Democratic Candidates

It’s Never Too Early! Narrowing the 2020 Field

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(Methodology)

Pundits and politicos have been curating lists of potential contenders for the 2020 Democratic, including on this site, but how do we sort out the chicken shit from chicken salad? That is to say, is there a metric that we can use to rank who should be our nominee? The answer is yes, and I’ve provided my criteria and tabulations below. First, I’ll lay out how my system works and a breakdown of my criteria for candidates.

The Point Scale

There are seven distinct areas in which candidates will be scored on a scale of 1-5. Higher scores are in the candidate’s favor, while lower scores work against the candidate. The scores of each candidate in their respective categories are then added together for their total score. How a candidate is scored is somewhat subject to my own personal bias, but there is a method to the madness. A perfect score on this scale would be a 35, because there are 7 different areas that will be scored.

The Categories

  1. Progressiveness: Whomever the Democratic nominee is in 2020, they must be progressive. The party has moved to the left, largely thanks to Bernie Sanders, and it’s expected that voters will demand certain policy promises from candidates. Among these are a commitment to single payer healthcare, environmental regulation, protection of women’s reproductive rights, and reducing the cost of higher education. A candidate’s score is largely reflective of their voting record if they’re in congress, bills they’ve signed into law if they’re a governor, or initiatives they’ve supported as mayor. Public statements are also considered, especially if the person has never held elected office.
  2. Financial Ties: There were a lot of arguments with no substance about Hillary Clinton not just during the general election, but during the primaries. There was a widespread belief she was dishonest, despite having a higher percentage of True, Mostly True, or Half True statements than any other candidate in 2016 according to Politifact (including Bernie). But there was one criticism that held water, and was completely legitimate, and that was Hillary’s connection to Wall Street and corporate money. A candidate’s score depends on a few things:
    1. The number of financial institutions in their top 20 donor list (which you can check on this site)
    2. If any Pharmaceutical/Insurance companies are top 20 donors
    3. What politicians have donors in common
    4. Policy positions as it relates to the aforementioned industries.
  3. Age: If you ask Americans their ideal age for a presidential candidate, the results aren’t that shocking. 82% of Americans want a candidate between the age of 40-59. Only 9% want a candidate under the age of 40, 8% want a candidate in their 60s, and 0% want a candidate over 70. We have some reason to believe that ageism affects the way we vote, because throughout the 2016 primaries and general election questions were constantly raised about the candidate’s respective health and whether they could complete a full term in office. There was also ageism in the reverse direction when pundits and politicians would poke at Marco Rubio for being the youngest candidate in the race at the age of 45, making insinuations about whether or not he was “ready”. Therefore, in this category, the lowest scored candidates are ones who will be older than President Trump in 2020, and the highest scored are those who will be in their mid-forties to mid-fifties come 2020.
  4. Psychologically Fit: This metric is somewhat subjective. The score is largely based upon how gaffe prone a candidate is, whether or not they’ve had public outbursts, and how they deal with high stress situations. For example, Joe Biden earns a 4 in this category. Although Biden is well known for gaffes and is a master of foot in mouth, but even through the death of his son and other personal tragedies he’s still performed admirably. So, Biden loses quite a few points for his mouth, but gains because of his will to persevere. A candidate might also lose points for being oblivious to what’s happening around them or being out of touch in general. There’s also the matter of tendencies to self-aggrandize or the lack of sincerity in public as well as private settings.
  5. Comfort in Own Skin: This metric is even more subjective. We tend to forget that politicians are people too. In fact, some politicians are horribly awkward people who fumble their words, don’t give townhalls, only know how to speak in platitudes, or are fairly neurotic. This score is reflective of my view of not only the candidates’ charisma generally speaking, but how they perform in interviews, and how well they can deliver a speech.
  6. Confident but Not Arrogant: This metric is the most subjective, but I promise each candidate was thoroughly looked over before they were scored. When a politician is delivering their ideas, or performing in a debate, it behooves them to be confident in their presentation. A politician should be unafraid to challenge a journalist or call out hypocrisy. But, there exists a fine line between confidence and arrogance. For example, Bernie Sanders of course scores points for being out-front for progressive issues that relate to healthcare, education, trade, and so many other things. Bernie then loses points for not being a Democrat, being rejected by nearly 17 million Democratic voters, then having the gall to tell Democrats how to win elections or run their party. He’d also lose points for going to Nebraska, campaigning for an anti-choice candidate, perhaps believing that his star power can propel any candidate over the finish line. But this isn’t about Bernie, and as critical as that analysis was, he still managed a 3.
  7. Demographics: I prefer not to use the term identity politics, but in 2016 it became more clear that certain types of people are more excited by candidates that look like them. African-American voters made up the smallest portion of the electorate since 2004, followed by record highs for the last two election cycles. Similarly, fewer women voted for the Republican in 2016 than in any presidential election since 1996. Even if this data doesn’t necessarily show causation, it does show some strong correlation. Then there’s quite a bit of anecdotal evidence and media narratives emerge when candidates look one way versus another. The scores for this category are as follows…
    1. White Male, Over 50: 1
    2. White Male, Under 50: 2
    3. White Female: 3
    4. Minority Male: 4
    5. Minority Female: 5

*If a candidate is unscored on any category, it’s because not enough public information was available to make an evaluation.

For additional thoughts on this topic, see Arthur Lieber’s post in Occasional Planet.

Reece Ellis Reece Ellis (12 Posts)

Reece Ellis is a senior at Hazelwood East High school in St. Louis, and will be majoring in political science at Truman State University. He worked as a deputy field organizer for the Missouri Democratic Party in 2016.


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  • Willy Kesser

    An interesting grid – I’ve used similar schemes in filling jobs. However, I’m a bit confused. It seemed to me based on the discussion of criteria that “demographics” score is just a function of one’s race and gender and, for males, age. So shouldn’t Elizabeth Warren a white woman score only “3” instead of “4”? And Keith Ellison who is an African-American male score “4” instead of “2”? Or do other factors figure in in some way?

  • Reece Ellis

    You’re correct, Elizabeth Warren’s total score should be a 27, not a 28 as listed. Keith Ellison is rated a 2 on demographics, rather than a 4 for a specific reason. This was to be discussed in a later article, but I’m happy to tell you about the other non-listed factors. Just as being young is an asset in my estimation and being too young is a hindrance, the same can be said of diversity. Keith Ellison happens to be a Muslim at a time when 4 in 6 Americans say they would not vote for a Muslim presidential candidate. So it’s my view that while he would benefit from increased black support, quite a bit of that would be negated by democrats who skew socially conservative who would refuse to back him. There will be another piece that goes more into depth about the candidates highlighted in green and their scores.

  • Willy Kesser

    Thanks for the explanation. I thouhght that perhaps Elison’s religion might have been a factor. I’ll look forward to your follow-up piece to see how you use religion to weight the categories.