Patterns of Support for Democratic Hopefuls

by Jeffrey M. Jones, Gallup Poll Managing Editor

In just about six months, New Hampshire voters will cast ballots in the first major presidential primary for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination. Gallup Polls have kept close tabs on the relative strength of the contenders for the nomination in recent months, and show Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman with a slight lead over the other eight candidates. There is little doubt that Lieberman's higher national visibility than the other candidates is a major reason for his current standing. However, an analysis of Gallup Poll data from the last three months also shows that Lieberman's positioning may be due to a broader appeal to Democrats than many of the other contestants have. The data from the last three months illustrate the Democratic candidates' relative strengths and weaknesses among different Democratic constituencies, mainly by region, race (see "Lieberman Continues to Pace Democratic Field" in Related Items), age, education, and political ideology.

The data analyzed are a combination of three Gallup Polls conducted in April, May, and June. These polls asked those who identify politically as Democrats (and independents who say they lean toward the Democratic Party) to choose, from a list of the nine candidates actively campaigning for the party's presidential nomination, whom they are most likely to support. The list includes Lieberman, Missouri Congressman Richard Gephardt, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, Florida Sen. Bob Graham, Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich, former Illinois Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, former Vermont Governor Howard Dean, and the Reverend Al Sharpton. The basic standing of these candidates was consistent across the three polls.

Gender

Generally speaking, support for individual Democratic nominees varies little by gender. Twenty-one percent of Democratic men and 21% of Democratic women currently support Lieberman. The only notable difference by gender is observed with Moseley Braun, the only female candidate in the field. Seven percent of Democratic women support Moseley Braun, but only 1% of Democratic men support her. A closer look at the data reveals that Moseley Braun's support comes almost exclusively from Democratic women under age 50. Eleven percent of Democratic women below age 50 support her, compared with no more than 2% of older Democratic women and Democratic men of all ages (the data suggest that female support for Moseley Braun is not limited to black women).

Support for 2004 Democratic Presidential Nomination Candidates by Gender

 

Men

Women

Lieberman

21%

Lieberman

21%

Kerry

16%

Gephardt

15%

Gephardt

15%

Kerry

14%

Edwards

9%

Moseley Braun

7%

Graham

7%

Edwards

6%

Dean

7%

Sharpton

5%

Sharpton

6%

Dean

5%

Kucinich

3%

Graham

4%

Moseley Braun

1%

Kucinich

3%



Race

Earlier Gallup analysis, based on the annual Minority Relations poll, showed that black Democrats are strongly supporting Sharpton's candidacy. In fact, at 24%, he is the top choice among blacks, followed by Lieberman (17%) and Moseley Braun (12%).

Age

Lieberman is no worse than statistically tied for the lead among all Democratic age groups. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, he has a substantial lead over Sharpton, Kerry, and Edwards. Notable is Gephardt's very poor showing among this group; just 5% of Democrats between the ages of 18 and 29 are supporting him. While this is a potential weakness for Gephardt, the fact that younger Americans vote at relatively low levels suggests that his lack of appeal to young Democrats may not prevent him from continuing to be a serious contender.

Lieberman's lead among Democrats in the 30- to 49-year-old age group is slightly smaller, with Gephardt and Kerry both getting 13% support.

Gephardt, who does less well among younger Democrats, does substantially better among Democrats aged 50 and older, as does Kerry. Both candidates are thus more competitive with Lieberman among older Democrats. The remaining six candidates are currently struggling to gain the support of Democrats aged 50 and older, with none currently higher than 7% support between these two age groups. Should voter turnout in the Democratic primaries skew toward older voters, the competition for the nomination might be somewhat closer than the overall numbers might suggest.

Support for 2004 Democratic Presidential Nomination Candidates by Age

18 to 29 years old

30 to 49 years old

Lieberman

25%

Lieberman

20%

Sharpton

11%

Gephardt

13%

Kerry

10%

Kerry

13%

Edwards

9%

Edwards

8%

Graham

8%

Moseley Braun

7%

Moseley Braun

7%

Sharpton

6%

Dean

7%

Dean

6%

Gephardt

5%

Graham

5%

Kucinich

4%

Kucinich

2%

50 to 64 years old

65 and older

Lieberman

21%

Gephardt

22%

Gephardt

21%

Kerry

22%

Kerry

17%

Lieberman

21%

Edwards

7%

Graham

7%

Dean

6%

Edwards

5%

Graham

3%

Dean

3%

Kucinich

3%

Sharpton

3%

Sharpton

2%

Kucinich

1%

Moseley Braun

2%

Moseley Braun

<1%

Region

Typically, candidates perform much better in the area of the country they represent, and that is clear from these data, as each candidate performs best in their home regions.

  • Lieberman, Kerry, and Dean do best in the East.
  • Gephardt's support is substantially higher among Midwestern Democrats than in other regions, and Kucinich's best region is also the Midwest.
  • Edwards and Graham are strongest in the South.
  • While Sharpton (East) and Moseley Braun (Midwest) are strong in their home regions, they are also equally strong in one other region -- Sharpton in the South and Moseley Braun in the West.

