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Biden Holds Lead, Warren on the Chase


Most prefer public option over Medicare for All; Less than half the 2020 field seen as likely to beat Trump

West Long Branch, NJ – Former Vice President Joe Biden maintains a lead in the Hawkeye State, but Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is hot on his heels while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has slipped down the leaderboard.  The second Monmouth University Poll of likely 2020 Iowa Democratic caucusgoers finds the size of Biden’s lead depends in part on how the new virtual caucus results are reported as part of the total vote share. The poll also shows that a majority of likely caucusgoers want a public option rather than a “Medicare for All” type health care system, but they are unclear on which candidates are most aligned with their views on this issue.  Another overriding concern for Iowa Democrats is defeating President Donald Trump in 2020.  Most voters feel that only a few contenders out of the 24-candidate field really have what it takes to beat the incumbent.

Biden continues to lead the Democratic field with 28% support among voters who are likely to attend the Iowa caucuses in February 2020. This is nearly identical to his 27% support level in April.  [Note: Biden had not yet declared his candidacy at the time of Monmouth’s first 2020 poll in Iowa.]  However, Warren is now closing the gap at 19% support, up from 7% four months ago.  Support for Sanders has gone in the opposite direction, now at 9% compared with 16% in April. California Sen. Kamala Harris clocks in at 11% (up from 7%) and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has 8% (similar to his 9% in April).  Other candidates who register at least 2% in the poll include Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (3%), former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer (3%), New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (2%), and entrepreneur Andrew Yang (2%).  The remaining 15 candidates included in the poll each earn 1% or less.  Of particular note, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who had 6% support in April, registers less than 1% in the current poll.

Biden’s lead is boosted by the addition of a virtual caucus option this cycle. Among those who say they will caucus online or over the phone prior to the official February 3rd date, Biden holds 37% of likely caucusgoer support compared with 11% for Warren, 10% for Buttigieg, 9% for Sanders, and 8% for Harris.  Biden’s strong lead in the virtual caucus is driven almost entirely by potential virtual caucusgoers who would not normally be considered likely to caucus in person.  The race is much tighter among those who say they plan to attend the traditional caucus event, with 26% supporting Biden and 20% backing Warren, followed by Harris at 12%, Sanders at 9%, and Buttigieg at 7%.

“The impact of the virtual option is highly uncertain. As it stands right now, the virtual caucus could help Joe Biden by adding to his total voter share by racking up support from people who would not venture out on a cold February night.  However, if it also attracts a high number of people who would otherwise caucus in person, then candidates could end up wasting votes because the virtual delegate share is capped,” said Patrick Murray, director of the independent Monmouth University Polling Institute. He added, “On the other hand, the importance of Iowa really is about momentum more than delegates. If the Iowa Democratic Party reports the initial voter preference count on caucus night, it could make the front-runner look even more formidable if there is an overwhelming turnout in the virtual caucus.  If the party does not report these results right away, though, then the caucus night media coverage might focus on someone who did not fare as well in total turnout but did a better job of organizing delegate wins at key caucus sites.” [* See note at end on the challenge of polling the virtual caucus option.]

While Biden maintains the same level of voter support he had in April, his favorability rating has slipped a little since then.  It is still strong at 73% favorable and 19% unfavorable (compared with 78%-14% in April), but he has been overtaken by Warren who now has a 76% favorable and 14% unfavorable rating (up from 67%-20% in April).  Opinion of Sanders stands at 58% favorable and 33% unfavorable, which is a decline from his 67%-26% rating four months ago.

Harris has become somewhat better known over the past few months and now has a 68% favorable and 19% unfavorable rating.  That positive to negative net rating is similar to her 61%-13% rating four months ago.  Buttigieg has also become better known and has bumped up his positive rating.  It currently stands at 68% favorable and 11% unfavorable, compared to 45%-9% in April. 

