Trump Versus The Democratic Field

[ Posted Tuesday, August 20th, 2019 – 17:16 UTC ]

I've got to warn everyone up front, this is going to be another horserace column -- this time, examining the race between Trump and the Democratic frontrunners. If you don't like that sort of thing, then I'd suggest you stop reading now.

For everyone else, I thought it was time to take a first look at how the leading Democratic presidential contenders are measuring up to Donald Trump in head-to-head polling. This was mostly brought on by Trump himself, who lashed out at Fox News for the most recent of these nationwide polls, which showed Trump losing to pretty much any Democrat who wins the nomination -- by a wide margin, in most cases.

In this Fox News poll, Kamala Harris beats Trump by 6 points (45/39), Elizabeth Warren beats Trump by 7 points (46/39), Bernie Sanders beats Trump by 9 points (48/39), and Joe Biden buries Trump by a whopping 12 points (50/38). No wonder Trump's annoyed, as this bad news came from his favorite news source -- not some "lefty media" or "lefty pollster."

Joe Biden is also watching these polls very carefully, as his first campaign ad makes clear. The ad leans heavily on two main themes: Biden was Barack Obama's vice president, and Biden is the most electable Democrat in the field, as shown by all the head-to-head polling. Biden's wife Jill just hammered this point home by telling voters that even if they didn't agree fully with Biden's positions, such as on healthcare reform (the one issue Jill Biden cited specifically), they should still cast their vote for her husband -- because he was the most likely to beat Trump, which is what really matters.

The Bidens have a point. Joe does top the head-to-head polling in every poll taken. He beats Trump by a wider margin than any other Democrat. Whether that's a function of name recognition (and to what extent) is debatable, but it's also hard to discount his overall electability argument.

But I thought a deeper dive into the numbers was warranted. Because not only are the Democratic frontrunners ahead in the head-to-head matchups, they also seem to be improving as time goes by. As always, I'm using data from the Real Clear Politics polling pages, but I had to dig deeper into the data than they currently are, for a couple of reasons.

The first is that their poll-of-polls averages go way too far back in time. The average for Biden, for instance, includes polls all the way back to the end of March. That's too early to extract any meaningful information from, really. So instead, I started with only averaging the polls from August and July -- all taken after the debate season had started, and most of them taken after the second debate happened. This is when many voters started paying attention at all to the race, although even now there are plenty of people for whom these polls only really measure either name recognition (or just a generic "any Democrat versus Donald Trump" feeling).

Overall, combining July and August gives the following breakdowns (links are to each candidate's Real Clear Politics data page):

Joe Biden -- 51.0
Donald Trump -- 42.7
[Biden up 8.3]

Bernie Sanders -- 49.1
Donald Trump -- 44.4
[Sanders up 4.7]

Elizabeth Warren -- 47.8
Donald Trump -- 44.8
[Warren up 3.0]

Kamala Harris -- 46.3
Donald Trump -- 45.0
[Harris up 1.3]

In three of these matchups, Trump does roughly the same, but against Joe Biden Trump fares a couple of points worse. But what caught my eye was the gains that all of the Democrats have made in the past month. Let's first take a look at just the numbers posted in July:

Joe Biden -- 50.8
Donald Trump -- 44.5
[Biden up 6.3]

Bernie Sanders -- 50.0
Donald Trump -- 46.7
[Sanders up 3.3]

Elizabeth Warren -- 48.7
Donald Trump -- 47.0
[Warren up 1.7]

Kamala Harris -- 47.0
Donald Trump -- 47.3
[Harris down 0.3]

Now let's compare those to the numbers from August:

Joe Biden -- 51.3
Donald Trump -- 40.3
[Biden up 11.0]

Bernie Sanders -- 48.5
Donald Trump -- 42.8
[Sanders up 5.8]

Elizabeth Warren -- 47.0
Donald Trump -- 42.7
[Warren up 4.3]

Kamala Harris -- 45.7
Donald Trump -- 42.7
[Harris up 3.0]

While three of the four Democrats actually saw their numbers go down in August, Trump's numbers fell farther and faster. In July, Trump was averaging 47 percent against Sanders, Warren, and Harris, and 44.5 percent against Biden. In August, that was down to less than 43 percent and just over 40 percent, respectively. That's a drop of four points in one month's time. No wonder Trump is so worried. Also significant is the fact that every single Democrat improved their margin against Trump. Warren and Sanders improved by roughly 2.5 points, while Harris flipped her numbers to positive and Biden rose by almost 5 points.

