Polls gone wild

They say it’s still too early to put much stock in polling of the Democratic presidential field. That’s probably true.

Another reason not to put much stock in these polls is that they are all over the place.

Two post-debate polls show that Joe Biden has lost nearly all of early lead and that Bernie Sanders has also faded. The beneficiaries are two female candidates — Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren — but the two polls disagree as to which of them has closed in on Biden the most.

Quinnipiac has Biden at 22 percent, Harris at 20 percent, and Warren and Sanders at 14 and 13 percent, respectively. Economist/YouGov shows Biden with 23 percent support. Warren is second, just 4 points behind. Then comes Harris at 15 percent. Sanders is a distant fourth with 9 percent, just 1 point ahead of Pete Buttigieg.

However, an ABC News/Washington Post survey paints an entirely different picture. It depicts a race that hasn’t shifted substantially as a result of the debates.

Biden, at 30 percent, holds a healthy lead over second-place Sanders at 19 percent. Harris and Warren stand at 13 and 12 percent, respectively. Fifth-place Buttigieg is almost out of sight. He commands only 4 percent backing.

How to explain the differing results? I can’t. The Post surveyed both Democrats and independents who lean Democratic, but so did Quinnipiac (I’m not sure about YouGov). The Post began its survey a little earlier than the other two outfits, but all three polls were taken post-debates.

I’m inclined to discount the Post’s poll. The notion that the debate had so little short-term impact on the state of the race seems implausible to me.

However, I’m not convinced that Biden is only fractionally ahead of his closest rivals at this point. The notion that one exchange, in which Biden came out the loser but was not caught tongue-tied and did not commit any gaffe, washed away virtually his entire lead also seems implausible.

Perhaps the most persuasive picture of where things stand now comes from a Morning Consult poll. It shows Biden at 28 percent, down 7 points from before the debate. The other three serious contenders are lumped together with 14-18 percent support. The rank order is Sanders, Harris, Warren.

The key point, though, is the one I made at the beginning. At this early date, we shouldn’t put much stock in any of these polls.

Nonetheless, I think it’s fair to conclude that we’re probably looking at a four horse race. The likelihood that the Democratic nominee won’t come from the pack of Biden, Harris, Warren, or Sanders seems extremely small. My sense, for what little it’s worth, is that Sanders’s prospects are considerably less favorable than those of the other three.

Former flavor of the week Pete Buttigieg never looked like he could capture the nomination. Now it seems almost certain that he won’t.

Buttigieg and the rest of the trailing field should be viewed as auditioning for the vice presidential nomination. Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and Cory Booker strike me as most likely among this group to win that sweepstakes, depending on whether the eventual nominee is looking for a woman, a Latino, or a Black.

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