Among other candidates included in the poll ratings, views of O’Rourke suffered the sharpest drop. He currently has a 43% favorable and 24% unfavorable rating, which is significantly more negative than his 60%-13% rating in April. Other candidates have experienced only minor shifts in their voter ratings.  New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker’s 56%-16% rating is nearly identical to his April results (54%-16%), Klobuchar’s 50%-17% rating is slightly more negative than before (51%-10% in April), and former Cabinet secretary Julián Castro’s 47%-13% rating is somewhat more positive (36%-9% in April).  Newcomer Steyer clocks in with a 34% favorable and 25% unfavorable rating. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock stands at 22% favorable and 19% unfavorable (11%-7% in April).

“These trends in favorability ratings underscore the reversals of fortune for some candidates in Iowa. A strong field organization seems to have given Warren a boost. On the other hand, the fact that 6-in-10 Democrats are able to offer an opinion of Steyer shows that an unlimited advertising budget can come in handy too,” said Murray.

Total w/ opinionFavorableUnfavorableNet ratingApril net rating
92 Joe Biden 73 19 +54 +64
91 Bernie Sanders 58 33 +25 +41
90 Elizabeth Warren 76 14 +62 +47
87 Kamala Harris 68 19 +49 +48
79 Pete Buttigieg 68 11 +57 +36
72 Cory Booker 56 16 +40 +38
67 Amy Klobuchar 50 17 +33 +41
67 Beto O’Rourke 43 24 +19 +47
60 Julián Castro 47 13 +34 +27
59 Tom Steyer 34 25 +9 n/a
41 Steve Bullock 22 19 +3 +4

The top issue on Iowa Democrats’ minds when choosing a presidential nominee continues to be health care (55%), followed by environmental concerns (18% climate change and 12% environment in general).  These top two results are in line with voter concern levels in the April poll.  Other issues important to voters include beating Trump (15%), immigration (14%), education (7%), taxes (7%), jobs (6%), income inequality (6%), civil rights (6%), foreign policy (5%), and guns (5%).  It should be noted that gun issues were tracking steadily at 3% during the first three nights of the poll, but shot up to 10% in interviews conducted on Sunday after the recent mass shootings.  Health care went from 58% to 44% during this same time frame.

On the issue of health insurance policy, a majority (56%) of likely Iowa Democratic caucusgoers say they would prefer to allow people to opt into Medicare, while just 21% say they want a Medicare for All type of system with no private insurance. Another 13% would like to see tighter cost regulations on the current system and 4% want to leave the current system basically as it is now. 

When asked which candidates for president come closest to their own views on health care, Biden (28%), Warren (20%), and Sanders (20%) lead the pack. They are followed by Harris (9%) and Buttigieg (7%), with another 28% saying they do not know whose platform is aligned with their own health coverage policy position.  Among voters who prefer a public option, 34% say Biden comes close to their position on health care, followed by Warren (18%), Harris (13%), and Buttigieg (11%).  Among those who want a Medicare for All plan, 64% say Sanders is close to their view and 44% say Warren is close to their view.  [Results add to more than 100% because voters could choose multiple candidates.] Among those who want little or no change to the current system, Biden is seen as most in step with their own position (44%).

“Many voters remain confused on the single most important domestic policy issue of the 2020 race. The Medicare for All crowd has their champions, but the vast majority of voters who want a public option are all over the place. Last month’s debates do not appear to have clarified where the candidates stand on health care,” said Murray.

Issue positions may be important to Iowa Democrats, but the overwhelming majority (72%) prefer to have a nominee who would be strong against Trump even if they disagree with that candidate on most issues. If they were forced to choose, just 20% say they would favor a candidate who they are aligned with on the issues even if that person would have a hard time beating Trump.  In April, a slightly smaller 64% said they wanted a strong candidate against Trump compared to 24% who preferred issue alignment.

