24 Democrats are running for president. Voters and donors like only five of them.

Posted at 4:01 AM, Jul 18, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-18 18:52:25-04

There are nearly as many Democrats running for president as there are days in July. With so many choices to choose from, you might be wondering how potential Democratic primary voters are wading through all of the candidates. But as the latest fundraising reports and polling shows, the giant field of 24 is really a much smaller race.

Most Democrats have focused their eyes on only five candidates: former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

The latest polling reveals that these five candidates are almost consistently in the top five among Democratic primary voters. Our CNN poll of polls reveals Biden is at 25% nationally, Harris is at 16%, Sanders and Warren are at 15% and Buttigieg is at 5%. No other candidate tops 2%.

Now, you could argue that Buttigieg shouldn’t be classified with the others in the top five based on the national polling. He’s closer to the 2% or less group than Biden, Harris, Sanders or Warren. But other indicators such as early primary state polling and especially fundraising clearly show he’s at a different level than at 2% or below.

In a July Suffolk University poll from Iowa, Biden stood at 24%, Harris 16%, Warren 13%, Sanders 9% and Buttigieg 6%. All others were at 2% or below. All five are the first or second choice of at least 14% of voters. No other candidate was the first or second choice of 5% or more of voters.

Our CNN New Hampshire poll conducted by the University of New Hampshire puts Biden at 24%, Sanders and Warren at 19%, Buttigieg at 10% and Harris at 9%. All five of these candidates are the first or second choice of at least 15% of voters. No other was the first or second choice of more than 5% of voters.

One thing that can change polling? Money. It can be used to pay for campaign staff and advertisements, for instance.

We see the same top five in fundraising that we see in the polls. Buttigieg topped the field with $25 million raised this past quarter. He was followed by Biden at $22 million, Warren at $19 million, Sanders at $18 million and Harris at $12 million. None of the other candidates raised $5 million or more.

Early fundraising has historically correlated with results.

In primaries without an incumbent running, one of the top fundraisers in the second quarter before the primary (i.e. the quarter that just ended) has gone on to win the nomination almost every time since 1980. With only two exceptions out of 14, the eventual nominee was a top four fundraiser in the second quarter. In fact, the eventual nominee was the top fundraiser a majority of the time.

Those two exceptions to the top four rule included the 1992 Democratic primary (in which Bill Clinton hadn’t even declared by this point) and the 2016 Republican primary (when Donald Trump entered very late in the second fundraising quarter of 2015).

Now, money doesn’t equal votes, and there’s a lot of time for voters to change their minds. Indeed, the exceptions noted in this article indicate that the past isn’t necessarily prologue.

Still, there is little doubt that Biden, Buttigieg, Harris, Sanders and Warren have a big step up on the competition.