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Port: Poll shows Biden more competitive against Trump than Sanders in North Dakota as Democrats prepare to vote

Bernie Sanders during a campaign stop in Grand Forks in 2016. Forum News Service file photo

MINOT, N.D. — New polling out from my friend Dean Mitchell at DFM Research, who was kind enough to share them with me, show that if North Dakota Democrats want their top-of-the-ticket candidate to be competitive against incumbent President Donald Trump in 2020, Joe Biden may be their best bet.

Of course, "competitive" is a relative term in a state that has cast its electoral college votes for just four Democratic presidents since statehood (Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and Lyndon Johnson) and zero since the 1960s.

Anyway, to the numbers!

Mitchell surveyed 400 likely voters in North Dakota from March 3rd through the 5th, contacting them by way of both landlines and cell phones, and his research has a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points.

What he found is that Joe Biden is significantly more competitive than Bernie Sanders in a head-to-head matchup before the state's electorate:


EMBED: DEFM Poll Excerpt

It's unlikely, given some dramatic and unforeseen turn of events, that Trump will lose North Dakota to either of these men, particularly when you consider the favorability numbers from Mitchell's survey.

Trump is viewed favorably by 57% of poll respondents and unfavorably by 40%, putting him at a +17 favorability.

That's pretty good!

The numbers for Biden and Sanders are much worse, sitting at -7 and -41, respectively, which is the opposite of good.

EMBED: DFM Excerpt 2


Those favorability numbers are going to be important for North Dakota Democrats to consider as they head to their caucuses to vote tomorrow. Again, either of these men winning North Dakota in the general election is a long shot, but based on these numbers, Biden is a better sort of gamble than Sanders, and that could matter for down-ballot races in the state.

Recently I was having a conversation with a Democratic friend about his state party's struggle to recruit candidates. "Would you be willing to run if chances are that Bernie will be at the top of the ticket?" he asked me.

It's a fair point. Presidential candidates tend to set the tone in any given election year, and it can be hard for down-ballot candidates to make their messaging cut through it.

A Sanders candidacy would probably make it a lot harder for statewide and even local Democratic candidates to win in North Dakota.

How many North Dakota Democrats will see it that way? I don't know. Remember that in 2016 Bernie Sanders beat Hillary Clinton in a landslide in North Dakota's Democratic caucus .

Sanders isn't up against Clinton this time. I suspect Biden will be far more popular than Clinton among 2020 North Dakota voters. The Obama/Biden ticket performed pretty well in the state in both 2008 and 2012 if we grade on a curve for Democrats campaigning in North Dakota.

The local Democrats have also changed the rules for their caucus this year , so that's a wildcard too.

One last note about Trump's numbers, you might remember me writing about a DFM poll in February that had Trump at a 62 percent approval rating. That's a bit higher than his current favorability rating in this poll.


It could be that Trump's popularity has declined somewhat. There is always some static from one survey to the next. Also, "approval" and "favorability" are somewhat different questions.

I have always perceived a gap between people who might approve of Trump's policies but don't like the guy because of things like his demeanor and social media antics. That could explain the difference in those numbers.

Suffice it to say, Trump's support remains very strong in North Dakota.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a columnist and podcast host for the Forum News Service. Reach him at
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