Earlier this week, a Monmouth poll caused quite a stir by showing, in effect, a three-way tie for the lead in the Democratic presidential race among Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders. We noted, however, that Monmouth surveyed fewer than 300 people and that its results appeared to be an outlier.
Five more recent polls confirm this assessment:
Quinnipiac: Biden 32, Warren 19, Sanders 15
Emerson: Biden 31, Sanders 24, Warren 15
The Hill: Biden 30, Sanders 17, Warren 14
USA Today: Biden 30, Warren 14, Sanders 12
Politico: Biden 33, Sanders 20, Warren 15
These results make much more sense than Monmouth’s. Since the last debates, nothing has happened that should have caused Biden to lose one-third of his supporters (from around 30 percent to around 20 percent). Sure, he has committed a few more gaffes. But gaffes are a constant with Biden. A few new ones, unless they are quite serious, don’t figure to shake up the race.
What strikes me about the latest polls is that, for all the talk about Elizabeth Warren surging (and she is doing better than I expected), she can’t shake Bernie Sanders for second place. If she could peel off a chunk of Sanders’s voters, she would be able to make a strong run at Biden, but that hasn’t happened so far.
It seems that the hard core, uncompromising socialists who have kept Sanders at between 15 and 20 percent in the polls aren’t budging. Not yet anyway.
They provide Sanders a nice floor, just as LGBT voters provide Pete Buttigieg a floor of about 5 percent. But Sanders’s ceiling may not be much higher than his floor.
Warren, I would think, has a considerably higher ceiling than Bernie. She is now clearly the leading female candidate, and that has to count for something among Democrats. She’s leftist enough to hope, eventually, to peel off some Sanders supporters (though she may already have peeled off most of his college educated ones, and may lack appeal to less educated Bernie backers). And if Biden falters, Warren figures to pick up more of his supporters than Sanders does.
Indeed, a poll by The Economist/You Gov showed that, whereas only 37 percent of Democrats are considering voting for Sanders, 51 percent are considering voting for Warren.
Another big plus for Warren is that she is doing well in Iowa. Biden seems like he’s been sent from central casting to lose the Iowa caucuses. He’s just the kind of front-running candidate Iowans like to set back.
If Warren is the one who takes him down — and I suspect she will be — it won’t be fatal for Biden. Front-runners who lose in Iowa often shake off that defeat and Biden, if he holds on to his support among African-Americans, is well positioned to do so. But victory in Iowa might finally enable Warren to pull clearly ahead of Sanders.
Here’s one more factor. Warren and Biden haven’t debated yet. Eventually, they will — very possibly as early as next month.
Warren will likely outdebate Biden, perhaps decisively. Of course, Sanders might do so, as well. But, again, voters who move away from Biden seem more likely to switch to Warren then to Sanders.
This is all conjecture. Here’s the only thing one can say with confidence right now: Biden is the clear front-runner, with Warren and Sanders basically tied for second place.