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CBS News Battleground Tracker poll: The "Beat Trump" factor shapes Democratic field

Battleground Tracker: Biden leading in early states
Battleground Tracker: Biden leading in early ... 05:40

Democrats across the early contests say their field is too big, so they're focused on a narrower list of options. They're hoping to find the person who can beat President Trump, which is their top criteria.

Democrats have different thoughts on what "electability" entails, on what swing voters will want, and there is some division over what the party's message ought to be. They are split on whether the party's message should emphasize returning the country to how it was before Mr. Trump (47%), or whether they should argue for an even more progressive agenda than they had under President Obama (53%.) This something-known-versus-something-new dynamic helps explain some of the candidate preferences across key states.


Former Vice President Joe Biden does extremely well with those preferring the return argument, and he is in much tighter competition with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in the group who want a more progressive argument. In fact, a slight majority of those who want a more progressive agenda are not considering Biden at all, and most of them are considering Warren.

Democrats are already assessing each candidates' chances against Mr. Trump and what specifically they believe it will take to win: they think their nominee ought to be a known national figure, not someone new to politics; someone who can motivate other stay-at-home Democrats to turn out. 

When Democrats imagine what will appeal to America's swing voters next November, they believe the swing voters who'd consider gender would prefer a man more than a woman; that swing voters who'd consider race would prefer someone white more than someone of color; and those who would consider ideology would pick a moderate centrist more than a progressive.

Seventy-eight percent of Democrats say it's extremely important that a nominee must convince them of their ability to beat Mr. Trump to earn their primary vote. And when they assess the chances for candidates they like actually doing so, Biden stands out. Seventy-five percent of those considering Biden think he probably would beat Mr. Trump, a far higher number for Biden than among those considering other candidates. 

Thirty-nine percent of those considering Warren say she'd probably win. More — 50% — would put her chances at "maybe" — and 51% of those considering Sanders say he'd probably win.


But what exactly makes a candidate "electable"? Seventy-four percent say that starts with someone known in national politics, and 67% say that involves motivating their fellow Democrats who stayed home in 2016, even more so than trying to win over Trump voters. 

Biden backers are a bit more likely than those supporting Warren or Sanders to say that a nominee needs to win over some 2016 Trump supporters.

The 2020 Democratic field is the most diverse in history, but we asked these Democrats what they believe swing and undecided voters would ultimately want in a candidate in terms of race, gender, age and ideology. 

Many Democrats felt race or gender won't matter to others. But they think swing voters who do consider those factors would lean toward a white male, moderate candidate: a white candidate over a candidate of color by a by a six-to-one ratio; and that a man would be preferred by swing voters over a women by a four to one ratio, among those who'd care about gender.

Voters have some different reasons explaining their candidate picks. When voters in these states considering Biden are asked why, almost nine in 10 pick his time as vice president as a reason (86%), outranking his policy stances (57%), his time in the U.S. Senate (54%), and that he's familiar to them (49%). 

In the survey, respondents were permitted to pick more than one reason. But voters considering Warren and Sanders are more likely to cite these candidates' policy stances as a reason why. A third of Democratic voters considering Warren say they are considering her because she is a woman (a similar percentage of those considering Kamala Harris say the same about her.) 


Buttigieg stands out in that six in 10 of those considering him like his style of campaigning. Most also like his background before entering politics, and his policies.


This CBS News survey is conducted by YouGov between May 31 and June 12, 2019. A representative sample of 16,624 registered voters in 18 states expected to hold early primaries and caucuses (Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia) was selected. This sample includes 7,885 self-identified Democrats and Democratic-leaning Independents. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 presidential vote. The margin of error is approximately 1.5%


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