Former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders lead the crowded Democratic field, pulling in together about half of the support of Democratic voters and Democratic-leaning independents, according to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll.
Biden leads with 24%, followed closely by Sanders at 22%. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren is third with 17%, followed by South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 13%, all together making up a clear top tier of four candidates.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang is fifth with 5%; former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker all pull in 4%.
Clustered together with just 1% support are former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet. Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, billionaire Tom Steyer, spiritualist and author Marianne Williamson and former Rep. John Delaney all get less than 1%.
The poll comes ahead of the next Democratic debate, this Thursday in Los Angeles and sponsored by the PBS NewsHour and Politico.
Importantly, while two-thirds of Democratic voters and Democratic-leaning independents say they are satisfied with the Democratic field, three-quarters (76%) say they could change their minds on whom they currently support.
So this is potentially a very fluid race, and it is why, despite Biden leading consistently in national polls, there has been so much movement in early-state polls.
While Biden continues to lead in national polling, when it comes to all-important state polls, Buttigieg has seen a surge of late. He narrowly leads Sanders in Iowa and narrowly trails him in New Hampshire, with Biden and Warren not far behind, according to RealClearPolitics' average of the polls.
"We're looking for late action, because it's so fluid," Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll, said of potential change before the first nominating states cast votes. "I think we're looking at the last surge" for who could win.
Different coalitions for the Democratic candidates
The top candidates draw support from different parts of the Democratic Party, the poll shows.
Biden does best with white women without a college degree (34%), older voters over 45 (33%), moderates (31%), those making less than $50,000 a year (30%) and voters in the South (31%), where many of the Democratic primary voters are African American.
Notably, though, Sanders is the candidate who narrowly leads with nonwhite voters, 29% to 26%, over Biden. This might be because of Sanders' strength with younger voters of color and Latinos. But the margins of error with these subgroups are too high to draw any definitive conclusions.
Sanders also leads with younger voters under 45 (37%), progressives (29%), people who live in big cities (28%), voters in the Northeast (27%) and men (27%). Warren is second with progressives (23%).
Buttigieg leads with whites with a college degree (23%), including women. Again, Warren is a close second with these groups. So Warren is competing on two separate fronts for support — with the progressives who might be inclined to the policies of Sanders and with Buttigieg for college-educated whites.
By a 54% to 44% margin, Democratic voters think it's more important to have a nominee who has the best chance of beating Trump than someone who shares their position on most issues.
And by a 49% to 42% margin, they say it's more important to have a nominee who will move in a different direction from former President Obama's policies. Among those who think it's more important to move past Obama's policies, Sanders leads the field with 28%, followed by Biden at 17%, Warren at 16% and Buttigieg at 9%.
But Biden leads handily when it comes to those who say it's more important to continue Obama's policies — 34% to Buttigieg's 19%, Warren's 17% and Sanders' 14%.
On the issues
But, predictably, Democrats and Republicans believe very different things are important.
For Democrats, the poll found the top issues are health care (30%), climate change (29%), the economy (13%) and education (12%).
For Republicans, it's overwhelmingly the economy (41%), followed much further back by immigration (17%), health care (16%) and gun policy (10%).
Democrats have put forward a host of policy positions. Some — like "Medicare for All" as a replacement for private health insurance, decriminalizing illegal border crossings and a universal basic income of $1,000 a month — provide warnings for the party, as none is able to win support from a majority of the overall electorate.
But Democrats are on solid ground when talking about stricter background checks for gun purchases, stricter regulation of prescription drug prices, a pathway to citizenship for immigrants in the U.S. illegally, a Green New Deal that addresses climate change by investing in green jobs and energy-efficient infrastructure, and legalizing marijuana.
All are supported by 60% or more of Americans.
There is also majority support for forgiving student loan debt for lower-income people, a wealth tax on wealth above $1 million, keeping but making changes to Obamacare, a public option for health care, a ban on semiautomatic assault-style weapons, a national minimum wage of $15 an hour, taxing carbon emissions and offering free tuition at public colleges and universities.
But Republicans give majority support only for gun background checks and stricter prescription drug regulations.
The survey of 1,744 adults was conducted between Dec. 9 and 11 by the Marist Poll using live telephone callers via cell phone and landline and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points. There were 1,508 registered voters surveyed, and where they are referenced, the poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.7 percentage points. There were 704 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents surveyed, and where they are referenced, results have a +/- 5.4 percentage point margin of error.