Democratic Voters Really Want To Beat Donald Trump

It's still early in the 2020 cycle, but Democratic candidate are finding rally attendees focused on one thing. Beating Donald Trump.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Democrats running for President are finding that beating Donald Trump is a top priority among the people showing up for early rallies:

As the already large presidential field grows by the week, the enthusiasm that propelled Democrats to a decisive takeover of the House in the midterms is still surging, driving crowd sizes and intensity typically seen in the days before the first caucuses and primaries, not a year ahead of them. Powered by an almost desperate yearning to oust President Trump, and galvanized by the most diverse field in presidential primary history, Democrats are packing into gymnasiums, churches and exhibition halls to hear candidates speak — even if they are far from committed to supporting the candidate they are showing up to see.

The populist message many of the candidates have on offer is resonating: From Northern California to Council Bluffs to the Brooklyn streets where Mr. Sanders was raised, voters are delighting in the calls to spurn big donors, the policies to fight wealth inequality and the promises of relief from college debt and steep medical bills.

Ms. Harris kicked off her campaign in January with a rally in downtown Oakland before more than 20,000 people. Hundreds turned out to see Senator Kirsten Gillibrand last month at Dartmouth College, her alma mater. Even Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who briefly toyed with running for president before bowing out this week, lured a throng of New Hampshire voters to a recent meet-and-greet at a bookstore.

But it is Mr. Sanders’s ability to muster supporters, and his focus at this point on big, showy rallies rather than smaller events like town halls, that perhaps best captures the early 2020 ebullience. At this stage of the race, his events are also doubling as shows of force — supporters filled a Navy Pier hall in Chicago — evoking the strategy of President Trump, whose 2016 campaign gathered momentum in part because of the large rallies he held before similarly boisterous crowd.


Early polling data underscores the displays of grass-roots enthusiasm: A recent University of New Hampshire survey showed that more than 60 percent of Democrats said they were “extremely interested” in the primary, significantly higher than they reported at this stage in each of the last three cycles. Overall, half of those polled in the state said they were “extremely interested” in the primary.

While the energy has been uplifting for many of the candidates, it has also posed something of a challenge for anyone looking to gauge early-stage popularity: Because voters are showing up in such high numbers and cheering so enthusiastically, even for lesser known candidates, the traditional measures of excitement — crowd size, noise — no longer distinguish individual contenders. (Two candidates who have yet to join the race, Beto O’Rourke and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, are expected to bring big crowds in their own right.)

“In past cycles, you were there for Edwards, you were there for Barack Obama, you were there for Hillary, you were there for Bernie,” said Sean Bagniewski, the chair of the Polk County Democratic Party in Iowa, which includes Des Moines. “All of our Democrats take the prospect of defeating Donald Trump so seriously that it’s almost like everybody is on the same team.”

The early grass-roots enthusiasm is also buoying email lists and fund-raising numbers. Ms. Harris’s campaign, for instance, boasted that it had raised $1.5 million in its first 24 hours. And Mr. Sanders’s campaign said it had collected $10 million from 359,914 donors in its first week, an extraordinary number that underscores the power of his small-dollar donor base. His campaign also says that more than one million people have signed up as volunteers.

Although many people have not yet decided which candidate they will support, political watchers say the level of engagement is comparable to what they typically see much closer to the primaries and portends high voter turnout.

Michael McDonald, an associate professor of political science at the University of Florida who studies voting data, said he believed enthusiasm and voter turnout were correlated.

“We already know interest is running high given so many other indicators, so I expect turnout will run high for the 2020 primaries on the Democratic side,” he said in an email. In the general election, he added, “We may see a hundred-year storm for turnout.”

Given the disdain for Donald Trump among Democrats — 88% job disapproval in a recent Monmouth University poll and 92% in a recent Quinnipiac University poll, to pick just two examples — the fact that there is an eagerness to see him lose in 2020 is not surprising. Indeed, this is typically the same attitude that members of either political party take in a year when an incumbent of the other party is running for re-election. In recent elections, though, that singular focus has intensified, most likely in response to the fact that we have become increasingly hyperpartisan. We saw it among Democrats in 2004 and 2008 and among Republicans in 2012 and 2016. Obviously, there were no incumbents running in 2008 and 2016, but in both cases, the incumbent President was seen so overwhelmingly negatively by the opposing party that the election at the end of their second term was seen as an effort to undo the legacy of the departing incumbent.

Even taking all of that into account, though, the desire among Democratic base voters to see Donald Trump driven from office seems from this perspective to be incredibly strong, and this could motivate how the race for the party’s nomination proceeds. In February, a poll of self-identified Democrats found that the majority (56%) of Democratic voters believed that the party’s primary focus in the nomination fight should be on finding a nominee who is “electable” rather than a candidate who is aligned with their stance on specific issues (33%). Among Democratic women, the numbers are even higher, with 61% saying they are willing to put selecting a candidate who can beat Trump in 2020 over their position on specific issues, while just 45% of Democratic men say the same thing. Given the fact that women are a significant part of the base in the Democratic base, this is likely to go a long way toward shaping the tone of the race for the Democratic nomination and, perhaps, the focus on which candidate(s) end up rising to the top as the race goes on.

This is significant largely due to the fact that much of the focus of the Democratic race so far has been on the party’s ideologically rigid progressive wing. So far, most of the attention regarding 2020 Democratic candidates has been given to candidates who are clearly hoping to appeal to the progressive wing of the party. Indeed, one could say that all or nearly all of the candidates who have declared their candidacy so far —  such as Kirsten GillibrandJulian CastroTulsi GabbardKamala HarrisElizabeth WarrenAmy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders Washington Governor Jay Inslee, and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper —as well as less known candidates such as South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Maryland Congressman John Delaney.  — are candidates that either come from or appeal largely to this segment of the party. While it’s entirely possible that one or more of these candidates could end up being seen as “electable,” the truth of the matter is that the general perception right now appears to be that the more these candidates appeal to the ideologically rigid side of the party, then less they appeal to the vital center that Democrats need to be focused on if they’re actually going to have a chance at winning in 2020. As I’ve said before, this leaves an opening for other candidates to make the case that they have a better chance at appealing to those voters and winning in 2020, than their more ideologically right competitors. The most obvious candidate in that regard, of course, is former Vice-President Joe Biden, who appears to be on track for an announcement in the next month, but it’s also possible that other candidates could be seen as fitting that mold as voters get to know them better.

Whoever the nominee is, though, Democrats appear to be united and vocal about what the goal for 2020 is; they want to defeat Donald Trump, and they want a candidate who is best suited to do that. All of the candidates for the nomination ought to take that into account as they begin to mount their own campaigns.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. CSK says:

    I was thinking earlier that I really, really missed Doug’s fulminations on Trump’s latest outrages…and lo and behold.

    Welcome back.

  2. MarkedMan says:

    One of the things that’s been true my whole life is that it is rarely obvious who will win the nomination, and when it is obvious, the candidate often loses (incumbents excepted). Hillary Clinton, Gore, Mondale, Dole all come to mind in the latter category.

  3. I think that Democratic enthusiasm to oust Trump (which we saw in the 2018 mid-terms as well) plus the fact that, as per the previous post, Trump only has his base to work with, will mean that reelection will be difficult for him.

  4. An Interested Party says:

    Democratic Voters Really Want To Beat Donald Trump

    You could put “And Many Other Voters” between “Voters” and “Really” in that headline and it would still be very accurate…

  5. Teve says:

    Somebody on the Vanity Fair podcast mentioned recently that at this point in the last presidential election the frontrunners were Jeb Bush and Scott Walker.

    I’m not going to spend the next 18 months obsessing on an hourly basis about the race. We have a dozen good candidates, and the GOP base has another 570 more days to shrink before trying to re-elect that good businessman with the surprisingly blonde hair.

    Who knows what’s electable anyway? I wouldn’t have thought a radical Marxist Black Panther from Kenya with a terrorist middle name would have made it. 🙂

  6. @Teve: I concur that worrying about specific candidates at this point seems pointless.

  7. reid says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Plus, everything that Trump has done to alienate and repulse so many people seems to just be getting worse. As he gets older and more disliked, I think it’ll make him retreat into and do more to seek adulation from his base “base”. I can’t imagine a scenario where he heals rifts with anyone.

  8. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: The Republican NeverTrumpers have come around to supporting Trump, and unemployment is low. I think Trump is going to be hard to beat. Not impossible, by any means, but hard.

    43% approve of him. If 5% hold their nose and vote for him anyway, that ends up being a toss up.

  9. @Gustopher: You raise a very important point: the state of economy as we start next year in particular will matter quite a lot, and that be the pivotal issue that allows him to to be re-elected.

    I am not sure that the Never Trumpers were ever electorally a movement–more a movement of pundits and such, so I am not sure if that matters.

  10. I guess I will revise my statement. I think that Trump does have a more difficult re-election route than most presidents. He has to run a base election and his opposition is motivated. Plus, he is building off an EC win, but popular vote loss of not small number. His advantage is the economy, which usually signals a high probably for reelection if it is healthy early in the election year (IIRC, a lot of models look at 2Q of the election year in particular).

    I will note that Trump has defied normal patterns in terms of approval rates during a good economy, so there are some anomalies here.

    I think he will have a rough road to re-election, but if I am dispassionate about it, the truth is that if one had to place a bet, I suppose betting for re-election is safer than not if the economy continues as it is.

  11. Kit says:

    In the abstract, many voters would prefer an electable candidate, especially in these partisan times when the differences between nominees will be stark. But does that explain Trump? In a long and crowded horse race, the crown need not go to the swiftest. And yet it also won’t go to anyone too slow off the mark. Voters might have warmed up to Jeb Bush had he been able to hang around longer, but in a crowded field, he never had a chance. The choice was more complicated than choosing between Mr Heart and Mrs Head.

  12. Mike says:

    If Warren or Beto or The other unelectables get on the ticket trump will win. Biden and shutting up AOC will be critical

  13. Kylopod says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am not sure that the Never Trumpers were ever electorally a movement–more a movement of pundits and such, so I am not sure if that matters.

    What does matter is that there’s a widespread narrative in conservative media, amplified by former Trump skeptics like Ben Shapiro, Glenn Beck, and Erick Erickson, that Trump has allayed the fears of those who believed he wouldn’t govern as a conservative. The idea that Trump was a stealth liberal who was going to lead the GOP to electoral oblivion (perhaps intentionally) is no longer a thing. The presence of the NeverTrumpers in 2016 may have been overstated. But it does seem evident that conservatives overall have warmed up to him since his victory and have increasingly defended him in a full-throated and unapologetic way, without making it sound like it was some shameful secret they could only hold onto by bashing the other side.

    It’s dangerous to assume, as a lot of people seem to, that Trump’s 2016 numbers represent some kind of absolute ceiling on his potential support and that he’s got nowhere to go but down. It needs to be remembered that most people didn’t expect him to win. That went both ways, of course, as it created complacency among Clinton supporters who didn’t show up to the polls at anywhere the levels they would have if they’d seen a Trump victory as a real possibility. But it’s also almost certainly the case that many potential Trump voters stayed home thinking “Eh, what’s the point as Clinton’s going to win anyway.” The bottom line is that 2016 doesn’t really tell us much one way or the other about the level of support he’d get as an incumbent with a party solidly unified behind him.

    What it does tell us is that some people who register a negative opinion of Trump may still vote for him. According to CNN’s exit polls, just 38% of voters expressed a favorable view of Trump, yet 46% voted for him. While favorability and job approval aren’t the same thing, I suspect his present approval ratings understate his level of support. You have to add at least a few points for the “Yes Trump is awful, but….” contingent.

    Of course part of what happened in 2016 was that Hillary’s favorables were almost as bad as his, so they sort of canceled each other out. But I also think there are a lot of Republican-leaning voters out there who can’t bring themselves to admit they like Trump, but who will still vote for him in a heartbeat no matter who the Dem is, and I believe that skews the approval polls to make him seem weaker than he actually is.

    I agree in suspecting that a lot will come down to the economy (though I wouldn’t look at the unemployment rate, a lagging indicator that only affects a small segment of the populace). Under the current conditions, any incumbent president should be viewed as a favorite for reelection. Trump may be weaker than a Generic Republican would be under these circumstances. But that doesn’t mean he’ll lose. Betting on Trump’s Trumpiness to doom him does not have a good track record.

  14. @Kylopod:

    Betting on Trump’s Trumpiness to doom him does not have a good track record.

    This is fair.

    I do, however, question whether the Shaprios, Ericksons, Becks, etc. matter: their audience was already trumpy, that is why they changes their tunes. I don’t see Erick Erickson’s conversion as having much of an effect.

  15. Kylopod says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I do, however, question whether the Shaprios, Ericksons, Becks, etc. matter: their audience was already trumpy, that is why they changes their tunes. I don’t see Erick Erickson’s conversion as having much of an effect.

    The point isn’t what effect they have. They’re just the messengers, following the money. The point is what it says about where the conservative movement is at right now. In 2016 they felt comfortable challenging the Toupenfuhrer. Now, they don’t. That to me speaks volumes about how unified the movement is compared to before.

  16. R. Dave says:

    @Mike: If Warren or Beto or The other unelectables get on the ticket trump will win. Biden and shutting up AOC will be critical.

