It’s Not All Name Recognition

The polling organizations at both Quinnipiac and Monmouth Colleges this week released “favorability” scores for all the Democratic candidates. Respondents are asked “is your opinion of [person] favorable, unfavorable, or haven’t you heard enough about him/her?” These provide a richer view of the state of the race than the simple who would you vote for today type of question.

In general, the better-known candidates are also the better-liked.  In the chart above the percentage of likely Democratic voters able to rate a candidate appears on the horizontal axis.  The vertical axis measures “net favorability,” the difference between the percent of the voters rating a candidate favorably and those rating the candidate unfavorably.  The figures in the chart represent the averages of the two polls.  The regression equation in the upper-left-hand corner of the chart shows that a ten percent increase in exposure brings the average candidate a net +7 increase in favorability.

At the top of the rankings is, no surprise, Joe Biden. 92 percent of the Democrats polled could give an assessment of Biden, and he scored at the top of the list in favorability with 76 percent favorable versus just 15 unfavorable.  Bernie Sanders is nearly as well known (89 percent) as Biden but not as well liked, with a net favorability score of 47. Two other candidates join Sanders at just under fifty percent favorability, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris.  Harris’s favorability, however, substantially exceeds the value we would predict given her familiarity score. At the other end of the spectrum is New York mayor Bill deBlasio.  About half the respondents said they knew him well enough to give him a rating; unfortunately for him only an average of 16 percent of the Democrats in the two polls viewed him favorably versus 32 percent who viewed him unfavorably. (Removing him from the regression increases R2 from 0.76 to 0.92, and reduces the standard error from 9.9 points to 5.4. The slope is largely unchanged, but the intercept naturally moves slightly upward since it no longer needs to incorporate deBlasio’s negative score.)

Here are the actual and predicted net favorability scores for every candidate from the model where deBlasio is omitted. Harris is 10 points ahead in terms of favorability than her exposure predicts.  She’s followed by Pete Buttigieg and Eric Swalwell at around six percent.  (Swalwell’s frequent appearances on MSNBC might have something to do with this.) At the other end of the spectrum is the remarkably poor showing for Beto O’Rourke. Fifty-five percent of Democratic voters say they can score Beto, but his net 21 percent favorability is nearly nine points what we would expect to see given his familiarity.  Sanders’s unfavorable numbers also put him near the bottom of this list.  89 percent of Democrats know enough about Sanders to give him a favorability score, but his 47 percent net favorability lags about eight points behind what we would expect given how well known he is.