Democratic voters have high expectations for the frontrunners at the first debates of the 2020 campaign, according to a new poll


The first 2020 Democratic primary debates kick off tonight, and expectations are sky high.

Respondents in a new INSIDER poll of U.S. adults were asked to pick up to five candidates who they expect to do the best at the debates, which will take place over two days in Miami starting Wednesday evening.

Zeroing in on those 427 respondents who said they were both registered to vote and would also participate in the Democratic primary, expectations are sky-high for Joe Biden, who 62% of respondents identified as one of their five best expected performers.

Biden isn’t alone as someone coasting into the first debate with high expectations and a whole lot to lose. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who after a 2016 primary has some of the most recent and high-stakes debate appearances in the field, is expected to perform among the best by 58% of respondents who said they’d be primary voters. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts has high expectations at 55%, but is in a debate with lower expectations among her rivals.

Sen. Kamala Harris of California clocked in at fourth place (37% of voters putting her in their top 5), and in fifth was South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (28%).

The contenders who ranked near the bottom were Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii (5%), Rep. Eric Swalwell of California (4%), self-help guru Marianne Williamson (3%), and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (4%).

Twenty out of the 24 Democratic candidates will compete in the two nights of debates. The lineup for each night was chosen at random by executives at NBC News, which will moderate the debates.

The 20 candidates who qualified will be split evenly between the two nights, NBC announced. In order to qualify for the first debates, candidates had to either reach 1% in three DNC-approved polls, obtain 65,000 unique donors from 20 states, or meet both criteria.

Debating on Wednesday, June 26:

Debating on Thursday, June 27:

Most of the Democratic heavy hitters will face off on Thursday, with Warren the only top-five candidate competing on Wednesday. Warren’s debate has many viewers tuning in with lower expectations, which could give the Massachusetts senator more of an opportunity to stand out.

Meanwhile, O’Rourke may find himself in a tough spot because even though he trails Warren significantly in most national polls, around 15% of respondents in the INSIDER poll expect him to perform well on Wednesday, when he’ll share the stage with Warren.

The debates present a huge opportunity for the Democratic competitors to set themselves apart in the crowded field.

A whopping 70% of respondents to an INSIDER poll earlier this month who plan to participate in the Democratic primary elections say they will watch the first debate on June 26.

There’s interest from the other side as well, with nearly a third of respondents who plan to vote in the Republican primary saying they “probably will” or “definitely will” watch the debate.

SurveyMonkey Audience polls from a national sample balanced by census data of age and gender. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet. SurveyMonkey Audience doesn’t try to weight its sample based on race or income. Total 1,191 respondents collected June 21 to June 22, 2019, a margin of error plus or minus 3.02 percentage points with a 95% confidence level.
Grace Panetta contributed to this report.

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