Democrats Like ‘When They Go Low, We Go High’ Approach For 2020 Campaign

Half of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters want to see their party’s next presidential nominee take the high road against Donald Trump, rather than a more combative approach, a new survey finds.

Trump is almost universally loathed among Democrats, a shared disdain that binds together even the most ideologically disparate corners of the party. But there’s less agreement about the best way of taking him on in the 2020 election. In a new HuffPost/YouGov poll, 50 percent of voters who belong to or lean toward the party say they’d prefer a candidate to follow Michelle Obama’s motto: “When they go low, we go high.” Another 28 percent say the nominee should fight fire with fire, and the rest are unsure.

The results among Democrats are relatively consistent across demographic lines ― there’s no bloc along age, gender, racial, ideological or educational lines that favors a confrontational approach against Trump over a less oppositional one. But male, liberal, non-white and younger voters in the party are modestly more likely than the group as a whole to say the nominee should fight fire with fire, while white and moderate voters are somewhat less likely to do so.

“There are two schisms within the voter base,” Sean Bagniewski, the chair of Iowa’s Polk County Democrats, told HuffPost earlier this year. “There’s progressives versus the establishment. And there’s ‘When they go low, we go high’ versus ‘We want to fight.’” 

It’s far from clear whether Democratic voters will consider candidates’ tone to be a key selling point when they head to the primaries next year or whether they’ll envision their field as neatly divided in two with contrasting takes on the question. Primary elections, especially ones this crowded, are rarely that straightforward or that organized.

There’s also a good chance that voters’ preferences could change as the campaign develops. (In the spring before the 2016 election, for instance, most Republican voters said they wanted a presidential candidate with “experience and a proven record.”)

But staking out a rhetorical strategy have become one way for candidates to differentiate themselves from the pack. At one end of the spectrum, there’s Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who used the word “fight” 28 times in the speech launching her presidential bid. On the other, there’s Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who has emphasized a promise to reunify the country.

In an effort to see how much of an impression those messages were making, the HuffPost/YouGov poll also asked Americans which approach they thought some candidates and potential candidates have taken.

It’s not an entirely fair question to ask this early in the race, when many voters are barely cognizant of which politicians are running, let alone how they’re conducting their campaigns. For the majority of candidates, Democrats and Democratic leaning-voters mostly said they weren’t sure.

But the results suggest that Warren and, to a lesser extent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have distinguished themselves as vocal opponents of the president. Others including Booker and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) are more likely to be seen as taking a civil approach.

Use the widget below to further explore the results of the HuffPost/YouGov survey, using the menu at the top to select survey questions and the buttons at the bottom to filter the data by subgroups: 

The HuffPost/YouGov poll consisted of 1,000 completed interviews conducted Feb. 11-12 among U.S. adults, using a sample selected from YouGov’s opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population.

HuffPost has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov’s nationally representative opinion polling. More details on the polls’ methodology are available here.

Most surveys report a margin of error that represents some but not all potential survey errors. YouGov’s reports include a model-based margin of error, which rests on a specific set of statistical assumptions about the selected sample rather than the standard methodology for random probability sampling. If these assumptions are wrong, the model-based margin of error may also be inaccurate. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the model-based margin of error.

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