Would Hillary Clinton get in, the contributors wondered, and how about Michael R. Bloomberg, the former New York mayor? One person even mused whether Michelle Obama would consider a late entry, according to two people who attended the event, which was hosted by the progressive group American Bridge.It’s that time of the election season for Democrats.“Since the last debate, just anecdotally, I’ve had five or six people ask me: ‘Is there anybody else?’” said Leah Daughtry, a longtime Democrat who has run two of the party’s recent conventions.With doubts rising about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s ability to finance a multistate primary campaign, persistent questions about Senator Elizabeth Warren’s viability in the general election and skepticism that Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Ind., can broaden his appeal beyond white voters, Democratic leaders are engaging in a familiar rite: fretting about who is in the race and longing for a white knight to enter the contest at the last minute.
Martin is right that this is well-trodden ground for Democratic leaders. It’s difficult not to kvetch about whether you’ve got the right candidates after having nominated Michael Dukakis and John F. Kerry. Some would even lump Hillary Clinton in with that, given she wound up being about tied for the most unpopular major-party nominee in recent American history (tied with Donald Trump, that is).
It’s also perhaps understandable, given how far left their field has gone this year. The most likely nominee at this point appears to be … yet another Massachusetts liberal who happens to also be a Harvard University professor. The third-place candidate calls himself a Democratic socialist. Both are pushing a Medicare-for-all program that would cost tens of trillions of dollars, among other expensive government benefits.
But here’s what’s weird about it: Not only do polls suggest basically that all of these candidates would be favored to beat Trump, but they also suggest that Democratic voters are very happy with their choices.
A Gallup poll last month showed 75 percent of Democrats said they were “satisfied” with their party’s candidates. That’s significantly higher than at similar junctures in 1992 (44 percent), 2003 (51 percent) and 2016 (55 percent), and it’s about on-par with 2007 (73 percent), when Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards were running.
The Pew Research Center found much the same in July, when its poll showed Democratic-leaning voters’ views of the 2020 field slightly outpaced those of the 2008 field.
While about two-thirds rated their candidates “good” or better in both election cycles, 23 percent of voters rate them excellent this time vs. 15 percent around this point in 2016.
The question is whether this is a reflection of how much people like the candidates, and how much it’s a reflection of the historically vast field, in which most everyone is likely to find someone they like. And there’s evidence to suggest there might be some worries.
An Economist-YouGov poll this week asked whether people would be “disappointed” if any of the candidates were to become their party’s nominee. About 1 in 5 said they’d be disappointed if it were Joe Biden or Sen. Bernie Sanders, while the lowest numbers were for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (10 percent) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (13 percent).
But liking the candidates and thinking they can win aren’t quite the same thing. And that’s where the reservations start to creep in.
The same YouGov poll shows 66 percent of Democratic primary voters saying Biden would probably beat Trump, and 18 percent saying Trump would probably win. But the split for Warren is 55 percent to 24 percent, and for Sanders it is 54 percent to 29 percent. They were about evenly split on Buttigieg (34 to 34) and Kamala D. Harris (38 to 36). Even for Warren, whose candidacy only 1 in 10 Democrats would be disappointed with, only about half are confident she would win.
Trump supporters, by contrast, simply don’t have such reservations. Even though Trump trails all of these Democrats in the polls, sometimes by double digits, his 2016 voters say 80 percent to 12 percent that Trump would probably beat Biden. The margins are even more pronounced for Warren (84 to 8), Sanders (83 to 10), Buttigieg (83 to 6) and Harris (84 to 9).
Why do they believe that? Probably a combination of reasons, including that Trump is the incumbent and that they are inclined to doubt what they read in the news or polls about his vulnerability. Trump has encouraged this mistrust of mainstream media polling, even Fox’s. This is despite national polls having been largely accurate in 2016 (they were off in some crucial Rust Belt and Midwestern States).
And that experience also appears to be coloring Democrats’ uneasiness about their 2020 nominee. They thought they were sure to win last time, they reason, so they’re not making that mistake again. Never mind that Trump’s 2016 win was kind of a statistical fluke. Never mind that he has shown no real ability to improve his image. And never mind that majorities of Americans not only oppose him but also seem to be supporting his impeachment — and possibly even his removal from office.
Nothing will make Democrats too confident here, given that 2016 loss and what preceded it. Their penance is nine more months of what Martin describes.