Sen. Amy Klobuchar kicked off her primary-night speech in New Hampshire this week by touting her electability to voters, telling them “I’m Amy Klobuchar and I will beat Donald Trump.”
It turns out she’s not that special.
Though the Democratic field is engaged in a feverish battle over who’s most electable, the polling shows there’s not a whole lot of difference right now between the major candidates when it comes to taking on Mr. Trump.
Quinnipiac’s latest national poll released this week shows all six top Democrats leading Mr. Trump, with billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Sen. Bernard Sanders the best at 51% support. Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor, Pete Buttigieg is the lowest at 47% support.
Mr. Trump doesn’t crack 44% in any of those match-ups.
Other polls show a bit more fluidity among the Democrats, but Mr. Trump’s support is remarkably steady in every poll, no matter who his opponent is.
“The key finding is that any of the Democrats could beat Trump,” said Tim Malloy, polling analyst at Quinnipiac. “Trump gets anywhere between 42 and 44% of the vote against the Democrats, which basically matches his 43% approval rating. In other words, the matchups are a reflection of the way voters feel about Trump.”
Analysts said that doesn’t mean the electability argument for Democrats is pointless. Eventually, voters will focus more on the head-to-head match-ups.
“You have a relatively immovable 45% of the vote that’s going to go to President Trump. Where the Democrats need to be concerned is if you have a nominee that’s perceived as being too far to the left,” said John Couvillon, a Louisiana-based polling analyst.
He said it’s wrong to assume the other 55% automatically vote for whomever the Democratic nominee is, which is why the party is so invested in the electability debate.
In New Hampshire, nearly two-thirds of primary voters told exit polling that having a candidate who could beat Mr. Trump was more important than having a candidate who matched them most on the issues.
Among the “electability” voters Mr. Buttigieg did best. Among the third of voters who said issues were more important Mr. Sanders easily topped the field.
Bob Shrum, director of the University of Southern California Dornsife Center for the Political Future, said while electability debate is important for Democrats, it’s not clear they’re all talking about the same thing.
“It means different things to different Democrats,” he said.
Ms. Klobuchar, whose surprise third-place showing in New Hampshire has elevated her standing in the field, argues she’s the most electable because she’s a Midwesterner who has won with huge margins in a state Mr. Trump is targeting this year.
Mr. Buttigieg makes a similar regional argument, with a dash of new generation of leadership narrative added in, said Mr. Shrum, a longtime Democratic operative who worked eight presidential campaigns
Meanwhile Mr. Sanders argues electability is about expanding the voter pool with a bold liberal vision.
The difficulty for Mr. Sanders, according to Mr. Shrum, is that so far he hasn’t expanded the electorate in Iowa or New Hampshire, the two states to have voted in the Democratic primary.
Turnout in Iowa did not set a record, and while New Hampshire did, Mr. Sanders’ first-place finish over Mr. Buttigieg by 1.3 percentage points was far less impressive than his 22-point trouncing of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016, suggesting the surge of voters for him didn’t materialize.
A Sanders nomination could also create problems for the party down the ticket, with some of the House Democrats who flipped seats in 2018 already facing pressure to say whether they would back someone who labels himself a “democratic socialist.”
Yet according to the polling, Mr. Sanders does well in match-ups versus Mr. Trump.
Quinnipiac’s poll gives Mr. Sanders an 8-point lead, better than any other potential nominee save for Mr. Bloomberg. A massive USC-Dornsife poll taken at the end of January showed Mr. Sanders with a 7-point lead, better than anyone save for former Vice President Joseph R. Biden. That poll didn’t ask about Mr. Bloomberg versus Mr. Trump.
Mr. Biden’s chief argument to Democratic voters has been those kinds of polling numbers. He says he is best-positioned to put together the Obama coalition that won two elections. That argument has been dented, though, by his fourth-place showing in Iowa and fifth-place finish in New Hampshire.