When asked to assess the strength of the 24 person field, nearly two-thirds of likely Iowa Democratic caucusgoers say that most of these candidates could not beat Trump in 2020.  Specifically, 30% say that only one or two of the Democratic contenders have the ability to beat Trump and another 35% say that more than two but less than half are up to the challenge.  Another 17% say that about half the current field could beat Trump and 15% say that most or all of the 24 candidates could handle the incumbent.

Biden is the main beneficiary of voters who think that the field is pretty weak against Trump.  Among those who feel only one or two candidates have a shot, 41% currently support Biden, compared with just 13% who are for Warren, 11% for Harris, 10% for Sanders, and 5% for Buttigieg. Voter preferences are more mixed among those who think that more than two candidates but less than half the field can win in 2020 – at 26% for Biden, 22% for Warren, 14% for Harris, 10% for Sanders, and 8% for Buttigieg.  Among those who think at least half the field is electable, 21% prefer Warren, 20% Biden, 12% Buttigieg, 8% Sanders, and 8% Harris.

“These results are just another sign that the electability factor continues to accrue in Joe Biden’s favor. This comes despite, or more likely because of, the attacks he has been weathering of late,” said Murray.

Fewer than 1-in-4 (23%) likely Democratic caucusgoers say it is very important to them that the party nominates someone who supports impeaching Trump, but this is up from 16% who said the same in April. Another 22% say it is somewhat important to them (identical to 22% in April), while 43% say it is not an important consideration in their 2020 choice of nominee (down from 51% in April). Opinion on the importance of impeachment does not have an appreciable impact on candidate choice at this point.

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from August 1 to 4, 2019 with 401 Iowa voters who are likely to attend the Democratic presidential caucuses in February 2020, out of 681 registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters who were contacted for the poll.  The question results in this release have a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points.  The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ.

* A note on polling the virtual caucuses:  Likely virtual caucusgoers include voters who would probably not attend an in-person caucus as well as those who would normally be considered likely caucusgoers but might opt for the virtual caucus this time. It is unclear, though, how many voters will ultimately choose the virtual option. This group currently represents 20% of all “likely caucusgoers” in Monmouth’s model.  The poll is designed to measure the initial candidate preferences of all likely caucusgoers; not the delegates allocated to candidates. The Iowa Democratic Party says it will report the voter preference totals in 2020, whereas they only reported state delegate equivalents in the past. The state party has increased the total number of delegates by 10% and dedicated those new slots to the virtual caucuses, but it is possible that virtual caucusgoers could make up more than a quarter of the total number of caucus “attendees” based on current polling. On the other hand, they could end up comprising less than one-tenth of all caucus participants after voters learn about the required pre-registration process and the campaigns make strategic decisions on how best to maximize the split in their in-person/virtual caucus support.

QUESTIONS AND RESULTS                                                                        

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

1. If the Democratic caucuses for president were today, would you support – [NAMES WERE ROTATED]?  [If UNDECIDED: If you had to support one of these candidates at this moment, who do you lean toward?]

TREND:   (with leaners) Aug.
Joe Biden 28% 27%
Elizabeth Warren 19% 7%
Kamala Harris 11% 7%
Bernie Sanders 9% 16%
Pete Buttigieg 8% 9%
Amy Klobuchar 3% 4%
Tom Steyer 3% n/a
Kirsten Gillibrand 2% 1%
Andrew Yang 2% 1%
Cory Booker 1% 3%
Steve Bullock 1% <1%
John Delaney 1% 1%
Tulsi Gabbard 1% <1%
John Hickenlooper 1% 0%
Michael Bennet <1% 0%
Julián Castro <1% 2%
Jay Inslee <1% <1%
Beto O’Rourke <1% 6%
Marianne Williamson <1% 0%
Bill de Blasio 0% <1%
Wayne Messam 0% 0%
Seth Moulton 0% 0%
Tim Ryan 0% 1%
Joe Sestak 0% n/a
(VOL) No one  <1% 1%
(VOL) Other 0% 1%
(VOL) Undecided 10% 12%
(n) (401) (351)

                * April poll did not include virtual caucusgoers.

