While the 2020 Democratic presidential primary could potentially be one of the most crowded, one candidate’s approval among the party’s base far outperforms that of his competitors.

In a CNN poll released on December 14, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who finished second in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, was seen as having both the second-highest overall approval rating among adults polled, and the highest approval rating among nonwhite adults who were surveyed.

Starting on page 15 of the poll, CNN broke down the favorability of each candidate based on various demographics. While former Vice President Joe Biden won the highest overall approval among likely Democratic candidates with 54 percent to Bernie Sanders’ 51 percent, Sen. Sanders actually won the nonwhite demographic, with 58 percent to Biden’s 56 percent.

Bernie Sanders’ approval among nonwhite voters in a recent CNN poll (Data by SSRS)
Joe Biden’s approval rating among nonwhite voters in a recent CNN poll (Data by SSRS)

Other potential 2020 candidates respondents weighed in on included Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), and Kamala Harris (D-California), along with Representative Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas). However, most respondents had never heard of them, leaving Biden and Sanders as the two likely frontrunners, should they declare a run for the presidency.

Sanders’ approval rating among nonwhites flies in the face of the predominant media narrative about his base. Last week, the New York Times published an article about the growing probability that both Sanders and Warren would run for president in 2020, and described Sanders’ base of support as “primarily white.”

This is a play on the “Berniebro” trope that plagued Sanders during the 2016 Democratic presidential primary as well, implying that the bulk of Sanders’ support comes from young white males. NPR piled on in a 2016 article implying that Sanders won Michigan only due to his popularity among white men, even though exit polls show Sanders’ edge over Hillary Clinton in the Michigan primary likely came from young voters, who supported him resoundingly over Clinton.

2016 Michigan primary exit polls show Bernie Sanders won a wide majority of voters under 40 (Data by CNN)

However, Sanders’ popularity among nonwhite voters is nothing new. In 2017, The Hill found that Sanders was not only the most popular active politician in the United States, but that he had the approval of 73 percent of African American voters. And among Latino voters, Sanders had nearly twice as much support than Hillary Clinton in Illinois — her home state. According to MSNBC, this was due to younger Latino voters convincing their parents to support Sen. Sanders.

Even though the 2020 general election is still slightly less than two years away, and none of the likely candidates in the CNN poll have officially declared a run for the White House, approval among nonwhite voters will be crucial if any potential candidate hopes to secure the Democratic nomination. 2016 Data from Public Opinion Strategies showed that nonwhite voters made up 38 percent of Democratic presidential primary voters.


Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.


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