As Democratic voters attempt to navigate the (still) growing field of Democratic candidates, we wanted to see how much the debates would both shape and reflect what voters want to see in the candidate they choose to take on President Trump in 2020. That’s why we partnered with Change Research to survey Democratic voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina — the voters who will vote first in the primaries — both before and after the first two debates last week. Ahead of the debates, we learned just how concerned voters are about the electability of their candidate among the voters we need to win. In our most recent poll, we surveyed 1261 voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina from June 29 through July 4.
Here are 10 key takeaways from our post-debates poll on early state voters:
What Changed (and What Didn’t)
1. Harris up, Biden down, everyone else steady. As a result of Harris’s gains and Biden’s losses, we see a very close race in the early states, with Sanders at 19%, Warren at 19%, Biden at 18%, Harris at 17%, Buttigieg at 15%, and no other candidate above 3%. Harris and Biden are the only candidates whose numbers moved by more than 1 percentage point in either direction following the debates.
2. Both Warren and Harris picked off supporters from other candidates. Of those who said they switched from one candidate to a new one, 55% went to Harris, 22% to Warren. Of those who went from undecided to a new candidate, 38% went to Harris, 20% to Warren, 13% to Buttigieg, and 10% to Sanders. And 42% of those who switched from Biden to another candidate went to Harris, 21% to Warren.
3. Debate performances moved the needle on favorability (for better or worse)
Candidates with positive movements:
- Harris went from 57 favorable / 8 unfavorable to 69 / 8
- Warren went from 65 / 13 to 74 / 6
- Buttigieg went from 57 / 8 to 64 / 5
- Castro went from 26 / 9 to 44 / 6
- Gabbard went from 16 / 13 to 29 / 14
Candidates with negative movements:
- Biden went from 69 favorable / 18 unfavorable to 57 / 26
- O’Rourke went from 48 / 13 to 38 / 17
4. The debates changed the minds of about 1 in 4 voters. 10% are now undecided after previously supporting a candidate, 8% went from being undecided to backing a candidate, and 6% switched candidates. 51% are still sticking with their original candidate, and 26% are still undecided.
5. Kamala Harris had a very good night:
- Harris is also now in many more voters’ top two. She’s the second choice of 26% of voters (up from 11%). Biden, Buttigieg, Sanders, and O’Rourke fell a few points; Warren is up from 20 to 22.
- Harris’s new support comes from all kinds of voters. She wasn’t in double digits with any major demographic group or state before the debate; now she’s in double digits with all of them. She’s strongest in South Carolina (21%), but her new support is pretty broadly distributed.
- Harris’s support is the least firm. Harris’s new supporters are not all in with her: only 63% are “very confident” they’ll vote for her; at least 70% of each of the other frontrunners’ supporters say the same about them.
6. Joe Biden may want some extra debate prep next time:
- Biden also down, Harris up on the “who would make the best President” question. He’s down from 32% to 17%. Harris is up from 4 to 15; Buttigieg from 13 to 16, and everyone else is steady.
- Biden takes an even bigger hit on likelihood of beating Trump. Here, he’s down from 50 to 32. Again, Harris picks up most of what he lost (she goes from 3 to 18) and Buttigieg gets the rest (6 -> 10). Still, Biden leads overall on this question by 13 points, because just under 20% of the other top tier candidates’ supporters think Biden is likeliest to win.
- Biden’s lead among African Americans is much smaller; it hasn’t all gone to Harris. Biden had 62% support among African Americans before the debate; he now has 39%. Harris has gained the most among African Americans, going from 3% to 17%, but Sanders went from 5% to 18%, Warren went from 7 to 12, and Booker went from 4 to 8. Buttigieg is still struggling, with only 2% of African Americans’ support. (His trip to South Bend after the police shooting was after our pre-debate poll, but he actually had 0% support among African Americans in that poll.)
7. Voters are interested in other candidates as they learn more about them.
- Warren has a plan for that, and voters like it. 43% of voters think Warren presented the best policy plans, compared to 16% who think Sanders did. When asked who they’d pick for president tomorrow if there were no election, Warren edges out the field with 22%, followed by Sanders at 19%, Buttigieg at 17%, Harris at 16%, and Biden at 15%.
- Sanders still best with low awareness voters; Biden now mixed. As before the debate, Sanders is considerably better with lower awareness voters (he’s at 37% with low awareness voters, 12% with high awareness), and Warren, Harris and Buttigieg do better with higher awareness voters. But while Biden was previously best with low awareness voters, he’s now roughly equal with both high and low awareness voters (20% and 22%), and his numbers with the two groups in the middle aren’t far off (14% and 17%).
- Castro pleasantly surprised people, but not enough to make them want to vote for him. Julián Castro was a pleasant surprise to 23% of respondents, behind only Harris (26%). But while Harris’s horse numbers skyrocketed as a result of the debate, Castro is still at 1% support, and he’s the second choice of only 2% more. That said, he’s still pretty unknown (30% are neutral about him and 20% have still never heard of him). And his favorability numbers went up considerably, as mentioned earlier, but 46% said they were more positive about him than before the debate, the highest of any non-top 5 candidate.
8. Democratic voters want to hear more about climate, and want a climate debate. Climate was by far the issue that was mentioned most in our open-ended prompt about what people didn’t hear enough about at the debates. 16% of those who answered mentioned it; next were education and healthcare with 5% each. And 65% say they want a climate debate.
9. Democratic voters favor the more progressive position on other top debate issues.
- Voters would abolish private insurance, 58%-23%
- Voters want a government health plan to cover undocumented immigrants, 54%-24%
- Voters favor decriminalizing unauthorized border crossings, 75%-13%
- Voters favor re-entering the Iran Deal, 85%-4%
Pluralities of every top candidate’s supporters favor every one of these. The only ones without majority support among each top candidate’s supporters are abolishing private health insurance (which only gets 47-48% of Biden’s and Buttigieg’s supporters) and covering undocumented immigrants with a government health plan (46% of Biden supporters are in favor).
10. Past positions are decently important to voters, including Biden supporters. Overall, 24% say a candidate’s positions and actions “from many years ago” are very important, and another 36% say they’re fairly important. Only 8% say they’re not important at all. Biden supporters place the least importance on past positions (16% say “not at all”) but almost half of Biden supporters say they’re at least fairly important. Past positions are much more important to Sanders supporters than any other candidate’s position, with 49% of Sanders supporters saying they’re “very important” and 26% saying “fairly important.”
You can dig in to the full poll results here: