Posted by Adam Ginsburg on September 12, 2019 at 8:25 AM
For Immediate Release

September 12, 2019

Ahead of third 2020 Democratic Debate,

FairVote/YouGov “Ranked Choice” Poll Throws Floodlight on Better Ways to Gauge Democratic Voter Preferences in Crowded Presidential Field


Poll includes voter rankings of top issues and five frontrunner candidates: Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg 

 Warren assessed as current frontrunner through poll’s analytic tools

National--A first-of-its-kind FairVote/YouGov poll of Democratic voters in the 2020 presidential race showcases the benefits of surveying through a ranked choice lens -- allowing voters to rank issues and candidates in order of preference and giving greater insight into the state of a crowded Democratic 2020 race and candidates’ potential paths to victory than traditional “single choice” analyses. 

FairVote’s presentation of findings includes a series of online interactive tools and an initial report on featured insights and toplines from YouGov. On its website, FairVote allows users to filter voter preference data by demographic groups (see links below), simulate a ranked choice voting tally and head-to-head contests between different candidates, and see how ranked choice voting (RCV) ballots will work in tandem with Democratic Party rules involving delegate allocation in several states next year. 

“In contrast to how most single choice opinion polling is used, ranked-choice surveys allow a greater understanding of how voters are considering a field of options, what depth of support candidates have in rankings and how one candidate’s fall over the course of the campaign could affect others' rise. While the state of the race may change coming out of tonight’s debate, the current findings suggest Sen. Elizabeth Warren as the current frontrunner in the race,” said FairVote president and CEO Rob Richie. “This survey gives a snapshot of a moment in time, showing where the democratic electorate is landing on the candidates and the issues, what could happen if the field narrows, and which candidates are best-positioned to benefit.”

According to multiple measures that take into account Warren’s breadth and depth of support, the survey’s findings show that she is currently outpacing Joe Biden:

  • In a head-to-head contest, Warren is preferred over Biden by 53% to 47%. The survey also showed Warren as better positioned against other rivals, far outpacing Biden in head-to-head matchups with other candidates -- these include matchups against Bernie Sanders (Warren leads with 62%, while Biden leads with 57%), Harris (75% versus 60%) and Buttigieg (79% versus 63.5%). 

  • While Biden leads in single choice support, Warren leads in breadth of support measured by rankings -- she is ranked in the top three by 58.6% of respondents, compared to Biden’s 50%, and ranked in their top five by 69%, compared by Biden’s 59%. She also does better in terms of breadth of support among African American voters than in a single-choice analysis. Among all non-white voters, Warren is ranked in the top three more than all other candidates except Biden, and is ranked in the top three far more than Biden among white voters (65% to 44%) and voters 45 and under (53% to 35%). While Biden leads in first choices among voters 45 and over (35% to 26%), Warren is more often rated in the top three by those voters (63% to 61%).

  • Warren has the best favorability in the entire field, with 74% rating her favorably as compared to 13% unfavorable. 

  • A plurality of participants (36%) list defeating Trump as their top factor in picking a candidate, but 60% say their top choice is a candidate who either has the best policy ideas (31%), best reflects their values (25%) or is a historic choice (4%). 

The survey’s topline findings also include that voters are ready to rank candidates according to their preferences in surveys and in elections, and that in the debates they are ready to hear about a broad range of issues, and from a lot of candidates. Details of these findings include:

  • More than two-thirds of participants reported that ranking their choices was easy, and 65% said they favor ranked choice voting, while only 13% opposed. Participants also voiced preference for ranked choice voting to a traditional runoff election by a merging of greater than two-to-one and 75% indicated it was important to consider rule changes that “would allow voters to vote for the candidate they like the most and still help decide who wins between the leading candidates.” 

  • Of 15 issues presented, eight were identified by more than half of participants as worthy of a lot of time in the upcoming presidential debates. Voters deemed three top issues worthy of an entire debate (health care and climate change with 29% each and gun violence with 24%). In addition, a majority of participants thought that the criteria for getting into upcoming debates is either “about right” (41%) or should have been made easier (13%).

Breaking down each candidate's second choice support also could indicate who might benefit or be hurt by a candidate's rise or fall in support after tonight’s debate. For example, Harris voters are five times more likely to indicate Warren as a second choice than Biden, and Harris is the second choice of a quarter of Warren's voters. 

The FairVote/YouGov survey of Democratic voters comes as ranked choice voting has growing momentum nationwide ahead of 2020. This month, Maine became the first state to use ranked choice voting to decide Electoral College votes in the general presidential election in 2020, and will allow RCV for presidential primaries starting in 2024. Six state Democratic parties plan to have voters cast RCV ballots in their delegate selection process for 2020. New York City voters will decide in November whether to adopt ranked choice voting for electing their mayor and other offices, and 11 cities are using ranked choice voting this November.

Among Democratic presidential nomination contests in 2020, Iowa and Nevada are traditional caucus states where voters’ “backup choices” already will carry weight, meaning voters there get to go to a backup choice if their first choice can’t win delegates. Both states are working on plans to have early voters cast ranked choice voting ballots, while four other caucus states are looking to have all their voters use ranked choice voting in the Democratic presidential primaries.

The survey of 1,002 likely Democratic Presidential primary voters took place from Sept. 2-6.

Interact with subsets of the data at (additional queries possible):

All 20 candidates

Top 5 candidates

Female voters

Male voters

Black voters

Hispanic voters

White voters

College-educated voters

Non college-educated voters


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