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Biden Holds Primary Lead; Dems Have Edge in General



West Long Branch, NJ – Joe Biden holds a lead over Bernie Sanders in the crucial Michigan primary contest according to the Monmouth (“Mon-muth”) University Poll. The poll also finds both Democrats with a slight edge over President Donald Trump in hypothetical general election matchups.

Among Michigan voters who are likely to participate in the Democratic primary tomorrow, support currently stands at 51% for Biden and 36% for Sanders. Another 1% back Tulsi Gabbard, 6% say they will vote for a slate of uncommitted delegates, and 2% are undecided. The remainder support one of the candidates who have recently dropped out of the race. This latter group comes almost entirely from the 17% of likely primary voters who have already sent in an absentee ballot.

Biden leads Sanders among both white voters (50% to 36%) and voters of other races (53% to 36%).  Biden is winning voters age 50 and over (62% to 24% for Sanders) by a larger margin than Sanders is winning those under 50 years old (49% to 38% for Biden). Women prefer Biden to Sanders (53% to 33%), while men prefer Sanders (49% to 39% for Biden). Michigan does not have party registration, but the poll finds Biden with a strong lead among self-described Democrats (59% to 30% for Sanders), while voters who call themselves independents or Republicans are split between Sanders (44%) and Biden (41%).

“Biden appears to have the advantage because he is doing well among some groups that Sanders won four years ago. But as we learned in 2016, Michigan can defy expectations,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. The 2016 Michigan Democratic primary is considered to be the biggest polling miss of that cycle. Polls released in the week before the state primary showed Hillary Clinton with anywhere from a 10 to 27 point lead – Monmouth’s poll had her up by 13 points – but Sanders ended up winning the contest by just over a percentage point.

Michigan primary voters repeat the mantra of Democratic voters across the country – 57% say beating Trump is more important to their vote than any policy issue. Another 25% say electability is about as important as their top policy concern while 16% say it is less important than issue alignment. Among those who say beating Trump is their top priority, 60% support Biden and 25% support Sanders. Among primary voters who do not make electability their top priority, Sanders (50%) is preferred over Biden (40%).

“With Trump in office now, electability is certainly more of a factor for Michigan Democrats than it was four years ago,” said Murray.

Looking ahead to November, both of the probable Democratic nominees hold narrow leads among registered voters over Trump in a crucial state the Republican won by 10,704 votes four years ago. Biden holds a 48% to 41% edge over the incumbent while Sanders has a similar 46% to 41% lead. Among Michigan voters who report having voted for Trump four years ago, 90% intend to stick with the president this year while 5% would vote for Biden. In the matchup against Sanders, this split stands at 91% for Trump to 5% for Sanders. Among those who voted for Clinton in the last general election, 92% say they would vote for Biden to 2% for Trump in the first hypothetical matchup, while it is 87% for Sanders to 3% for Trump in the second.

“Michigan’s margin was razor thin in 2016 and the state is looking to be close again in 2020. There may be a little slippage in Trump’s vote from four years ago, but this is all within the margin of error right now,” said Murray.

For voters who backed a third party candidate four years ago, their 2020 intentions favor the eventual Democratic nominee (55% Biden to 17% Trump and 48% Sanders to 18% Trump). Among those who did not vote at all in 2016, the race is more evenly divided (45% Biden to 43% Trump and 47% Sanders to 41% Trump).

“The eventual Democratic nominee may gain some traction from third party voters who have buyer’s remorse for their choice four years ago. A couple wild cards for November will be new voters who appear to be more evenly divided as well as Democratic primary voters who may be unhappy with the eventual nominee,” said Murray.

About 1 in 7 Michigan voters say they would be very (9%) or somewhat (5%) likely to sit out the November election if they are unhappy with the major party nominees. Those not voting in the Democratic primary (17%) are somewhat more likely than Democratic primary voters (11%) to feel this way. Among those participating in the Democratic primary, there is not a lot of difference in this sentiment between Sanders backers (12%) and Biden supporters (10%).

Overall, 57% of Michigan voters believe Trump will definitely (26%) or probably (31%) win reelection. Just one-third think he will definitely (12%) or probably (20%) lose to the eventual Democratic nominee.  Most Michigan voters are very (42%) or somewhat (30%) optimistic about the 2020 presidential election, while fewer than 1 in 5 feel very (9%) or somewhat (9%) pessimistic. Republicans (88%) are more likely than Democrats (72%) and independents (63%) to feel optimistic about November.

“Despite the tight polls, there is definitely more optimism among Republicans right now. We’ll see if this changes, and in which direction, once the Democrats settle on their nominee,” said Murray.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from March 5 to 8, 2020 with 977 Michigan registered voters. The question results in this release based on all registered voters have a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points. Results based on 411 voters who are likely to vote in the Democratic presidential primary on March 10, 2020 have a margin of error of +/- 4.8 percentage points.  The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ.

QUESTIONS AND RESULTS                                                                        

(* Some columns may not add to 100% due to rounding.)


