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Why you should be skeptical of Tom Steyer 2020

Posted at 11:00 AM, Jul 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-09 15:01:14-04

Businessman and activist Tom Steyer has entered 2020 presidential race, after originally saying he wouldn’t run.

Now, no one in their right mind would dismiss a billionaire who is willing to spend gobs of money on his own candidacy. He could influence the race significantly, even if he doesn’t come close to winning it.

Still, it’s important to point out the uphill battle Steyer is facing in a field of more than 20 Democratic candidates, from polling to the host of liberals he’s facing in the primary.

Steyer polls poorly

There are no recent polls asking voter opinions of Steyer. However, the polling prior to Steyer originally saying he was going to stay out of the presidential race isn’t encouraging.

A CNN/SSRS poll from December found Steyer with 0% nationally. That, of course, was tied for last in the poll.

A December CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll from Iowa wasn’t any better. Among likely Democratic caucusgoers, Steyer earned 0% of the vote.

Nor did there seem to be any latent support for Steyer in that poll. Steyer was the second choice of just 1% of likely caucusgoers.

A big part of Steyer’s problem was that he wasn’t well liked. When likely Democratic caucusgoers in Iowa were asked whether they had a favorable or unfavorable view of Steyer, just 19% said favorable, compared to 19% who said unfavorable, leading to a net favorability rating of 0 points. Only one of the Democrats still running for the Democratic presidential nomination — Andrew Yang — had a worse net favorability rating in the poll.

The one piece of potentially good news for Steyer: A mere 21% of likely caucusgoers said they could never envision themselves voting for Steyer. That is, the remaining 79% of voters didn’t hate him. Even on this score though, just one other 2020 candidate — again, Yang — scored worse than Steyer.

Steyer’s profile problem

It’s easy to say “Trump was an outsider businessman and won!” and think Steyer could do the same. The polling suggests, however, it’s not anywhere close to analogous.

Back in April (long after Steyer originally said he wouldn’t run), CNN asked potential Democratic primary voters what qualities were important in determining who to support for the Democratic nomination. The item “Can bring an outsider’s perspective to Washington” came in last. In a poll conducted in late January and early February, only 4% of Democrats said that bringing an outsider’s perspective was the most important factor in selecting a nominee.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll from February got at Steyer’s profile more directly, asking whether voters would be comfortable or enthusiastic about a “businessman” candidate. Among Democrats, only 31% said that they would be.

Indeed, as we’ve seen in polling over and over again, being a businessman is seen as a major no, no to Democrats after Trump’s election.

2020 already has lots of liberals

I might be willing to dismiss Steyer’s poor polling and businessman profile if he were offering Democrats something different in the ideological or demographic department. But he isn’t.

As I recently discussed, three of the four leading Democratic candidates have very liberal voting records. This comes even though about half the Democratic electorate describes itself as moderate or conservative.

Steyer might make more of a splash if he were in the center. He’d be able to offer an alternative to former Vice President Joe Biden, whose polling has weakened since the first debate.

Instead, Steyer is a liberal activist who wants to impeach Trump. That sounds a lot like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who wants to impeach Trump and is running a grassroots activist-style campaign. Unlike Steyer, Warren has already built a campaign and support. She also is a woman running in a primary two years after Democrats nominated a record number of women in congressional primaries.

Not to mention that if Democrats want to vote for an older and very liberal white candidate, they can choose Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

In other words, Steyer is giving voters something they already have.

The big question for Steyer is whether throwing a ridiculous amount of money into the race changes any of these dynamics. I doubt it, but only time will tell.