2. And who would be your second choice?


Elizabeth Warren 19% 10%
Kamala Harris 13% 12%
Joe Biden 12% 12%
Pete Buttigieg 9% 6%
Bernie Sanders 8% 8%
Cory Booker 4% 6%
Tom Steyer 3% n/a
Tulsi Gabbard 2% 2%
Amy Klobuchar 2% 3%
Andrew Yang 2% <1%
Kirsten Gillibrand 1% 1%
Steve Bullock 1% 0%
Bill de Blasio 1% 0%
John Delaney 1% <1%
John Hickenlooper 1% 1%
Beto O’Rourke 1% 8%
Michael Bennet <1% 0%
Julián Castro <1% 1%
Tim Ryan <1% 1%
Marianne Williamson <1% 1%
Jay Inslee 0% <1%
Wayne Messam 0% 0%
Seth Moulton 0% 0%
Joe Sestak 0% n/a
(VOL) No one  4% 10%
(VOL) Other 0% <1%
(VOL) Undecided 17% 18%
(n) (401) (351)

3. I’m going to read you the names of some people who are running for president in 2020.  Please tell me if your general impression of each is favorable or unfavorable, or if you don’t really have an opinion. If you have not heard of the person, just let me know. [NAMES WERE ROTATED]


Favorable Unfavorable No
heard of
Former Vice President Joe Biden 73% 19% 8% 0% (401)
     — April  2019 78% 14% 8% 0% (351)
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders 58% 33% 9% 0% (401)
     — April  2019 67% 26% 6% 0% (351)
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren 76% 14% 9% 1% (401)
     — April  2019 67% 20% 11% 3% (351)
Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke 43% 24% 27% 6% (401)
     — April  2019 60% 13% 20% 7% (351)
California Senator Kamala Harris 68% 19% 11% 2% (401)
     — April  2019 61% 13% 16% 10% (351)
Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar 50% 17% 25% 8% (401)
     — April  2019 51% 10% 23% 16% (351)
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg 68% 11% 15% 6% (401)
     — April  2019 45% 9% 22% 24% (351)
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker 56% 16% 25% 3% (401)
     — April  2019 54% 16% 18% 11% (351)
Former cabinet secretary Julián Castro 47% 13% 30% 10% (401)
     — April  2019 36% 9% 34% 20% (351)
Former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer 34% 25% 25% 15% (401)
     — April  2019 n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a
Montana Governor Steve Bullock  22% 19% 39% 20% (401)
     — April  2019 11% 7% 39% 42% (351)

4. Which type of candidate would you prefer if you had to make a choice between: a Democrat you agree with on most issues but would have a hard time beating Donald Trump or a Democrat you do NOT agree with on most issues but would be a stronger candidate against Donald Trump? [CHOICES WERE ROTATED]

TREND:   Aug.
Agrees with but hard time beating Trump 20% 24%
Do not agree with but stronger against Trump 72% 64%
(VOL) Rejects choice / no need to pick between two 4% 5%
(VOL) Don’t know 4% 7%
(n) (401) (351)

5. What are the one or two most important issues to you in deciding who to support for the Democratic nomination? [LIST WAS NOT READ]

[Note: Results add to more than 100% because multiple responses were accepted]

TREND:   Aug.
Jobs, unemployment 6% 13%
Bills, food, groceries 2% 1%
College tuition, school costs 4% 3%
Health care 55% 51%
Social Security, seniors 4% 7%
Taxes 7% 7%
Climate change, global warming 18% 17%
Environment, pollution 12% 12%
Opioids, drug use 0% 0%
Safety, crime 1% 1%
Guns, gun control 5% 1%
Terrorism, national security 1% 4%
Immigration 14% 14%
Schools, education 7% 14%
Civil rights 6% 8%
Reproductive rights, women 3% 2%
Honesty, integrity 4% 5%
Competence, experience 4% 3%
Income inequality, wages 6% 2%
Infrastructure 3% 1%
Foreign policy, world standing 5% 3%
Balance budget 4% 1%
Donald Trump, beating Trump 15% 10%
Other 7% 10%
Don’t know 3% 2%
(n) (401) (351)

