The Speaker
Friday, 14 June 2024 – 10:25

The Current State Of The Democratic Primaries

With roughly six months to go before the 2020 Iowa caucuses (the first official contest in the presidential primaries in the United States), now feels like an appropriate time to check in on the state of the Democratic race. Strictly speaking, this race has been underway for some time now, with Democrats announcing campaigns from all across the country in the hopes of taking on controversial Republican President Donald Trump. But with many in the U.S. and around the world only just beginning to tune in, we’re taking a look at where things stand in the middle of August – 15 months before America picks its next president. 

Who’s In The Race?

This may just be the most complicated question of the primaries at this point. As mentioned, Democrats emerged from across the country, and from all different levels and branches of government, to vie for their party’s nomination. This led to a field of unprecedented size, and even in recent weeks, we’ve seen more candidates join in (and one or two drop out). CNN is maintaining a very helpful tracker that as of this moment lists 24 people actively running for the Democratic nomination (though there are strong indications that former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is on the verge of dropping out). 

Among the most high-profile Democrats in this massive field are former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and California Senator Kamala Harris. Beyond these four though, the field also includes current and former members of the House of Representatives, governors, mayors, and people from outside of politics altogether. There is also unprecedented diversity in the expansive group, with more women and people of color than we’re used to seeing in American politics at this level. 

Who’s Leading The Polls?

There isn’t necessarily one answer to this question. There are more polls all the time seeking to depict the state of the race, and it’s almost impossible to determine an accurate snapshot at any given moment. Speaking generally though, Biden has consistently led the way to this point. The size of his lead has fluctuated and has on the whole shrunk, but in most cases, he still leads both nationally and in state-specific polls measuring early primaries and caucuses. 

Beneath Biden, there has been a fairly consistent group of contenders including Sanders, Warren, and Harris, as well as South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. These four have jostled and switched places plenty of times and may poll differently in different states, but as a group, they’ve been fairly unassailable. Some polls have indicated that Warren could be separating from the pack and ascending to Biden’s level. 

Who’s Got The Best Odds?

Here, too, it depends where you look and when. The U.S. betting markets can be somewhat erratic and consistent, such that the top betting sites from the UK can actually provide the clearest picture of the race. Even there though, not all of the reliable platforms are particularly tuned in to the 2020 race just yet, meaning there just isn’t enough betting activity for the odds to provide meaningful insight. 

Where there are odds posted, however, it’s not uncommon at this point to see a slightly different picture than the one painted by the polls. Biden tends to have either the best odds or something close to them, but rather than being on a top tier by himself, he has Warren and Harris nipping at his heels. Specifics vary from one platform to the next, but by and large the betting outlook shows these three candidates out in front of the pack (with Sanders and Buttigieg trailing.) 

Where’s The Buzz?

“Buzz” is intangible, and no way to draw definite conclusions about a presidential race. At the same time though, perceived excitement and vague factors like an “organized ground game” or “sophisticated ad strategy” have proven to be legitimate indicators before. In 2008, we started hearing about Barack Obama’s tremendous organization, and seeing his enthusiastic crowds, before he looked like a serious contender in the polls or the odds; in 2016, constant coverage of Donald Trump either foretold or enabled his eventual win (or perhaps a little of both). 

So where is the “buzz” heading into the 2020 cycle? It depends largely on where you’re looking. There’s fairly strong evidence that debates aren’t that predictive (polls showed that Hillary Clinton soundly defeated Trump in three out of three 2016 debates), but if you want to go by debate-generated enthusiasm, Warren and Harris have turned in strong performances at times, as have New Jersey Senator Cory Booker and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro. 

Meanwhile, if you prefer to go by “ground game” or “turnout operation,” Warren is starting to generate talk vaguely reminiscent of Obama’s first campaign.She’s said to be months ahead with her Iowa operation, she’s seen greeting voters, giving speeches, and bouncing between early primary states on a daily basis, and left-leaning social media is ga-ga for her. 

The point here, however, isn’t to identify a favorite, or even a buzziest candidate. A lot can change in a matter of weeks this early in a campaign, and for all we know February polling heading into the Iowa caucuses could look entirely different than what we see now. For the time being, though, this is the state of the race. 


Photo: Elizabeth Warren campaigning in Las Vegas | Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr under license (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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