Poll: Democrats most excited by experience in office

Nicholas Riccardi and Hannah Fingerhut
Associated Press
Democratic registered voters are yearning for experience in elected office. A whopping 73% cited that as a quality that would make them more excited about supporting a presidential candidate.

Washington – The sprawling Democratic presidential field is incredibly diverse, but a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs finds Democrats give a collective shrug to gender, race and age as factors they’re considering when supporting a candidate.

Instead, Democratic registered voters are yearning for experience in elected office. A whopping 73% cited that as a quality that would make them more excited about supporting a presidential candidate.

Twenty-five candidates are running for the party’s nomination and include several women, a Latino, multiple candidates of African and Asian descent, and a 37-year-old gay man less than half the age of the 76-year-old early front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden. But most Democratic voters say these characteristics make no difference in their enthusiasm, the poll shows.

Benji Grajeda, 50, of Santa Ana, California, was once excited at the idea that Hillary Clinton could become the first female president. Now he just wants stability.

“I don’t think it matters, gender,” said Grajeda, who, though he is Latino, also said he wouldn’t be any more motivated to back a Latino for president. Instead, Grajeda cited experience in office as his top priority because “Trump has no experience.”

“I never really thought about it until he won – he’s just not qualified,” Grajeda said.

Four in 10 Democratic voters said they would be more excited about voting for a woman for president, and 36% said the same of a younger candidate. About a quarter were more excited at the idea of supporting a candidate who is black or Latino, while roughly 2 in 10 said they’d be more excited to support an Asian candidate or lesbian, gay or bisexual candidate.

Still, there are differences in enthusiasm among Democratic voters. Liberal and younger Democrats are more likely to be excited about voting for a candidate who is black, Latino or Asian, and a candidate who is a woman.

And about half of Democratic women say they’d be more excited to support a female candidate, compared with 3 in 10 Democratic men who say the same.

Meanwhile, about 8 in 10 Democratic voters say it wouldn’t make any difference if a candidate were white, or a man. Charles G. Cooper of Orlando, Florida, who is African American, supports Biden, who served under President Barack Obama. “I’m an Obama guy, and he was the vice president,” Cooper, 57, said. He’s not worried about the demographic characteristics of the next president. “We’re looking for a president who will unite the country,” Cooper said.

The poll also shows there’s great potential for the debates Wednesday and Thursday to shake up the field because many voters have yet to fully tune in. Two groups of 10 candidates will get a chance to take their messages directly to a national prime-time audience from the stage in Miami.

Only 22% of Democrats registered to vote say they know a lot about the candidates’ positions, while 62% say they know a little. And only 35% say they’re paying close attention to the campaign, with almost two-thirds saying they’re paying some or no attention.

“It’s kind of a blur,” said Maggie Banks, 32, of suburban Denver, who has two young children and only has a chance to glean a few details about the race while listening to National Public Radio during her commute.

Banks said she has only a “vague” idea of who’s running and didn’t realize her state’s senior senator, Michael Bennet, or former governor, John Hickenlooper, was in the race.

Voters like Banks comprise the vast majority of the Democratic electorate, implying there’s great potential for change in what’s essentially been a static race to date. Biden holds a solid but not dominant polling lead , followed by some combination of Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. Behind them are a wide range of contenders, from Senate veterans like Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota to lesser-known candidates like internet entrepreneur Andrew Yang.

There’s a large appetite for the campaign among Democratic voters, 79% of whom say they’re interested in the 2020 race. Republicans are only slightly less interested, with 70% reporting interest. But only about 3 in 10 voters overall say they’re paying close attention more than seven months before the first votes are cast in the Iowa caucuses.

Adam Pratter, 43, of San Diego, is being strategic. He has studied up on the five candidates leading in the polls but studiously ignored the rest.

“Unless something extraordinary happens, they’re not going to make it,” Pratter said.

Pratter, who is white, is rooting for Buttigieg. He’d love to see a woman or person of color in the White House, but he’s nervous that voters will choose Trump again. “I’m extraordinarily anxious,” he said.

That’s common for Democrats, 59% of whom report themselves anxious about the upcoming election, in contrast with 34% of Republicans.

Kent Roberts, a 71-year-old handyman who lives in a Portland, Oregon, suburb, is less stressed. His favorite in the field is Harris, though he likes several candidates. He’s eager for a woman, or a minority, to be the nominee. He thinks those groups have to outperform white men to succeed.

“If you’re just a white-bread guy, you don’t have to try as hard,” Roberts said. Of potential path-blazers like Harris, who’d be the first female African American president, Roberts added: “They’ll do better for our country if they’re under slight pressure because they’re not a white American.”


The AP-NORC poll of 1,116 adults was conducted June 13-17 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4 percentage points. Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods and later were interviewed online or by phone.