6. Which of the following comes closest to how you would like to see health care handled:  A. get rid of all private insurance coverage in favor of having everyone on a single public plan like Medicare for All, B. allow people to either opt into Medicare or keep their private coverage, C. keep health insurance private for people under age 65 but regulate the costs, or D. keep the health insurance system basically as it is?

A. Get rid of all private insurance coverage in favor of … Medicare for All 21%
B. Allow people to either opt into Medicare or keep their private coverage 56%
C. Keep health insurance private for people under age 65 but regulate the costs 13%
D. Keep the health insurance system basically as it is 4%
(VOL) Other 1%
(VOL) Don’t know 5%
(n) (401)

7. Which Democratic candidates for president come closest to your position on health care? [LIST WAS NOT READ. MULTIPLE ANSWERS ACCEPTED.]

[Note: Results add to more than 100% because multiple responses were accepted]

Joe Biden 28%
Bernie Sanders 20%
Elizabeth Warren 20%
Beto O’Rourke 1%
Kamala Harris 9%
Amy Klobuchar 4%
Pete Buttigieg 7%
Cory Booker 2%
Kirsten Gillibrand 1%
Julián Castro <1%
John Delaney 1%
John Hickenlooper <1%
Tulsi Gabbard 1%
Jay Inslee <1%
Andrew Yang 1%
Marianne Williamson <1%
Wayne Messam <1%
Tim Ryan <1%
Seth Moulton 0%
Joe Sestak 0%
Steve Bullock 2%
Michael Bennet <1%
Bill de Blasio <1%
Tom Steyer 2%
(VOL) No one  2%
(VOL) Don’t know 28%
(n) (401)

8. There are 24 Democrats running for president right now.  About how many of them do you think could beat Donald Trump in November 2020 – all of them, most of them, about half of them, less than half of them, only 1 or 2 of them, or none of them?

All of them 5%
Most of them 10%
About half of them 17%
Less than half of them 35%
Only 1 or 2 of them 30%
None of them 1%
(VOL) Don’t know 3%
(n) (401)

9. How important is it to you that the Democrats nominate someone who supports impeaching Donald Trump – very important, somewhat important, not important, or are you not sure?

TREND:   Aug.
Very important 23% 16%
Somewhat important 22% 22%
Not important 43% 51%
Not sure 12% 12%
(n) (401) (351)

10. Will this be your first presidential caucus or have you attended the Iowa presidential caucuses in the past? [If ATTENDED IN PAST:  Was that a Republican or a Democratic caucus, or both?]

First caucus 14%
Attended Republican caucus in past 1%
Attended Democratic caucus in past 77%
Attended both caucuses in the past 9%
(VOL) Don’t Know 1%
(n) (401)


The Monmouth University Poll was sponsored and conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute from August 1 to 4, 2019 with a statewide random sample of 681 Iowa voters drawn from a list of registered Democratic and unaffiliated voters who voted in at least one of the last two state primary elections or the last general election or have registered to vote since November 2018. Results are based on 401 voters who are likely to attend the Democratic presidential caucuses in February 2020, either in person or virtually. This includes 176 contacted by a live interviewer on a landline telephone and 225 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. Final sample is weighted for age, gender, race, and education based on state voter registration list and U.S. Census information. Data collection support provided by Braun Research (field) and Aristotle (voter sample). For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points (unadjusted for sample design). 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.

43% Male
57% Female
17% 18-34
21% 35-49
27% 50-64
35% 65+
92% White, non-Hispanic
  8% Other race, Hispanic
55% No college degree
45% College graduate

Click on pdf file link below for full methodology and crosstabs by key demographic groups.