Poll: Democrats most like Warren, but voters overall are lukewarm on Democrats, Trump

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks to supporters at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles last month.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren speaks to supporters at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles last month.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Elizabeth Warren is on the rise among Democratic voters, but she and other Democrats are less popular with the overall electorate, raising concerns about a bruising primary that could go on for the better part of the next year, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll finds.

The survey also finds President Trump continuing to struggle, with economic concerns seemingly starting to affect his standing, leaving a cloudy picture about the 2020 presidential election.

Here are some key findings from the poll, and how the results indicate what's ahead in 2020:

The Democrats

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Warren on the rise

Warren finds herself in a strong position with Democratic voters ahead of Thursday's Democratic presidential debate.

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Seventy-five percent of Democratic voters now say they have a favorable impression of Warren — that's up from 53 percent in January, the last time the poll asked the favorability of candidates or potential candidates. That's a whopping 22-point jump.

What's more, those saying they have a negative impression has gone down from 17 percent to 11 percent.

"Elizabeth Warren seems to be on the verge of starting to make significant and serious inroads into this contest," said Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducts the poll. He added, "Heading into the debate, she's very well positioned."

Biden holding up

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who leads in most national polls of the Democratic contest, is also well liked, but he's seen a decline since January — 71 percent of Democrats say they have a positive impression of Biden, a 5-point drop, and 22 percent don't, an 11-point increase in his negative rating.

"One of the initial senses of what Joe Biden presented was that he seemed to be less of a risk," Miringoff said, "but his performance so far has not been gaffe-proof, and, as a result, people are not as comfortable, and that opened up the door for others, and particularly Warren."

Biden has been taking most of the slings and arrows of his Democratic opponents, given his lead in the race, and his campaign would argue that he's held up well considering.

The broader electorate isn't quite sold on either of Biden or Warren. Biden has the higher name recognition, and voters overall give him just a 45 percent favorable, 46 percent unfavorable rating. Voters are similarly split on Warren, who gets a 41 percent favorable and 42 percent unfavorable rating.

Sanders popular with the base, but not the general electorate

Bernie Sanders, who has retained his loyal following, has seen an increase in his favorability rating among Democrats since officially declaring his candidacy. The Vermont senator has gone from 57 percent positive in January to 66 percent now. But it's a different story with the broader electorate – 55 percent of voters say they have an unfavorable impression of Sanders, while just 38 percent have a positive one.

"Bernie Sanders having over 50 percent negative has to be concerning to Democrats looking for electability," Miringoff noted.

Harris is better known, but also unpopular with general electorate

California Sen. Kamala Harris was also tested, but the difference of views of her between the primary and general election electorate are most striking. Harris has gone up 20 points with Democrats, as she has increased her name recognition, going from 36 percent favorable in January to 56% now. Back then more than half of Democrats were either unsure or never heard of her. That's down to just a quarter of Democrats now.

So, she's worn well with Democrats, but not with a general electorate so far. Among registered voters, she has a 31 percent favorable, 42 percent unfavorable rating. (The poll did not test the favorability of the candidates with a general-election electorate back in January.)

"When you look at the national electorate," Miringoff said, "there's still a lot of work to be done on the part of Democrats to start attracting a positive reaction."

Democrats want to beat Trump

How the candidates fair with a general-election audience could be critical, as Democrats are increasingly saying beating Trump is more important than whether a candidate shares their position on most issues. In this poll, 58 percent said that, an increase from 54 percent in July and 46 percent in June.

The broader electorate continues to be split on whether the ideas they've heard from Democrats are going to take the country in the right direction (46 percent) or the wrong one (43 percent). That's a slight improvement from July when it was the mirror opposite. Still, more independents say their ideas move the country in the wrong direction (49 percent) than right one (42 percent).


President Trump doesn't fair much better than his potential Democratic opponents. His overall approval rating is low (41 percent), a near-record number of people "strongly disapprove" of the job he's doing (45 percent), a record number disapprove of his handling of foreign policy (56 percent) and a majority say they will "definitely" vote against him in 2020 (52 percent).

It's the economy ... ?

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What's more, while the economy is buoying him — 51 percent overall and 53 percent of independents rate it as excellent or good — he's seen something of a bad economic summer. While the economy is still growing and unemployment is low, economic forecasts have turned gloomy with warning signs of a coming recession.

Trump's economic handling has taken a hit. More now disapprove (48 percent) than approve (47 percent) of it, a sharp turnaround from July when a majority (53 percent) approved of his handling of the economy.

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Overall, Americans who responded were split, 47 percent-to-46 percent on whether Trump's policies have strengthened or weakened the economy. And the number of people who think his policies have weakened the economy has increased 6 points since July.

And yet...

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Despite all that, more Americans think Trump will win reelection (46 percent) than lose (37 percent).

Just five percent of Republicans think he will lose, while 11 percent of Democrats think he will win and 14 percent are unsure. Independents, 49-to-32 percent think he's going to win.

Methodology The survey of 1,314 adults was conducted with live callers via telephone by The Marist Poll and has a margin of error of +/- 3.6 percentage points. There are 1,160 registered voters with a margin of error of 3.8 percentage points. There are 542 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents with a margin of error of +/- 5.6 percentage points.

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