Poll: Iowa Democrats like Biden for 2020

Former Vice President Joe Biden holds the pole position in the first CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll among likely 2020 Democratic caucusgoers, with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke joining him as the only possible candidates in the field with double-digit support.

Posted: Dec 17, 2018 8:28 AM
Updated: Dec 17, 2018 8:50 AM

We have the first look at the state of play in Iowa in advance of the caucuses -- which will kick off the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination in roughly a year's time.

The obvious lesson is that -- at this early stage -- being well-known is the key. Former Vice President Joe Biden is the clear number one choice at 32% -- and he, along with independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders are the two best-known candidates to Iowa Democrats, with only 4% unsure of their opinion about each of the two men.

But aside from the topline, what should we take away from the poll? Here are my first observations.

1. Beto is in prime position

The Texas congressman, who lost a Senate race to Ted Cruz earlier this year, is in third place in the ballot test -- 11% and the only person other than Biden and Sanders in double digits -- but he has considerable room to grow. More than one in three Iowa caucusgoers don't know enough about O'Rourke to offer an opinion about him. That's good for O'Rourke because it suggests he's nowhere close to maxing out his support.

2. Hillary is a non-starter

There is some chatter within the Democratic Party that Clinton, who has run for president twice before unsuccessfully, might try one more time. This poll suggests that Democrats simply are not pining for her to run. More Democrats view her unfavorably (49%) than view her favorably (47%). But it gets worse! More than one in five (22%) have a "very" unfavorable view of Clinton while 26% have a mostly unfavorable view. Just 17% have a "very" favorable view. But it gets even worse. Almost three-quarters -- 72% -- think she would detract more than she would add to the race. Reminder: This is among Democrats! Not good.

3. Democrats l-o-v-e Michelle Obama

Three quarters of Democrats (76%) believe Michelle Obama would add to the 2020 race while just 22% believe she would detract. To be clear: The former first lady has said, on any number of occasions, she's not running. ("I don't want to be president," she said earlier this year. "I don't think I should be president. I think I can do a lot of things, but that's not one of them." What this poll shows is that if she ran, she wold be a top-tier candidate automatically.

4. Known quantity beats fresh face

One of the central questions of the 2020 primary for Democrats is whether they will choose someone like Biden, who has been around politics for his entire adult life, or a newer face to the process like, say, California Sen. Kamala Harris or O'Rourke. Somewhat surprisingly, almost half of Democratic caucusgoers said they preferred a "seasoned hand" while just 36% said they wanted a "newcomer." Of course, what someone means by "newcomer'" or "seasoned hand" is in the eye of the beholder and can change between now and next January.

5. Pragmatism is king ... because of Trump

A majority of likely Democratic caucusgoers -- 54% -- said they preferred that the winner of the 2020 Iowa caucuses would be "a candidate,...with a strong chance of beating Donald Trump" while 40% said they wanted a candidate who "shares your positions on major issues." It's hard not to see the specter of Trump in that question; Democrats badly want Trump out, and their preferred candidate is whoever can beat Trump.

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