The vast majority of Democrats don’t care what their 2020 presidential nominee looks like. But if it were based on identity alone, the candidate Democrats would probably be most enthusiastic about would look a lot like California Sen. Kamala Harris, a 54-year-old woman of color, based on a new survey from Pew Research Center.
More Democrats might prefer their 2020 candidate wasn’t an old white man than not, the survey suggests. The poll, conducted between late April and early May, found that nearly half of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters said the best age range for a president was in their 50s. Only 3 percent of said they preferred a president in their 70s.
The survey found that much larger percentages of Democrats would be more enthusiastic about the 2020 nominee if it were a woman than not (31 percent to 4 percent). Same goes for if the nominee were black (21 percent would be more enthusiastic, whereas 4 percent would be less) or Hispanic (21 percent to 6 percent).
But ultimately, Democrats say identity doesn’t matter; 82 percent said it wouldn’t make a difference if the candidate was white or a man. That makes sense. As it stands, two older white men — former Vice President Joe Biden, 76, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, 77 — have topped the polls since jumping into the race. Biden far surpasses any of the other candidates in the polls at this point.
The 2020 Democratic presidential primary is notable for being the most diverse roster of candidates in history, but also because of its size — 23 candidates, the vast majority of them white men. It speaks to one of the biggest factor in this election so far: who Democrats think gives them the best shot at the White House.
Democratic voters are prioritizing electability for now
Of course, there’s a major caveat to these early polls: They’re early.
“The polling strength of Joe Biden (and Bernie Sanders, to a much lesser extent) may be based on residual name ID,” said Kyle Kondik, an elections watcher at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “They haven’t been tested yet, but they will be, and it may be that some of the desires of the Democratic electorate are not being expressed through the candidates leading the polls as of yet.”
It’s possible Democrats will start caring more about representation the more they get to know the candidates.
But we do know some things about this Democratic base so far: Poll after poll shows Democrats are prioritizing something called “electability.” In other words, it’s really important to Democrats that whoever they pick will be able to actually beat Trump, sometimes even more so than if their beliefs match up with the candidate’s.
As Vox’s Li Zhou has reported, that goes a long way to explain why so many Democrats say they don’t care as much about identity in their candidate: “the expectation of who can win is inextricably wrapped up in the knowledge of who has won,” Zhou writes.
“Metrics like authenticity and likability and electability are just code that we use against candidates who are not like what we are used to,” Christina Reynolds, a spokesperson for Emily’s List, a political organization that supports women candidates, previously told Vox.
So Democrats seem to have created a divide between the nice-to-haves and need-to-haves. Representation in identity, whether by gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or age, appears to have fallen into the former category.