Democratic voters will spend the next year determining which candidate they believe is best to take on President Donald Trump. While it’s far from clear who they will ultimately choose, it does seem that one type of candidate will be at a distinct disadvantage: businessmen.
That is, Democrats do not seem to want their own version of Trump.
Michael Bloomberg, Howard Schultz, Tom Steyer (who announced this week he isn’t running) and Andrew Yang all seem to be going nowhere in the polls. CNN’s latest national primary poll put Bloomberg at 3% and Steyer in last at 0%. CNN’s Iowa poll showed Bloomberg at 3% and Steyer and Yang at less than 1% each. The three businessmen combined polled at less than 5% in Iowa.
Quality data on Schultz is harder to come by, but a July study from the Democratic aligned pollster Democracy Corps had Schultz at 2%.
Interestingly, Bloomberg, Schultz, Steyer and Yang are quite different ideologically. Bloomberg is a former Republican mayor. Schultz is a centrist. Steyer and Yang are considerably further left. Steyer is a liberal environmentalist leading an impeachment effort against Trump. Yang is campaigning on a universal basic income. The only big biographical detail they really have in common is that they are businessmen of a sort.
Their low standing is not likely because of lack of name recognition. In the Iowa poll, an average 42% of voters were able to form an opinion on Bloomberg, Steyer and Yang. The same poll tested 17 other potential 2020 contenders. Their average name recognition was a similar 49%. Yet, the three businessmen had just a +1 point average net favorability (favorable - unfavorable) rating compared to a +26 net favorability rating averaged by the other candidates.
Bloomberg is the best known of the group, but that doesn’t seem to be really helping him. His net favorability rating of +9 point in the Iowa poll was the worst by far of any potential 2020 candidate for which at least 50% were able to form an opinion. The next lowest was +26 points belonging to Eric Holder. Nationally, a December Quinnipiac University poll found that Bloomberg scored the lowest net favorability rating among Democrats who had formed an opinion of the different potential Democratic candidates. The next closest, Kirsten Gillibrand, was 28 points ahead of him on this metric.
A look at Steyer and Yang in the Iowa poll is particularly enlightening on the effect of being a businessman. Neither of them are particularly well known with less than 40% being able to form an opinion of Steyer and less than 20% being able to do so for Yang (who had the lowest name recognition of any candidate tested).
The poll importantly stated that Steyer is a “hedge fund manager and activist” and Yang a “businessman.” Steyer had a net favorability of 0 points, the second worst for any 2020 contender asked about. Yang scored -7 points, which made him the only 2020 contender with a negative net favorability rating in the poll. It’s not clear why Yang would be so disliked given basically no name recognition. The only reason I can think of that Yang scored this low is that he was introduced as a “businessman”.
Schultz was not tested on any of these questions. Iowa Democrats were, however, asked about whether “the former CEO of Starbucks” would add or detract from the race for president. Only 17% said he would add, which was the lowest of any of the candidates asked.
There was one national study I’m aware of that tested the potential effect of the businessman label. This was the aforementioned July study from the Democratic aligned firm Democracy Corps. Schultz, introduced as “former CEO of Starbucks”, tied for second to last place with 2%. Steyer, introduced as “businessman and founder of groups dealing with climate change and impeachment”, tied for last place with 1% – similar to what CNN’s poll showed.
The bottom line is that if Democratic businessmen are going to play in 2020, they’ll likely have to play from the sidelines to be successful. It’s unclear though if whomever wins the Democratic nomination would even welcome that.