If the power of an elected office derives from the size of its constituency, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is one of the most powerful politicians in the United States. His city is larger than all but 11 states, giving him responsibility over more people than anyone but a few dozen senators and governors.
And, of course, President Trump — whose job de Blasio hopes to take in January 2021. To do so, though, he needs to scramble past the 20-odd other Democrats seeking the party’s presidential nomination next year. De Blasio’s scrambling hasn’t been very effective: A Suffolk University-USA Today poll released this week found precisely one respondent (of about 400 in total) who viewed de Blasio as their first choice for that job.
More alarming for the mayor, though, should be that only 11 percent of respondents were excited about his candidacy — and more than 4 in 10 actively hoped he’d drop out of the race. That was the highest percentage of any of the candidates included in Suffolk’s questioning.
Maybe being mayor of New York will have to be good enough.
Granted, there were several candidates not well known by the survey respondents. Eleven of the 24 candidates included in the mix were unknown by at least half of the people taking the survey. If you adjust the enthusiasm question accordingly — meaning, adjusting enthusiasm to include only those who’d actually heard of the candidate — de Blasio fares slightly better. But not by much. Only Rep. Seth Moulton (Mass.) and Miramar, Fla., Mayor Wayne Messam prompted more “should drop out” responses than de Blasio among those who’d heard of the candidates.
All of that said, though, de Blasio’s numbers on this metric aren’t really the most interesting. Instead, let’s consider several of the front-runners: former vice president Joe Biden and Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Kamala D. Harris (Calif.). They’re among the only five candidates to receive more than 2 percent support in the poll (joining Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg).
Sanders, as it turns out, was the candidate who earned the second-most heavy support for dropping out of the race. Forty-two percent of respondents supported de Blasio exiting; just over a third of respondents said the same of Sanders. It’s likely that this is, in part, a function of the 2016 election, in which Sanders’s unexpectedly strong candidacy — and rhetoric — earned him both staunch supporters and detractors.
It could be problematic in 2020. As you’d expect, most Sanders supporters say they’re excited about his candidacy, and none told Suffolk that they wanted him to drop out. On average, among supporters of the other four leading candidates, 44 percent say they’re enthusiastic about Sanders and 35 percent say they want him to drop out.
It’s that 35 percent that’s eyebrow-raising.
Consider the same numbers for Biden: A comparable 42 percent of supporters of his opponents say they’re excited about him, on average, but an average of only 24 percent say he should drop out.
(Notice that several Biden supporters also ... want him to drop out? Polling is often weird.)
Sanders’s biggest threat at this point is probably Warren. On average, half of those supporting her opponents say they’re excited about her candidacy. Only 17 percent want her to drop out.
The numbers for Harris are slightly better. An average of 54 percent of her opponents’ supporters are excited about her candidacy, and only an average of 10 percent want her to drop out.
In fact, while Biden is the candidate who engendered the most enthusiasm in Suffolk’s polling, with half of Democrats saying they were excited about his candidacy, Harris and Sanders had about the same amount of raw enthusiasm. But Sanders and Biden are better known than the California senator. Adjust the enthusiasm numbers so they reflect only voters who’ve heard of the candidates, and Harris and Biden see about equivalent enthusiasm.
The voters who want to see Sanders drop out tend to skew older — while those who want to see Biden leave the race skew younger. Among those under 35, about the same percentage want to see both Sanders and Biden drop out. By the time you get to retirees, there’s a 26-point gap in wanting to see candidates drop out. Warren, by contrast, sees fairly even numbers across age groups.
Interestingly, given the Sanders-Warren fight on the left, more self-identified liberals want to see him drop out than want to see Warren leave the race. Among moderate primary voters, there’s a wide gulf between Sanders and Biden.
It’s very fair to wonder what this means in a race that’s so crowded. After all, more than 40 percent of voters are excited about Sanders’s candidacy — more than enough to keep him in the hunt in early primary fights, it seems. So what if a lot of voters also want him to lose?
The question is how this affects the mechanics of the race once candidates actually do start dropping out. Let’s say that, for whatever reason, Biden drops out tomorrow. Who’s likely to pick up more of his support, Warren or Sanders? Well, given that fewer voters want to see Warren leave than the Vermont senator, she might see a bigger boost in the polls.
If de Blasio were to leave the race, on the other hand, it’s not likely that his one supporter in the Suffolk poll would significantly affect the race dynamics.