That said, it’s important to keep in mind the extent to which the 2020 Democratic primary race is still fluid.
Earlier this week, The Washington Post and our polling partners at ABC News released data on a new poll of the Democratic primary field. Before reading poll respondents a list of candidates from which to choose, we asked a simpler question: Whom do you support? (Well, specifically: “If the 2020 Democratic primary or caucus in your state were being held today, for whom would you vote?”)
Biden led in the responses to that question, as he did overall — but the results were fascinating. Biden was named by about 1 in 5 respondents, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) about 1 in 8.
Fifteen candidates were named by at least one person, which is higher than I at least would have expected. Only five of those candidates — Biden, Sanders, Harris, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg — were named by more than 1 percent of respondents.
But while Biden was named more often than any other candidate, another response was more common: More than a third of those to whom we posed this question said that they didn’t know or had no opinion on a specific candidate. About 4 in 10 respondents gave a response that wasn’t the name of a candidate. About 6 percent said either none of the candidates running or any of them.
After we asked the open-ended question, we asked a more traditional version, including the names of the candidates. Of the 41 percent of respondents who didn’t name anyone without being prompted with names, about 11 percent still said they didn’t know whom they’d pick. (In other words, about 4 or 5 percent of the total pool of respondents.)
A quarter of those who didn’t name a candidate in the open-ended question picked Sanders from the list of candidates, about as many as picked Biden.
Those Sanders numbers are interesting. When respondents were asked whom they support, 13 percent named Sanders. When those who didn’t name anyone were presented with a list of candidates, 25 percent picked him — about 10 percent of the total pool of respondents. Overall, 23 percent of respondents picked Sanders as their first choice when we listed all of the candidates.
Again, though, let’s step back. Let’s assume, for the moment, that those people who identified a candidate in our open-ended question adhere strictly to those choices for the rest of the election cycle (an obviously unfair assumption). We can just as readily assume that the 35 percent who said they didn’t know whom they’d support will suddenly decide to be supporters of author Marianne Williamson, making her the sudden front-runner in the nomination contest.
In other words: That gray area is big. We aren’t surprised by this, since we’ve still got months before most people start paying close attention to the nominating contest. But it’s perhaps the most useful of the various caveats that should be remembered when considering the day-to-day variations of presidential primary polling.
Emily Guskin contributed to this report.