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Michigan 2020 Primary - Biden With Strong Lead, but Sanders Waiting in the Wings

Boston, MA -- March 10, 2019 -- A new Emerson College poll finds unannounced candidate Joe Biden leading a Democratic field of 13 candidates with 40% of the vote in Michigan, followed by Bernie Sanders at 23%, Kamala Harris is at 12% and Elizabeth Warren at 11% round out the only four candidates in double figures (registered voters, March 7-10, mm, n=317, +/- 5.5%).



With Biden not officially in the race, the Emerson poll asked Biden voters who their second choice would be; Sanders would be the most popular alternative with 42%, followed by Harris at 23%, and Warren at 18%. Sanders received 50% of the vote in the 2016 Michigan Democratic Primary.

Age remains the dividing factor in the Democratic primary race, as Sanders leads among 18-29 year olds 32%-27% over Biden, but, as consistent with recent Emerson polls in New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina, Sanders’ support drops with older voters as Biden captures over 44% of voters over 30 in the Michigan Democratic primary.

In a potential Republican Primary, President Trump leads former Gov. Bill Weld 89% to 11%, similar to what other Emerson polls this winter have showed in Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire. (registered voters, March 7-10, mm, n=306, +/- 5.6%).

Statewide, President Trump has a 52% disapproval and 40% approval (registered voters, March 7-10, mm, n=743, +/- 3.5%). More concerning for the President is that 56% of Michigan voters said they are unlikely to vote for Trump (of which 52% are very unlikely to vote for him); 44% of voters say they are likely to vote for Trump (37% are very likely). The President’s image appears to be declining since the 2016 election, as 50% of voters said their opinion of the President has worsened since taking office, while 33% said it has improved.



Voters are split on whether the President has kept his campaign promises as 52% responded that he has not kept his campaign promises and 48% he has kept his campaign promises.

Likewise, voters are generally split on how the President is handling key campaign issues including abortion, immigration, healthcare and foreign and economic policy.(n=673, +/- 3.7%)

  • Abortion: 50% approve/50% disapprove
  • Immigration: 46% approve/54% disapprove
  • Healthcare: 43% approve/57% disapprove
  • Foreign Policy: 46% approve/54% disapprove
  • Economic Policy: 49% approve/50% disapprove

A potential bright spot for the President is that 62% of Trump voters in 2016 voted in support of Trump compared with 38% who voted for Trump in opposition to Hillary Clinton. Spencer Kimball, Director of the Emerson Poll, thinks that “once a Democrat is nominated, Trump might be able to boost his own appeal by lowering his opponents through attacks”.

In potential 2020 General Election match-ups, Trump trails the top Democratic candidates, but all are within the poll’s margin of error, except for against Biden where he trails by 8 points. However, significant gender, education and age gaps are emerging as Trump leads with men but trails with women, and Trump leads with less educated voters while Democrats lead with younger voters. Kimball finds that “a larger divide on issues based on age may be playing out in both the primary and general elections. Sanders appears to be the champion of the youth vote in the Democratic primary, while in the general election, older voters are breaking for Trump.”

Head-to-heads

Biden v. Trump: 54%-46%

Klobuchar v. Trump: 53%-47%

Sanders v. Trump: 52%-47%

Harris v. Trump: 51%-49%

Warren v. Trump:51%-49%

Gender breakout

Warren v. Trump: Trump leads 56%-44% with men; Warren leads 58%-42% with females

Biden v. Trump: Trump leads 53%-47% with men; Biden leads 60%-40% with females

Sanders v. Trump: Trump leads 53%-47% with men; Sanders lead 58%-42% with females

Harris v. Trump: Trump leads 55%-45% with men; Harris leads 57%-43% with females

Klobuchar v. Trump: Trump leads 54%-46% with men; Klobuchar leads 59%-41% with females

Education breakout

Warren v. Trump: Trump leads 57%-43% with High School degree or less; Warren leads 65%-35% with post grads

Biden v. Trump: Trump leads 56%-44% with HS or less; Biden leads 67%-33% with post grads

Sanders v. Trump: Split 50/50 with HS or less; Sanders leads 62%-38% with post grads

Harris v. Trump: Trump leads 57%-43% with HS or less; Harris leads 69%-31% with post grads

Klobuchar v. Trump: Trump leads 56%-43% with HS or less; Klobuchar leads 67%-32% with post grads

Age divide

Warren v. Trump: Warren leads 61%-39% with 18-29 year olds; Trump leads 52%-48% leads with 65+

Biden v. Trump: Biden leads 63%-37% with 18-29 year olds; Trump leads 51%-49% with 65+

Sanders v. Trump: Sanders leads 71%-29% with 18-29 year olds; Trump leads 51%-49% with 65+

Harris v. Trump: Harris leads 64%-36% with 18-29 year olds; Trump leads 53%-47% with 65+

Klobuchar v. Trump: Klobuchar leads 65%-35% with 18-29 year olds; Trump leads 52%-48% with 65+

In a potential US Senate election in 2020, incumbent Democrat Gary Peters is statistically tied with 2018 Republican Senate candidate John James 44% to 43% with 14% undecided. This is the third Emerson poll that suggests incumbent Senators are vulnerable in 2020, with Jeanne Shaheen (D) of New Hampshire and Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina both under 50% in potential re-election campaigns.

When asked about the trustworthiness of different media sources, the slogan “as seen on tv” was proven effective as voters ranked television as the most trusted source of information at 28%. Online publications and newspapers each received 14%, radio received 10% and social media received 6%. However, 28% of voters said they do not trust any news sources; a look inside these numbers reveal that 41% of Trump voters do not trust any news source compared to 17% of Clinton voters.

A plurality of voters, 36%, ranked Fox News television as the most trustworthy news source followed by CNN at 19%, 14% each for NBC and MSNBC. ABC came in at 9% and CBS was at 8%.


On a follow up study from Schuman and Presser (1977), 12% of voters in Michigan think men are better suited for politics than women. While there was no difference found based on gender, there was a difference between 2016 voters, with 22% of Trump voters agreeing with the statement compared with 3% of Clinton voters.

Caller ID

The Michigan statewide Emerson College poll was conducted March 7-10, 2019 under the Supervision of Assistant Professor Spencer Kimball. The sample consisted of registered voters, n=743, with a Credibility Interval (CI) similar to a poll’s margin of error (MOE) of +/- 3.5 percentage points. The data was weighted based on 2016 voter model, age, ethnicity, gender and region. It is important to remember that subsets based on gender, age, party breakdown, ethnicity and region carry with them higher margins of error, as the sample size is reduced. Data was collected using both an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system of landlines only (n=520) and an online panel provided by Amazon Turk (n=223). Visit our website at ​ www.emersonpolling.com.  

Follow us on Twitter ​@EmersonPolling



Key Takeaways
  • Joe Biden leading Democratic field, followed by Sanders, Harris and Warren
  • Trump winning with men, older voters; losing with women.
  • Potential competitive U.S. Senate race for Sen. Gary Peters (D)
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A larger divide on issues based on age may be playing out in both the primary and general elections. Sanders appears to be the champion of the yout...
Spencer KimballEmerson Polling director
Once a Democrat is nominated, Trump might be able to boost his own appeal by lowering his opponents through attacks.
Spencer KimballEmerson Polling director
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