July 25, 2016

Democratic voters and the road to nominating Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton led the field for the Democratic nomination from the beginning of the campaign in early 2015 on her road to becoming the party’s nominee. Yet over the course of the campaign, many Democratic voters switched their preferences at least once. Below you can explore how she and other candidates gained (and lost) supporters among the same nationally representative group of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters in Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel. Walk through Hillary Clinton’s road to the nomination, explore shifts in Bernie Sanders’ support or follow early backers of Elizabeth Warren on your own. And for more on the patterns of support throughout the primary, and into the general election, see “In Clinton's March to Nomination, Many Democrats Changed Their Minds.”

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March 2015
Aug. 2015
Dec. 2015
April 2016
General Election/
June 2016

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campaign
Early stages

In March 2015, before any of the Democratic candidates had formally announced their candidacies, 41% of Democratic voters named Hillary Clinton as their first choice for the nomination. About as many said they were undecided (39%), while the next most popular choice was Elizabeth Warren (10%).

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Sanders enters and Warren opts out

By August 2015, after Bernie Sanders’ entry into the race and Warren’s decision not to run, Clinton’s support had dropped slightly to 38% of Democratic voters. Many of Warren’s March supporters moved to Sanders (56%, compared with 12% who moved to Clinton). Still, Clinton held on to the support of most of her March supporters over this period, and picked up some support from previously undecided voters.

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Some voters switch support between Clinton and Sanders

Clinton's support grew in December to nearly half (48%) of Democratic voters, while Sanders stood at 29%. Some Democrats changed their minds over this period: About one-in-ten of Clinton’s December supporters (9%) had backed Sanders in August, while a similar share (15%) of his December supporters had previously backed her.

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Clinton continues to hold a lead, but it narrows as Sanders sees greater gain

By April, deep into the primaries, Clinton’s overall lead over Sanders had narrowed substantially, as he gained more supporters during this period: 74% of her April supporters had supported her in December; by comparison, 59% of his April supporters had been December supporters.

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Unity in the general

After Clinton clinched the nomination and became the presumptive nominee, most Sanders supporters came to back her in the general. As of June, Clinton is the choice of 90% of Democratic voters (including 90% of Sanders’ April supporters) in a general election matchup against Donald Trump.

41% of Democratic voters named Clinton their first choice in March 2015.

38% of Democratic voters named Clinton their first choice in August 2015.

48% of Democratic voters named Clinton their first choice in December 2015.

46% of Democratic voters named Clinton their first choice in April 2016.

90% of Democratic voters named Clinton their first choice in the general election.

Source: Pew Research Center American Trends Panel surveys, conducted March 2015 through June 2016. Based on Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters (March & August 2015, N=1,518; December 2015, April and June 2016 N=2,353). See methodology for more detail.

Photo credits: Brook Christopher/WireImage/Getty Images (Biden); Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images (Clinton); Steve Sands/Getty Images (O'Malley); Alex Wong/Getty Images (Sanders); Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images (Warren)

Early stages

In March 2015, before any of the Democratic candidates had formally announced their candidacies, 41% of Democratic voters named Hillary Clinton as their first choice for the nomination. About as many said they were undecided (39%), while the next most popular choice was Elizabeth Warren (10%).

Sanders enters and Warren opts out

By August 2015, after Bernie Sanders’ entry into the race and Warren’s decision not to run, Clinton’s support had dropped slightly to 38% of Democratic voters. Many of Warren’s March supporters moved to Sanders (56%, compared with 12% who moved to Clinton). Still, Clinton held on to the support of most of her March supporters over this period, and picked up some support from previously undecided voters.

Some voters switch support between Clinton and Sanders

Clinton's support grew in December to nearly half (48%) of Democratic voters, while Sanders stood at 29%. Some Democrats changed their minds over this period: About one-in-ten of Clinton’s December supporters (9%) had backed Sanders in August, while a similar share (15%) of his December supporters had previously backed her.

Clinton continues to hold a lead, but it narrows as Sanders sees greater gain

By April, deep into the primaries, Clinton’s overall lead over Sanders had narrowed substantially, as he gained more supporters during this period: 74% of her April supporters had supported her in December; by comparison, 59% of his April supporters had been December supporters.

Unity in the general

After Clinton clinched the nomination and became the presumptive nominee, most Sanders supporters came to back her in the general. As of June, Clinton is the choice of 90% of Democratic voters (including 90% of Sanders’ April supporters) in a general election matchup against Donald Trump.

Source: Pew Research Center American Trends Panel surveys, conducted March 2015 through June 2016. Based on Democrat and Democrat-leaning registered voters (March & August 2015, N=1,345; December 2015, April and June 2016 N=2,079). See methodology for more detail.