EXCLUSIVE: 2020 Early State Survey

February 6, 2019

This year, Firehouse Strategies is partnering with the data analytics team at 0ptimus to learn more about what likely Democratic early state voters think about their presidential candidates and key issues. We kicked off the series with interviews of 1,633 likely Democratic primary voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina through a combination of live landline, live cell, and texts between January 31st and February 2nd.

Key Findings:


  • Early horse race: We asked Democratic primary voters who they favored among the nine high-profile Democrats who have already announced their candidacies or are seriously considering doing so. According to our survey, Joe Biden has a significant early lead in all three states. Biden has the largest share in South Carolina with 36.4%, followed by IA with 25.4% and New Hampshire at 21.9%. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders make up the second-tier at this stage, all with low double digit support in at least one early state. Notably, Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker failed to break 5% in any of the three states, while Kristen Gillibrand, Michael Bloomberg, and Julian Castro did not break 1%.
    • KEY POINT: The race is wide open, but Joe Biden is the early front-runner in the first three states. His most formidable competition at this stage is three senators: Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

  • So should Biden run? Yes, according to our survey. Many voters in all three states said they wanted to see Biden enter the race, with 63.8% of voters in SC being the highest (fig 1). The same trend holds among different age groups. Notably, female voters would like to see him run at a higher rate (average of +7 across three states) than male counterparts.
    • KEY POINT: As Joe Biden weighs entering the race, he should feel encouragement from Democratic primary voters in the critical early states.


  • The Schultz Factor: Since many Democratic leaders are appealing to former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to forgo an independent campaign that could split the anti-Trump vote, we asked likely Democratic primary voters if they would consider supporting Schultz. About 3 out of every 4 Democratic primary voters in the first three states said they would not consider voting for Schultz.
    • KEY POINT: Most Democratic primary voters share party leaders’ opposition to Schultz’s independent candidacy.


  • What Are Dems Looking For: 2020 primary voters are willing to be pragmatic. When asked what is more important to the voters, the majority in all three states say they prefer a candidate that is best able to beat Trump rather than the candidate who represents their views the closest. For example, in Iowa, 66.26% of likely voters believe it is more important for them to have a candidate that is best able to beat Trump than someone who represents their views most closely.
    • KEY POINT: For majority of likely Democratic primary voters across all states, the perceived ability to beat Trump head-to-head is the key factor in terms of choosing a candidate.


Methodology: Between 01/31-02/02, we surveyed 1,633 likely primary voters in Iowa (N = 558), New Hampshire (N = 518), and South Carolina (N = 557) via live landline and cell, and text. Likely voters were defined as registered voters having voted in the 2016 or 2018 Democratic primaries, plus the average 15% of individuals most likely to turnout based on in-house turnout score modeling. Margin of error varies by question and segment, but is generally +/- 0.38 for topline results. Sample was weighted by age, gender, designated market area, and party based on our likely voter universe. Results were then re-balanced based on these cohorts.