Poll: Democrats want an experienced politician as president, not an outsider

Seventy-three percent of Democratic voters said they would be ‘more excited’ to vote for a politically experienced candidate

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during his 2020 campaign kickoff rally at the Eakins Oval in Philadelphia, Pa., on Saturday, May 18, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Candidates in the historically diverse field for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination have highlighted their age, gender, race and military experience as defining traits separating them from their peers. 

But Democratic voters find none of those characteristics as important as a candidate’s experience in elected office, according to a new poll from The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs at the University of Chicago.

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Seventy-three percent of respondents to the poll said they would be more excited to vote for a candidate with experience in elected office, signaling a potential uphill climb for outsider candidates like businessman Andrew Yang and author Marianne Williamson. 

It’s a trend that runs counter to one of President Donald Trump’s trademark appeals to voters in the 2016 Republican primaries: The president billed himself as an outsider unaffected by political influences who would use his experience as a businessman to rejuvenate the federal government.

Trump is the only president in history with no military or political experience.

Benji Grajeda, 50, of Santa Ana, California, told the AP that he was excited in 2016 at the prospect of Hillary Clinton becoming the first female president. But now, with Trump in office, he wants stability.

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“I don’t think it matters, gender,” Grajeda told the AP. Experience in office is the most important characteristic a candidate can have, Grajeda said.

“Trump has no experience,” he said. “I never really thought about it until he won — he’s just not qualified.”

The appetite among Democratic voters for a politically experienced candidate could benefit the current leader, former Vice President Joe Biden, who also served for 36 years as a U.S. senator from Delaware.

Other candidates near the top of recent polls include Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

The next-highest characteristic that would energize Democratic voters to cast their ballots for a certain candidate was if the person running was a woman. Four in 10 respondents cited womanhood as an exciting characteristic.

Thirty-eight percent of respondents said they would be more excited to vote for a candidate who has served in the military, and 36 percent said they would be more excited to vote for a candidate who is young.

The NORC polled 1,116 adults online and by phone from June 13 to June 17 and were selected from a sample of NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to mirror the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for the entire poll is +/- 4 percentage points.

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