The latest Quinnipiac University National Poll finds the "B" boys at the top: 29% of Democratic voters favor former Vice President Joe Biden (who has not entered the race, but is expected to), 19% prefer Sen. Bernie Sanders, and 12% pick former Rep. Beto O'Rourke. Sen. Kamala Harris is not far behind with 8%, although according to RealClearPolitics, which averages several polls, she is ahead of Beto.
"Hungry for a candidate to take on President Donald Trump, Democrats and Democratic leaners put the three B's, Biden, Bernie, and Beto, at the top in a race where age, race, and gender take a backseat to electability and shared views," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll.
Fundraising-wise, after the March 31 deadline marking the end of the first quarter of 2019, Sanders reported pulling in $18.2 million, Harris raised $12 million, Beto raised $9.4 million, and Buttigieg — who seems to be having a moment — raked in $7 million. (These are self-reported fundraising totals; not all candidates publicized theirs.) In the first 24 hours after his announcement, Beto raised a whopping $6.1 million, topping Sanders' $5.9 million, which, when compared to Beto's Q1 donations, suggests that enthusiasm for him may have tapered off. Harris and Klobuchar each raised about $1 million after their announcements.
There are 10 months left until the primaries start and most Democratic voters either aren't paying attention or haven't made their decision yet. But early money is important and, combined with the poll numbers, it paints a picture of white men leading the pack — although Harris has had an impressive climb, especially when it comes to donations. Opinion polls show that Democrats prioritize an "electable" candidate who can beat Trump, and many voters see a successful challenger who can hold their own in the boxing ring with Trump — who is sure to fight dirty — as a white man. Based on our interviews with voters, this is especially true for older women. While women who support Biden, Beto, or Bernie generally say that they think it's important for the country to elect a female president one day, they don't think November 3, 2020 will be the day.
Amaryllis, a woman in the L.A. area who says she is "close to Hillary [Clinton] in age," says she supports Beto because he is electable. "It is vitally important that we defeat Trump in 2020 and to me, that demands a candidate that will appeal to a broad voting base," she tells Refinery29. "I supported Hillary in 2016 and would love to see a female president, but for this one particular election where the stakes are so high I think it's too big of a risk." Of course, she says she'll be supporting whoever wins the party's nomination come election time.
Many women say they also support Beto because of his record on immigration and support of Latinx communities. "I had the opportunity to meet Beto twice, and during my last meeting with him, I spoke of my father to him," Anna Olvera, 41, from San Antonio, TX, tells Refinery29. "My dad came as an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. ... My father endured racism as he worked exceedingly hard to better himself, sometimes working two full-time jobs for years. Today, my dad is a successful business owner alongside my mother. Beto listened to me with such empathy and care that I had tears in my eyes. He was so moved by my dad’s story. He held onto my hand as his assistant tried to rush me away, but never did he let go of my hand or turn his attention away from me, away from my dad’s story."
As for Biden, people cite his experience. "I’m not actively supporting anyone yet, we still have so much more to learn about all of them," says Tess M., 60, who lives on Long Island. "However, if Biden does run I would lean towards him not because he’s male, or white. In my mind, this election, and our nominee, has less to do with who or what the nominee is, and more to do with experience. I do like Harris so far also. But I believe this time around, we need experience to clean up the mess of this current administration."
The reason women give for supporting Sanders is often ideological; they are looking for a socialist who will stand up to powerful corporate interests and not compromise on issues like healthcare. His voters also skew younger. "I believe in Medicare for All, healthcare as a human right, and tuition-free college; and that we can live in a more just and equitable world," Kat Brezler, a teacher, activist, and founding member of The People for Bernie Sanders, told Refinery29 earlier this year. "And I'm going to fight for it with him."
Some election watchers worry that framing the three B's as more "electable" than everyone else is going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, and that if voters continue to assume that the equally qualified and charismatic female candidates are "unelectable," we won't see a female president in our lifetimes. As the new nonprofit organization He Should Not Run, "dedicated to ending the gender gap in elected office by talking men out of running," helpfully proclaims on its website, "100% of U.S. presidents have been men." It is frustrating to supporters of Harris, Warren, Klobuchar, and Gillibrand that this doesn't upset more people.
"It's not a surprise that the leading candidates for president are white men," Danny Barefoot, a Democratic strategist with Anvil Strategies, tells Refinery29. "One of the most insidious aspects of misogyny is that it doesn't just corrode the minds of men." In his polling and focus groups, Barefoot says he consistently sees women raising concerns about the female candidates that no one would raise about a man's candidacy. After four women have come forward recently to say Biden inappropriately touched them in the past, plenty of women publicly defended him. Meanwhile, Gillibrand is still being dogged by the fact that she was among the senators who called for Al Franken to resign after troubling sexual misconduct allegations.
"The women in this race are held to a higher standard by voters, the press, and yes, even other women," Barefoot says. "That's not to say there isn't a case for some of the men running, but we should all recognize the advantages the men enjoy over the women in this race." He said he thinks Harris has the most likely path to the nomination among the women, but that her record is being scrutinized harsher than that of the men.
Feminist philosopher Kate Manne, author of Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, warns against applying "post hoc rationalizations" to backing a candidate. "People do sometimes latch onto male authority figures who are lionized and celebrated and then find post hoc rationalizations," Manne tells Refinery29. "It seems like people are deeply attached to these male authority figures, and effectively finding reasons as to why they're superior to other candidates."