Part of this disconnect is due to methodology, however. There is one poll in the mix, taken by Emerson at the end of July, which seems to follow a different methodology than the others. In all the other polls, adding both candidates' totals equals less than 100 percent, because they allow for answers such as "neither," or "undecided." Emerson, however, either pressed respondents for a solid answer or just threw out all the undecided data entirely, because all their totals do add up to 100 percent. Using this method benefits Trump, across the board. The highest number Trump posted in all the other polls in July and August was 48 percent (at the beginning of July, against both Warren and Sanders). However, in the Emerson poll, Trump's worst number is 49 percent, and his high mark is 52 percent (against Harris -- the only poll in the entire field showing Trump beating one of the Democrats, in fact).

If we want to compare apples to apples, we've got to throw out the orange, and only compare polls with similar methodologies. So, without the Emerson poll, here are the overall numbers for July and August combined:

Joe Biden -- 51.0
Donald Trump -- 41.7
[Biden up 9.3]

Bernie Sanders -- 48.8
Donald Trump -- 43.7
[Sanders up 5.2]

Elizabeth Warren -- 47.4
Donald Trump -- 43.8
[Warren up 3.6]

Kamala Harris -- 46.0
Donald Trump -- 43.6
[Harris up 2.4]

In every case but Harris, the numbers stay pretty much the same, moving a single percentage point or less, either way. The impact of that losing poll for Harris was bigger, so Trump lost a net 1.1 points against her when the Emerson poll is discounted.

In every single case, the Democratic candidates widened their margin over Trump when you do an "apples to apples" comparison. But again, the most striking thing is that in every single case, Democrats have improved in August over July, sometimes to a significant degree.

Trump, obviously, is having a bad month. Perhaps it was the aftermath of the mass shootings, perhaps it was all the talk about an impending recession, perhaps it was for Trump's bizarre desire to purchase Greenland, but whatever the underlying reason, Trump's numbers are headed downward. The highest number -- in any poll against any challenger -- that Trump has managed in August so far has been 45 percent, and that was at the very beginning of the month. The highest number he reached against any of the four Democrats in the most-recent poll (that Fox poll that Trump's annoyed with) was a dismal 39 percent. In fact, in August the worst number any Democrat posted (45 percent, by Harris, twice) matches the highest number Trump managed.

Of course, all of this is only a snapshot in time, and most voters still aren't paying all that much attention to the race. But while the Democratic nominee won't be known until deep into the primary cycle, Donald Trump is definitely a known quantity. So while the differences between the Democratic candidates' relative strengths may be influenced by which candidates the voters are even aware of at this point, the overall feelings towards Trump have to be seen as much more accurate.

Things can change, and they doubtlessly will. Polls this far in front of the general election are somewhat meaningless, because nobody knows what will happen between now and next November. Nobody can even guess what the most important issue to voters will be next year, for that matter, because intervening events are bound to change people's outlook.

But it's another lazy day in August, when all the Washington politicians are still enjoying their vacations, so I thought it was time to take a first look at examining the head-to-head polling. Especially when Trump himself is drawing so much attention to it. Perhaps he's right and the Fox poll will prove to be an outlier. But if it is instead an accurate harbinger for other polls in the future, then Trump has every reason to be worried -- that much is painfully obvious.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


17 Comments on “Trump Versus The Democratic Field”

  1. [1] 
    Paula wrote:

    The GOP has a bunch of advantages that have nothing to do with the quality of their candidate.

    They've got control of election processes in several swing states and they have no compunction about cheating or going as close to outright cheating as they can get away with.

    They're willing to let Russia and other countries interfere if it might help Blotus.

    They're willing to lie their heads off about Dems, constantly and in unison.

    The media, as a collective, bends over backwards to be "fair" to Repubs while putting Dem candidates through entirely different vetting demands; and non-white/female Dem candidates are held to yet higher standards than white-male-Dems.

    So Blotus has advantages he doesn't merit.

    On the straight basis of sheer merit Blotus is a goner; but with the GOP advantages it's a much closer potential contest.

    Hopefull the degree of repugnance Blotus inspires in Dems combined with the efforts being made by people like Stacy Abrams, will be enough to ensure Blotus goes down, assuming he's still in office.

    And Blotus himself seems likely to contribute to his own demise through his constant stream of unprecedented awfulness in every direction.

    But, like every Dem I know, I take nothing for granted.

  2. [2] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    NOBODY on the left has ever recognized the first and biggest problem of political polling.

    When a pollster asks a Dem/lib "Who you gonna vote for?", he/she jumps up, waves his/her arms, and screams the name of his/her favorite Dem candidate.

    When the pollster poses the same question to a Rep/Con, he/she responds quietly n.o.y.f'ing bus - er, I meant to say 'undecided'.