1.If the Democratic primary election for president was today, would you vote for Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Tulsi Gabbard, or for uncommitted delegates? [NAMES WERE ROTATED] [If UNDECIDED: If you had to vote for one of these candidates at this moment, who do you lean toward?] [Note: voters who already returned an absentee ballot were read a list of eight candidate names. Of those, 3 voted for a candidate who dropped out of the race and said they planned to recall their original ballot and cast a new vote. The results below reflect this change.]

(with leaners)
Joe Biden 51%
Bernie Sanders 36%
Tulsi Gabbard 1%
Elizabeth Warren 1%
Mike Bloomberg 3%
Amy Klobuchar <1%
Pete Buttigieg <1%
Tom Steyer 0%
Uncommitted delegates 6%
(VOL) Undecided 2%
    (n) (411)


2.Are you firmly decided on your candidate choice or are you open to the possibility of voting for a different candidate on primary day?  [If OPEN: Would you rate the possibility of supporting a different candidate as high, moderate, or low?]

Firmly decided 51%
Open to different candidate … high possibility 5%
moderate possibility 14%
low possibility 4%
Already voted 17%
(VOL) Don’t know 1%
No first choice (from Q1) 7%
(n) (411)


3.When thinking about who you are supporting in the Democratic primary, how much of a factor is beating Donald Trump in November – is it more important than any policy issue you are concerned with, about as important as your top policy concern, or less important than your top policy concern?

More important 57%
About as important 25%
Less important 16%
(VOL) Don’t know 2%
      (n) (411)


Now, looking ahead to November’s general election…


4A.Who would you vote for if the candidates for president were Bernie Sanders the Democrat and Donald Trump the Republican? [NAMES WERE ROTATED]

Bernie Sanders 46%
Donald Trump 41%
(VOL) Other candidate 2%
(VOL) Would not vote 2%
(VOL) Don’t know 9%
      (n) (977)

4B.Who would you vote for if the candidates for president were Joe Biden the Democrat and Donald Trump the Republican? [NAMES WERE ROTATED]

Joe Biden 48%
Donald Trump 41%
(VOL) Other candidate 2%
(VOL) Would not vote 1%
(VOL) Don’t know 9%
      (n) (977)

5.How likely would you be to stay home and not vote at all in November if you are unhappy with who ends up as the major party nominees for president – would you be very likely, somewhat likely, not too likely, or not at all likely to stay home?

Very likely 9%
Somewhat likely 5%
Not too likely 6%
Not at all likely 78%
(VOL) Don’t know 1%
      (n) (977)

6.Do you feel optimistic or pessimistic about the 2020 presidential election? [Is that very or somewhat optimistic/pessimistic?]

Very optimistic 42%
Somewhat optimistic 30%
Somewhat pessimistic 9%
Very pessimistic 9%
(VOL) Neither, don’t care 5%
(VOL) Don’t know 5%
      (n) (977)

7.As of right now, what do you think the chances are that Donald Trump gets reelected in November – do you think he will definitely get reelected, probably get reelected, probably lose to the Democrat, or definitely lose to the Democrat?

Definitely get reelected 26%
Probably get reelected 31%
Probably lose to the Democrat 20%
Definitely lose to the Democrat 12%
(VOL) Depends on the Democrat 2%
(VOL) Don’t know 9%
      (n) (977)

8.In the 2016 election for president did you vote for Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, another candidate, or did you not vote for president? [Note: “Did not vote” response was corrected for validated turnout from voter file.]

Donald Trump 33%
Hillary Clinton 34%
Other 8%
Did not vote 16%
(VOL) Don’t recall/No answer 8%
      (n) (977)


The Monmouth University Poll was sponsored and conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from March 5 to 8, 2020 with a statewide random sample of 977 Michigan voters drawn from a list of registered voters who participated in a primary or general election in the 2016 or 2018 election cycles or have registered to vote since November 2018. This includes 335 contacted by a live interviewer on a landline telephone and 642 contacted by a live interviewer on a cell phone, in English. Monmouth is responsible for all aspects of the survey design, data weighting and analysis. The full sample is weighted for age, gender, race, education, and region based on state voter registration list information and U.S. Census information (CPS 2018 supplement). Data collection support provided by Braun Research (field) and Aristotle (voter sample). For results based on the full voter sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points (unadjusted for sample design). Results based on the sub-sample of 411 likely Democratic primary voters have a maximum margin of plus or minus 4.8 percentage points. Sampling error can be larger for sub-groups (see table below). In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.

Self-Reported Party
27% Republican
41% Independent
32% Democrat
49% Male
51% Female
20% 18-34
25% 35-49
32% 50-64
23% 65+
79% White, non-Hispanic
16% Black
  2% Hispanic
  3% Asian, other
66% No degree
34% 4 year degree
Self-Reported Party
  3% Republican
36% Independent
60% Democrat
44% Male
56% Female
22% 18-34
23% 35-49
33% 50-64
22% 65+
66% White, non-Hispanic
29% Black
  2% Hispanic
  3% Asian, other
62% No degree
38% 4 year degree