A key goal for every candidate is to broaden his or her support beyond his or her home region. So far, Lieberman appears to have done that better than the other candidates, probably because of his visibility as the party's 2000 vice-presidential nominee. The Connecticut senator currently leads in the South and West, in addition to the East (Gephardt leads in the Midwest, with Lieberman close behind).

In addition to Lieberman, only Kerry and Gephardt get at least double-digit support among Democrats in all regions. Graham's candidacy currently shows the greatest regional bias, as he polls 13% in his home region of the South, but no better than 3% in the other three regions. Edwards also does considerably better in his home region than in the other regions.

Support for 2004 Democratic Presidential Nomination Candidates by Region

East

Midwest

Lieberman

25%

Gephardt

24%

Kerry

19%

Lieberman

20%

Gephardt

11%

Kerry

13%

Dean

9%

Moseley Braun

6%

Edwards

7%

Dean

5%

Sharpton

6%

Sharpton

5%

Graham

3%

Kucinich

5%

Moseley Braun

3%

Edwards

4%

Kucinich

1%

Graham

2%

South

West

Lieberman

19%

Lieberman

22%

Gephardt

14%

Kerry

17%

Graham

13%

Gephardt

11%

Edwards

13%

Dean

7%

Kerry

11%

Moseley Braun

6%

Sharpton

6%

Edwards

5%

Moseley Braun

4%

Sharpton

5%

Dean

2%

Kucinich

3%

Kucinich

1%

Graham

1%

Education

The three front-running candidates perform reasonably well among all educational groups, though Kerry is stronger among Democratic college graduates than among Democrats without a college degree. The data show that Dean is more appealing to those with a college education, as 10% of college graduates support him, compared with 3% of those with a high school education or less and 5% with some college. (Dean's support appears to be even higher among the smaller sample of Democrats with a postgraduate education.) Sharpton's greater support among those with a high school education or less probably reflects the fact that his supporters are overwhelmingly black, a group that on average has lower levels of education.

Support for 2004 Democratic Presidential Nomination Candidates by Educational Attainment

High School or Less

College Incomplete

College Grad/Postgrad

Lieberman

18%

Lieberman

27%

Kerry

21%

Gephardt

16%

Gephardt

14%

Lieberman%

19%

Kerry

13%

Kerry

13%

Gephardt

13%

Sharpton

10%

Edwards

7%

Dean

10%

Edwards

7%

Moseley Braun

6%

Edwards

8%

Graham

7%

Dean

5%

Graham

5%

Moseley Braun

4%

Graham

5%

Moseley Braun

4%

Dean

3%

Sharpton

3%

Kucinich

3%

Kucinich

2%

Kucinich

2%

Sharpton

2%

Political Ideology

The candidate's perceived ideology could be an important factor in the nomination campaign, since voters cannot rely on the normally strong cue of partisanship to help distinguish among the candidates as they would in a general election. As such, candidates often rely on their experiences, their policy proposals, or their ideological orientation to help differentiate themselves from their competitors.

The Democratic Party has considerably more variation in its supporters' ideology than does the Republican Party -- in this sample of Democrats, 33% say they are liberal, 43% moderate, and 23% conservative. Already, Dean's opposition to the war against Iraq has positioned him on the left of the candidates' ideological spectrum, while Lieberman's support for the war and somewhat conservative views on social issues place him more on the right of the ideological spectrum among the candidates.

Lieberman performs well among all ideological groups, having a numerical if not a statistical advantage over the other eight contenders. Kerry is apparently much more appealing to liberal and moderate Democrats than to conservatives, while Gephardt appeals to all three groups (slightly more to conservative Democrats). Dean gets a greater share of his support from liberals than from moderates and conservatives, yet he trails the three front-runners in the group to which he is most trying to appeal. The remaining candidates show only minor differences in support by ideology.

Support for Democratic Presidential Nominees by Political Ideology

Liberal

Moderate

Conservative

Lieberman

20%

Lieberman

21%

Lieberman

22%

Kerry

17%

Kerry

17%

Gephardt

17%

Gephardt

12%

Gephardt

16%

Kerry

8%

Dean

9%

Edwards

8%

Sharpton

7%

Edwards

8%

Graham

6%

Edwards

7%

Moseley Braun

6%

Sharpton

6%

Graham

6%

Sharpton

5%

Dean

4%

Moseley Braun

4%

Graham

4%

Moseley Braun

3%

Dean

3%

Kucinich

4%

Kucinich

2%

Kucinich

1%

Bottom Line

Lieberman's early lead in the Democratic presidential nomination campaign is partly due to relatively broad appeal among Democrats (as well as his higher national profile). Other candidates such as Sharpton (blacks), Moseley Braun (younger women), Graham (South) and Dean (highly educated) are getting their greatest support from much more narrow segments of the Democratic Party. Gallup will continue to track the candidates' support as the campaign unfolds, to see if these patterns persist, and how they change as the field winnows itself.

*Results are based on interviews with 1,596 Democrats and independents who lean to the Democratic Party, taken from Gallup Polls of national adults conducted April 22-24, 2003, May 30-June 1, and June 12-18, 2003. For this total sample of Democrats, the maximum margin of error due to sampling is ±3%.

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