  3. [3] 
    Paula wrote:

    A nice antidote to the dark splooge that is Blotus is this joyous bit of video showing Liz Warren running up a path and ramp to a platform with a screaming crowd.

    She is a happy campaigner.

  4. [4] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:


    When the pollster poses the same question to a Rep/Con, he/she responds quietly n.o.y.f'ing bus - er, I meant to say 'undecided'.

    If that were true, then wouldn’t the polls be:

    Dems — 48%

    Trump — 0%

    Undecided — 52% ???

  5. [5] 
    TheStig wrote:

    These numbers, the fact they don't change for the better and fear of recession are why Trump is reverting to far right form...and than some! Circling the base is the only card he has to play at the moment. If can't hold his base he fears a primary challenge from the Old Guard in the Republican Party. That might open up a 3rd party challenge from a challenger who even more hard right than himself.

  6. [6] 
    TheStig wrote:

    Self-6 By the way, by "these numbers", I mean the numbers in the black boxes.

  7. [7] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    C.R.S. might have a point, but I'd assure him that as soon as many folks heard 'Fox', they clicked off.

    Believe me, nobody thinks that it will be easy to un-seat Donald Trump from office. People still awaken to night sweats worried about it. 2016 was THAT hard on them.

    But polls are polls. In the end, unless he flat out GIVES the Ukraine or nuclear codes to Russia, the numbers will come out within the margin on error, especially on election night.

    But one thing is certain right now: the mood of the Democratic electorate is such that leftist-progressive candidates are having a tough time, and most of the marbles are on Biden.

    If he should fall ill, or be unable to run any more, however, the race wouldn't go to Bernie or Warren. ANOTHER centrist would rocket up the polls. That's politics. Try as hard as they will, the media (for instance) can't turn the Democrats into the mirror image of the Republicans.

    There are precedents. In 1968 and 1972, with the Vietnam was looming, the Democrats went whole hog liberal and had their clocks cleaned. Later attempts at the same in the 1980s had similar results, with snickering.

    Republicants, on the other hand have always had their best times when they swerved to the right. Reagan, and now Trump have shown that their right wing is both vicious and formidable.

    So what to do? There are presently (of course) two camps in the Democratic party. One says, "Well, Hillary was a centrist, and couldn't beat him, we should go Bold." The other says, "Hillary actually beat Trump by five million votes. We just need a few more in the right districts to beat him at the polls."

    I'm in the latter camp. America, like it or not, is a center-right country, and going Bold is a good way to end up getting our clocks cleaned AGAIN. The Biden numbers reflect that. He COULD pick a lefty like Warren as VP, who would then have to explain, over and over, that she doesn't really support his plan for building on Obamacare.

    It's a tough path to navigate. What's sure is that it will play out in a polling booth near you, very soon. Once this 'silly season' is over, that is.

  8. [8] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:

    Don Harris,

    Once again, I’ll ask the questions and see if you will bother to answer them...

    1. If you are asking voters to only vote for small donation candidates, that pretty much excludes every candidate running in 2020. AOC has raised just under $2M for her 2020 campaign, with 82.6% coming from small donations under $200. She has the highest percentage of any candidate, but still relies on larger donations to some degree. Bernie Sanders has done the best amongst presidential candidates, but still only 60% of his over $46M raised came from small gift donors. Impressive, but not good enough for One Demand!

    Since you have not listed any candidates on your site who qualify to call themselves “One Demand Approved”, do you expect voters to ignore every other issue they deem important and instead write in their own name (in states where that is allowed) on the ballots in protest?

    2.It could even become an intervening event that could change people's outlook and make people realize that it is the most important issue of every election because it is the one issue that is never really addressed because of the excuse there are so many important problems that need to be solved first so we can't do it now which of course makes NO SENSE because the main obstacle to solving all the other important problems like climate change, income inequality, health care, etc. is big money corrupting our political process and the other problems can't be solved until we get the big money out of our political process.

    Holy run-on-sentence, Batman! Question: If it is never addressed because people do not view it as the most important issue, then how can you claim it is the most important issue? How will small donations only candidates fix anything if none are elected?

    3. What, exactly, is One Demand? It isn’t an organization. You don’t do anything, you have no supporters, you aren’t even a well thought out idea! So why are you asking for people’s personal information?

    4. You aren’t truly a non-profit organization. You have no board of directors that offer oversight or direction. One Demand seems to exist only as a website. And even though it exists only as a website, it is a website that refers to itself by different names, is filled with mistakes and untrue statements, and is outdated and has clearly been ignored by you....all of which makes one question One Demand’s credibility.

