WASHINGTON - Democrats are far less confident of winning back the White House in November than the Republicans who, by a large margin, believe incumbent President Donald Trump will be re-elected, a national poll released on Thursday (Jan 30) showed.
Just 44 per cent of Democratic voters think their party's candidate will win the election, compared to 79 per cent of Republicans who say that Mr Trump will definitely or probably win, the Pew Research Centre found.
The survey comes ahead of the Iowa caucuses on Monday, as Democratic voters continue to grapple with the question of whether a liberal or moderate candidate stands a better chance against Mr Trump.
"An incumbent president is typically seen as favoured, and of course the Democratic candidate is undefined. But nonetheless, it is remarkable that there's some doubt among Democrats in particular that their party's candidate will win," said Pew senior researcher Alec Tyson.
"The Democratic pessimism is kind of striking at this point," said Mr Tyson, who added that Democrats' confidence could be shaken by the unexpected loss of their candidate Hillary Clinton in 2016. "Perhaps Democrats were feeling a little burned by what happened in 2016 and are entering this election either more realistic or more pessimistic."
Strikingly, although more voters overall favour a Democrat, just a quarter of them think a Democrat can win. Of the 12,600 Americans surveyed by Pew in the first half of January, 48 per cent say they will vote for a Democrat while 38 per cent want Mr Trump.
Mr Tyson noted however that the poll was nationwide and did not reflect state preferences. America's electoral college, under which each state is assigned a certain number of votes that ultimately decide the presidency, means that the candidate who wins the popular vote may not end up winning the presidency - as was the case in 2016.
The Pew survey had 26 per cent of registered Democrats naming former vice-president Joe Biden as their first choice. Next came Vermont senator Bernie Sanders with 21 per cent, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren with 16 per cent, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 7 per cent. Media mogul Michael Bloomberg, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar polled between 2 and 5 per cent each.
"The Democrats are having a tough time figuring out what it would mean to be electable against Trump," said Pew associate director of research Jocelyn Kiley.
Democratic voters were clearly split by age, race and ideology in their preference of candidate. Mr Sanders did much better among young people, and Mr Biden was better favoured by African-Americans while just 1 per cent of those who supported Mr Buttigieg were black.
Mr Biden was preferred by conservative and moderate Democrats, while Mr Sanders and Ms Warren had the largest share of liberal supporters.
"Liberals are making up a growing share of all Democratic voters, nearly half now compared to 27 per cent in 2000," said Pew political research director Carroll Doherty. "This is a party that's divided between liberals and non-liberals in a way that Republicans aren't."