televised debates with the candidates? Not much. Twitter isn’t the best gauge of, well, anything. Neither is a taxi, a barbershop or cocktail party — especially a cocktail party. But what I learned is what I have witnessed for two years. The Democratic Party electorate is angry and engaged. They don’t just want someone to kick Trump out of the White House. They want someone who reflects what they want in a president and for the country.
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