    One Demand has you and is only you. Unfortunately for One Demand, you don’t care enough to try to make your website look like it is run by a competent person. If CW did write an article on One Demand, would you expect him to ignore your site?

  9. [9] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    yes, conservative voters do tend to be more reserved than liberal ones, and most polls don't account for the discrepancy. agree completely. that's one of the many confounding variables that make polling an inexact science. but even with all that, they're right significantly more often than they're wrong.

    Thanks for the warning. But I could tell from the title it would be a skim through article that I skim through just like Michale's bold face comments.

    i can't speak for everyone, but i think most people who don't care about an article don't bother commenting on it. if you don't care about the articles, you don't care about the comments, and nobody here is interested in joining you, then why do you bother commenting here at all? it seems like a gigantic waste of your time. i don't mind spending the time because i enjoy reading what cw, michale and everyone else writes.

    Despite my complaints aboot horserace articles, you have the right to write aboot what you want to write aboot.

    well... most of the time. ok. just for you:

    why you continue to post here isn't a request to get lost (i enjoy your posts too), it's a serious question. but if it's too heavy for the moment, try some pie, it's delicious.


  10. [10] 
    Kick wrote:

    Great summary, CW. Please keep the horserace articles coming.

    If Don Harris doesn't like it:

    * He might get an idea of how old his near daily horseshit is.

    * He can eat horse shit pie. :)

  11. [11] 
    TheStig wrote:

    The motto of OneDemand is TAKE BIG MONEY

    It right on the masthead, if you can find his website.

    Politicians and political consultants who massage them would laugh at Harris and his message if they knew he existed. The Atlantic published an article that shows why with four compelling graphs.


    (I've changed the order of presentation for clarity). The takeaway:

    1) The more you outspend your opponent, the more likely you are to win. Conventional wisdom is right.

    2) In close races, that effect was heightened.

    3) More money was spent on votes in closer races. As those Emu and Doug commercials say "only spend what you need."

    4) Most incumbent losses saw the incumbents outraised.

    As evolutionary biologists would put it, Big Money is an evolutionary stable strategy (ESS). Small Money candidates will not win often enough to proliferate and win sustained power. They may win now and then, but not often enough change things. Money flows to power.

    Harris assumes the electorate, who are mostly no money donors, are voting against their own best interests. This is naive. The wisdom of the crowd understands that an incumbent politician is much more powerful than a freshman. They sit on more powerful committees and chair more powerful committees. This power can bring good things to a district - just look at what Mitch McConnel has done for KY. Sure, the tide doesn't raise all boats equally, but a raise is better than nothing and much better than a loss.

    An incumbent politician can reasonably make the argument: "vote for me, I'm a higher quality representative than my opponent, and you don't even have to pay a dime form my superior services." Given how our constitutional system is structured, it's a winning argument.

    Put bluntly, Big Money is effectively written into the Constitution(s - fed. and state) If you want to fix a leak, you have to tighten or replace the right gasket.

  12. [12] 
    TheStig wrote:


    Above link went awry:

    Should be:

    My bad, should always test a copied link!!! :-(

  13. [13] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:


    Thank you for the additional info in [12&13]. I love that DH claims that people on this board fail to say exactly what is wrong with his idea... I am pretty sure that we’ve tried every way to get the message across except for interpretative dance — which I would have finished if my choreographer hadn’t gotten himself deported!

  14. [14] 
    ListenWhenYouHear wrote:


    It didn’t matter if Hillary were centrist, far left or even if she ran on the GOP’s platform itself... She was Hillary Clinton — the scary mythical beast that Republicans had been preparing themselves for her presidential bid since the day Bill won the Democratic Primary twenty something years ago. Fortunately, none of the current Democratic nominees are as hated as Hillary was....not by a long shot!

    I feel very good at our chances to rid ourselves of Trump and family in 2020. I’ve had Republican friends actually paying attention to what the Democratic candidates are saying — something they have never done in the past. And more than a few have told Devon and I that they regret voting for Trump and are sorry that they didn’t listen to us when we warned them about him. When has that ever happened??? It’s a first for us, but the Donald is just so horrible that they are embarrassed for supporting him.

  15. [15] 
    Balthasar wrote:

    I feel very good at our chances to rid ourselves of Trump

    So do I, but I also know that it will take a lot of work and nail-biting too, 'cause I agree with Nancy Pelosi that we have to win by a lot to shut the other side up and down.

  16. [16] 
    Kick wrote:


    Okay, this is just awesome. *mic drop* :)

  17. [17] 
    Kick wrote:


    I am pretty sure that we've tried every way to get the message across except for interpretative dance — which I would have finished if my choreographer hadn't gotten himself deported!

    I know, right!? *laughs* :)

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