By Radwan Jakeem
After months of speculation about who might run for president in 2020, the Democratic field appears to be set. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some stragglers who have yet to commit one way or another, but for all intents and purposes it appears we know who’s in the race.
What brought us to this point most recently, really, was the announcement by Beto O’Rourke, the three-term congressman from El Paso who narrowly lost a high-profile senate race to Republican Ted Cruz.
O’Rourke gained national renown in his party and garnered borderline obsessive media coverage en route to nearly pulling off what would have been an exceptional upset of Cruz, and he was the major candidate most were waiting on to declare and define the field.
Former vice president Joe Biden remains another very significant holdout, but while O’Rourke hinted vaguely and seemed likely to run, Biden’s hints have been suggestive to the point that he can essentially be counted in.
Those two, if we count Biden, bring the total Democratic candidates up to 18, with a few lesser-known figures still considering entering the fray. So, now that we’ve reached this point we can begin to ask – what does this field actually look like?
Our best glimpse of potential frontrunners at this point may come from the betting markets, given that no primary votes will be cast before early 2020, and debates haven’t even been held yet. Betting on U.S. politics is a popular business, and seems to be getting more so by the year, so it’s no surprise to see that some betting platforms already have odds listed.
Those odds can shift fairly quickly at this stage, but right now they actually show a crystal-clear top tier among nearly 20 candidates (with odds also listed for a few people who have stated plainly that they aren’t running – such as Hillary Clinton). That top tier consists of Biden, Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, California senator Kamala Harris, and O’Rourke – typically in that order.
Early polls on favorability ratings for the candidates tell a slightly different story. It’s not uncommon for these kinds of ratings to appear fairly negative at this stage of a campaign, but right now only Biden has a positive rating (and it’s in the double digits in some polls).
Harris and O’Rourke tend to be the closest to neutral, though they’re still often polling with negative favorability. The curious thing is that a few other candidates, such as New Jersey senator Cory Booker and Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, sometimes come in ahead of Sanders in these ratings. This seems to imply that despite the betting markets’ trust in his candidacy as a fairly strong one, there is a fairly strong contingent of the population that is staunchly against him.
Meanwhile there are other predictive methods and measures that also offer interesting glimpses into the early Democratic field. FiveThirtyEight, for instance, put together educated guesses at candidate constituencies using a five-corner graphic. It’s an informed but subjective analysis, based less on raw data than most FiveThirtyEight coverage, but an interesting way to look at things nonetheless. They essentially seek to understand which Democrats will appeal to different subsets of the Democratic electorate, and who ultimately will have the broadest appeal.
By this method, the most interesting finding is that Harris outperforms the other favorites with significantly more reach, whereas Biden and Sanders, at least conceivably, have fairly limited appeal (their strengths among “party loyalists” and “the left” respectively).
This is going to be a very long primary process, and it really is just getting started. Now that the field is more or less set however, it’s time to start with this kind of analysis, and at least at this early stage there is a clear group of frontrunners – though the candidates within hit can shuffle themselves in different ways according to different predictive methods.