    I agree that Warren is unelectable – she’s just the wrong kind of combination of bland and lecturing. It’s a bit like getting a talking-to from your junior high principal. I’m not so sure about Beto’s electability, though. I find him vapid and smug, but for reason a lot of people find him charismatic and exciting. Personally, I favor Biden as well, but I think Harris would also have a shot, as would Sanders, though he’s only plausible because Trump is truly that terrible. Same goes for getting the AOC wing of the party to shut up – that would be important in any other election, but not so much when we’re up against Trump. I’m generally a straight-ticket Democratic voter, and I’ve never voted for a Republican presidential candidate, but I have to say I’d be tempted to vote for a generic Republican like Romney, Bush, Rubio, etc. if Sanders was the alternative. The “democratic socialist” and “woke af” wings of the Democratic Party are that worrisome. Nevertheless, with Trump as the Republican nominee and his base ascendant in the Republican Party, it just doesn’t matter. To borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill, “If Trump invaded hell, I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil.”

  17. Kathy says:

    It’s not just democratic voters, most of the civilized world also wants to defeat Trump.

    No pressure.

  18. @Kylopod:

    The point isn’t what effect they have. They’re just the messengers, following the money. The point is what it says about where the conservative movement is at right now. In 2016 they felt comfortable challenging the Toupenfuhrer. Now, they don’t. That to me speaks volumes about how unified the movement is compared to before.

    This is fair. However, my point is: they were out of sync with their audiences in 2016. They have adjusted. I don’t think the audiences are radically different now than they were in 2016.

    But yes: the base is unified.

  19. Mike says:

    Sanders guarantees trump wins. Dems have got to know that. Don’t they? Warren pisses off most average people just w her lying about her heritage. Whether she did or didn’t doesn’t matter. I haven’t met anyone yet that believes otherwise. There goes white males who think the deck is stacked against. It’s a lot more than the media thinks. Media needs to start talking to the non left. Exception for fox but they’ve lost their legitimacy

  20. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @reid: AFAIK, there are no records of Trump having healed rifts with anyone in the past. There’s no reason to believe that would change even without considering the possibility that he’s becoming older and more disliked.

  21. SenyorDave says:

    @Mike: Sorry, but if white males think the deck is stacked against them, no amount of talking with them will persuade them to move away from Trump. He’s a stone cold racist and anyone with a double digit IQ knows it, and that is a lot of his appeal to his base. With all the lies, and broken campaign promises, he still polls over 60% with white males, and if you eliminate the Jewish white males, it is a few points higher (full disclosure – I am JWM, although the alt right may not consider me white).
    Basically you seem to be saying the Democrats should go with a candidate to appeal to try to woo some of the WWC away from Trump. So maybe they’ll get 2 – 3 point bump in that group, but lose a few points overall for depressed turnout of the Democratic base.

  22. Mike says:

    @SenyorDave: what I’m saying is warren is simply unelectable not just to racists but to a lot of ordinary folks who resent what she did. She turns folks off more than Hillary.

  23. Tyrell says:

    Just wanting to “beat” someone else won’t cut it. That is not going to convince me one way or the other, right, left, or in the middle. Lay the money on the table. What do you plan to do besides:
    constant investigations, arguing, obstructing, listening only to the powerful special interests, and catering only to the political greed.
    At one time the leaders of both parties would get together in a back room and negotiate over bourbon, good food, and cigars. They made deals and got things done.
    Most working people where I am are pleased. Jobs available most anywhere, little or no inflation, and ISIS is almost completely done.
    What is needed: gas prices are okay, but could be lower. Middle class tax cut. Fix some of the problems with the “Affordable” Health care Act (we don’t need some one size fits all plan for everyone). Nuclear Fusion reactor on line by 2025 (China is moving ahead with their project). Rebuild the interstate highway and electrical grid. Immediately fix the current Federal personal income tax code: how could they mess it up worse than it already was? Stabilize the border and reform the immigration code.

  24. Kylopod says:


    what I’m saying is warren is simply unelectable not just to racists but to a lot of ordinary folks who resent what she did. She turns folks off more than Hillary.

    How do you know? Have you done a poll? Or are you just projecting your own feelings about her onto the entire populace?

  25. @Tyrell:

    Just wanting to “beat” someone else won’t cut it.

    It may not be enough, but it is a lot. Turnout is probably the single most important variable. If the Dems can motivate their voters to want to beat Trump, that is actually as important if not more important than who the nominee will be.

    That is not going to convince me one way or the other, right, left, or in the middle.

    Come now, that is absurd. Based on your comments here the reality is you are going to vote GOP. It really doesn’t matter who the candidate is or what they say.

    And this is true for most voters. We talk like it isn’t true, but it nonetheless is.

  26. Mike says:

    Yep. Same polls that had Hillary winning

  27. @Mike: And those polls were pretty accurate, as she did win the popular vote. I am not just being pedantic nor a sore loser: I am defending the polls. They polled the popular vote nationally, and were actually pretty close. So, of the lessons we might can glean from 2016, that the polls were bad is not one of them.

  28. (Not to mention, he wasn’t citing a poll. He was asking for evidence of your assertion).