Endorsements


I’ve been collecting data on state legislative endorsements of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. This is one lens to understand how party elites sort out who to support as the leader of their party in the single most important election in the country. Congressional and gubernatorial endorsements are being collected by FiveThirtyEight, and that’s important, too. But state legislators are more diverse, more free to make sincere choices, and there are just so darn many of them to help us analyze them.

There are 3,465 Democratic state representatives and senators. Around 640 or around 18% of them have made an endorsement (up from 10% in October). At the same time, about 48% (up from 33% in October) of the early state (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada) Democrats have made a choice, which makes sense, as the early states are where the campaigns are most furiously operating. For comparison, only 11% of the Super Tuesday (March 3, 2020) residing Democrats have made a choice. Note that I’m only counting endorsements of active candidates so Kamala Harris’ large number of California endorsements are no longer being counted (thus, in October 13% of Democrats had endorsed then-active candidates).

Let’s look at the endorsement race as a whole, which Joe Biden still leads by a substantial margin, which matches his still-strong poll numbers. Notably, Elizabeth Warren who had been in 5th place in October, now is in second place. Bernie Sanders has relatively few endorsements relative to his poll numbers, while Amy Klobuchar has relatively more endorsements relative to hers. Pete Buttigieg has very few in general.

Note also how, with the exception of Klobuchar, the top candidates get zero or near-zero support from home state legislators. Familiarity breed contempt?

Now let’s turn to the four early states, where 178 of 374 possible endorsements of active candidates have been made (48%). Here, I’ve transformed the raw endorsement counts into proportions of in-state Democratic endorsements to account for the very different sizes of numbers of available Democrats across the states. Biden has the lead, but Warren and Klobuchar are doing fairly well. Sanders is further behind, and Buttigieg is nowhere.

Alternatively we can plot out the early states. Here, we see that the vast majority of Iowa’s Democrats have already made a choice, and it is disproportionally for Klobuchar. New Hampshire is an area of strength for Warren, while South Carolina and Nevada are Biden’s strengths.

Finally, we can look at the 14 states holding a primary election on Super Tuesday 2020. We’ve only had 119 endorsements out of the maximum possible of 1,057 (11%). Joe Biden absolutely dominates here, with solid endorsement numbers from 6 states. The other candidates are barely competitive.

I haven’t finished the ideological breakdown of these endorsers, but I hope to do so soon (and will update the post when I do).

I’ve been collecting data on state legislative endorsements of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates. This is one lens to understand how party elites sort out who to support as the leader of their party in the single most important election in the country. Congressional and gubernatorial endorsements are being collected by FiveThirtyEight, and that’s important, too. But state legislators are more diverse, more free to make sincere choices, and there are just so darn many of them to help us analyze them.

There are 3,465 Democratic state representatives and senators. A little over 10% of them have made an endorsement, which makes sense as the first votes are still months away. At the same time, about 33% of the early state (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada) Democrats have made a choice, which makes sense, as the early states are where the campaigns are most furiously operating. For comparison, only 13% of the Super Tuesday (March 3, 2020) residing Democrats have made a choice.

Let’s look at the endorsement race as a whole, which Joe Biden still leads by a substantial margin, which matches his still-strong poll numbers. Kamala Harris has overtaken Sanders to move into second place. Notably, Elizabeth Warren is far behind in 5th place — with very few endorsements even from Massachusetts Democrats who we might expect to naturally support her. Her low support from Democratic elected officials is very much in contrast to her newly-strong poll numbers and her commanding lead in the prediction markets. Finally, Cory Booker is doing much better in endorsements than we might expect based on polls.

See also the difference between candidates drawing their supporters in a substantial way from their home states: Harris (CA), Klobuchar (MN), Castro (TX) and O’Rourke (TX), as opposed to candidates like Biden, Sanders, Booker, Warren, and Buttigieg, who’ve compiled the vast majority of their endorsements outside their home state.

Now let’s turn to the four early states, where 125 of 374 possible endorsements have been made (33%). Here, I’ve transformed the raw endorsement counts into proportions of in-state Democratic endorsements to account for the very different sizes of numbers of available Democrats across the states. The picture looks very similar to the one above. Biden has a substantial lead (powered in large part by getting very large numbers of SC and NV endorsements), and Warren is very far behind in 5th place.

Finally, we can look at the 14 states holding a primary election on Super Tuesday 2020. We’ve only had 137 endorsements out of the maximum possible of 1,057 (13%). Unlike in the other plots, Kamala Harris enjoys a big lead, powered by California where she’s really taken a massive haul of endorsements in her home state. Biden isn’t doing as well, though oddly he’s dominating the all-important Utah Democratic delegation.

Finally, let’s look at the ideological breakdown of the legislators endorsing the top 5 candidates in the polls. Obviously the endorsement decision isn’t purely ideological. But this far out from the primaries, it’s likely to be more sincere because closer to the voting strategic considerations are more likely to come into play (eg better to bandwagon with a winner).

The data is taken from my state legislator ideology data (updated). I’ve subsetted only the in-office, and out-of-state endorsements to eliminate the home-state influence (to isolate the effect of ideology).

The average ideology of the candidates’ endorsers has a few non-surprises and a few surprises. Biden is unsurprisingly endorsed by the most moderate Democrats. Warren is endorsed by the most liberal Democrats, surprisingly substantially more so than Sanders. Buttigieg and Harris are in the middle. I guess I’m surprised that Buttigieg’s endorsers aren’t more moderate, and Harris’ more liberal.

Another thing. Warren is getting her endorsements centered at the most liberal 25% of the Dems. There’s plenty of Dems there, but there’s a lot more where Sanders, Buttigieg, and Harris are in the Dem center. Even Biden is fishing in a more populated area (most moderate 40% of D).

NB: This post has been updated on 10/18/2019 to focus only on non-retired state legislators, and to update for new endorsements in the past week.