Voices & Choices

For better polling, ask respondents for more than just one choice

For better polling, ask respondents for more than just one choice

With a still-crowded field in the Democratic presidential nominating contest, the most informative polls are those which ask respondents for more than just their first choice. 

First, these polls give us a stronger picture of which candidates are doing best at consolidating support in a fractured field. For example, Yahoo News and YouGov recently published results showing Bernie Sanders defeating all other democractic candidates in head-to-head contests

Second, they give us a sense of whether some candidates are actually more popular than first-choice polling would suggest. A poll from New Hampshire released the day before their primary showed Elizabeth Warren with more second-choice support than any other candidate. In the primary the following day, Warren finished in a disappointing fourth place with 9% of the vote and zero delegates. Second-choice polling hints that Warren’s base of support may be larger than it appears. 

Lastly, second-choice polling lets us predict what will happen when candidates withdraw from the race. Which other candidates stand to gain? Speculative pieces abound, but we can make our best predictions when we have polling data on voters’ second choices. For example, Morning Consult routinely asks about voters’ second choices. Now that Andrew Yang has dropped out of the race, we can look back to see that a plurality of his supporters (35 percent) would prefer Sanders as a second choice, followed by 12 percent who would choose Bloomberg and 11 percent opting for Warren.  

These are the kind of insights we need in order to better understand voters’ full preferences in this chaotic race, and determine whether the current primary and caucus system truly identifies the appropriate nominee. 

A big thanks to the pollsters who continue to ask for this extra information. Keep these detailed results coming!

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