I’ve been tracking the polling for top candidates in the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary since around early March. Early on, for the sake of simplicity and time, I decided that I wouldn’t bother tracking candidates that were bottom of the bucket type candidates, especially since there are so. Damn. Many. Of them. Besides, it’s not terribly scintillating to watch slight tenth of a point twitches in polling for candidates that are a rounding error above zero.
The result of my mercilessness was Castro, Gabbard, and Gillibrand quickly got cut. I don’t think Booker and Klobuchar survived the end of March. Certainly not past early April. And since then, it’s been a steady stable of six candidates: Biden, Buttigieg, Harris, O’Rourke, Sanders, and Warren. Well actually, Buttigieg was kind of a late addition, as he’s the only candidate that’s been able to climb out of the cellar of z-tier candidates and into the sunlight of relevance. But otherwise, a stable six.
But it’s finally happened. After nearly four months of poll tracking, it’s time to cull the herd. If this were the Hunger Games, this is where you’d be hearing the airhorns and looking up into the sky.
Who died? Well…
Why am I pulling the polling trigger on O’Rourke? Because his polling is wretchedly bad for a once second-tier candidate.
Let’s take a look at the national polling for all the major candidates not named Biden or Sanders:
I started tracking presidential polling in early March, just before O’Rourke officially launched his 2020 campaign with a widely mocked cover story/fluff piece in Vanity Fair. This seemed like it might help catapult his fortunes, as he was trailing only Biden and Sanders at the end of March. But his average of 9.5% on March 20, a week after the cover story, proved to be his high point.
Looking at the above, it’s hard to even make a case that any one candidate has eaten into his support. He has simply endured slow, gradual, even gentle decline in his support. He has averaged about a 1/2 point decline per week for the last 14 weeks, with almost zero evidence of even a temporary reprieve, while Warren’s and Buttigieg’s fortunes have risen in recent weeks.
To be frank, it’s pretty ugly. Hemorrhaging 70% of your support in less than 4 months is never a good sign.
O’Rourke’s polling in early primary states is similarly terrible.
If O’Rourke had strong polling in one or more of the first four states to vote in the 2020 primaries—Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina—it would be easy to make a case that making a big statement early on could help him gain traction elsewhere. But his polling in those states sucks:
- Iowa: In the 5 polls conducted in May and June, O’Rourke is in 6th place, averaging 3.0%. He’s actually polled behind Klobuchar one, tied her in another instance, and polled behind Booker once as well.
- New Hampshire: In the 7 polls conducted in the last 2 months, O’Rourke is in 6th place, averaging 2.9%. In May, in a poll conducted by the top-tier pollster Monmouth, he has 2% support, tying Booker and Klobuchar, and only a point ahead of Andrew Yang (a candidate whose name usually prompts the question, “Who?”).
- Nevada: This is a tough state to poll, so polls are few and far between. But in the 3 polls conducted in the last 2 months, O’Rourke is in 6th place, averaging 2.7%. A Monmouth poll in early June found him tied at 2% with Booker and Yang.
- South Carolina: In 4 polls conducted in the last month, O’Rourke is in 7th place, averaging 3.3%. He’s trailing behind even Booker, who has a comparatively robust 4.0%.
Given that in 2016, the extremely well-funded Jeb Bush called it quits after finishing 4th in South Carolina, looking at the above, that’s… that’s pretty grim. O’Rourke may see a bit of the bump in the future. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him pop back up to 4 points or so in the short term. But I don’t see any evidence of a ray in sunshine in what is otherwise pitch-black polling numbers for a candidate who only recently was considered an up-and-comer. Even his competitors aren’t bothering to spend money on anti-O’Rourke opposition research, which implies that their internal polling suggests that he isn’t worth their time or resources.
And as I’ve noted previously, resources are terribly precious in presidential campaigns. in terms of both staff and money. O’Rourke has been making waves for months with his hiring of veterans from the Obama and Clinton campaigns. But as O’Rourke’s potential fades, those staffers are going to start turning their eyes towards the greener pastures of other campaigns. Meanwhile, even spend-happy donors that cover their bases by donating to multiple campaigns are going to start pushing their chips towards better bets.
My suspicion is that if O’Rourke doesn’t see a big bump in his polling after the June debates, he may very well drop his candidacy for president in favor of running against MJ Hegar in the Texas Democratic Primary for the 2020 Senate race.
If that’s the case… ah well. At least we’ll have his incessant table-standing to remember him by.
But as of today, as far as I’m concerned, we’re down to 5 candidates.