Poll lists being socialist, over 75 as least-sought qualities in 2020 candidate

Sen. Bernie Sanders has some wind at his back as he makes a second straight bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But a new poll suggests his age and self-identification as a "democratic socialist" could hurt the independent senator from Vermont if he reaches the 2020 general election.


An NBC News/Wall Street Journal public opinion survey tested 11 different presidential characteristics among registered voters nationwide. The most widely accepted – being an African American (87 percent said they were "enthusiastic" or "comfortable" with that characteristic), a white man (86 percent), a woman (84 percent), and gay or lesbian (68 percent).

The least popular characteristics? Being over the age of 75 (37 percent) and a socialist (25 percent).

Sanders – at 77 – is the oldest declared or potential presidential candidate in the 2020 field. And he’s been repeatedly labeled by Republicans as a socialist.


Looking at possible 2020 Democratic primary voters, though, the survey suggests that self-identifying as democratic socialist is less of a liability. Among registered Democrats only, those feeling favorable about the age characteristic remained low (36 percent). But those "enthusiastic" or "comfortable" with the socialist characteristic dramatically jumped to 47 percent.

The poll was conducted Feb. 24-27, after Sander’s Feb. 19 announcement that he was launching a presidential campaign. Nine-hundred adults – including 720 registered voters nationwide – were questioned by live operators. The survey’s sampling error was plus or minus 3.65 percentage points.


In an interview with CBS News as he announced his White House run, Sanders pushed back against concerns about his age, saying “you’ve got to look at the totality of a person.”

“I have been blessed thank God,” Sanders highlighted, “with good health and good energy.”

And he added that he was “a cross-country runner, a long distance runner, when I was a kid, and I’ve been running hard, in a sense, since then.”

The senator also pushed back against being labeled a socialist by Republican President Trump.

“Bernie Sanders does not want to have the United States become the horrific economic situation that unfortunately currently exists in Venezuela right now,” he emphasized.

While the new poll raises some questions, the Vermont senator continues to score well in the latest 2020 Democratic primary polls. Thanks to his strong name recognition, Sanders places either first or second in recent national or early voting state surveys, along with former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s leaning toward a White House run.

And the Vermont senator appears to remain immensely popular in neighboring New Hampshire – which holds the first primary in the presidential race. Sanders topped the field at 26 percent, 4 percentage points ahead of Biden and far ahead of the rest of the contenders, in a new University of New Hampshire poll.

Sanders crushed Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary in New Hampshire, launching him into a marathon battle with the eventual nominee that did not end until July, following the conclusion of the primary and caucus calendar. The state is considered a ‘must win’ for Sanders in 2020.