vision 2020

Polls: Warren Won the Debates (But Debates Don’t Matter Much)

LOL, debates don’t matter? Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Elizabeth Warren won the second Democratic debate by a landslide — but Joe Biden is still leading the 2020 primary by a mile.

So says the first wave of polls following last week’s oratorical showdown in Detroit.

A Politico/Morning Consult survey found 44 percent of Democratic primary voters deemed Warren’s debate performance “excellent.” No other candidate received accolades nearly so broad (Warren’s closest competitors, Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden, were deemed excellent by a mere 32 and 27 percent of respondents, respectively). Quinnipiac found much the same: In the university’s poll, 28 percent of Democrats who watched the debates said Warren had done “the best job,” compared to 15 percent for Biden, and 8 percent for Sanders. A HuffPost/YouGov survey, meanwhile, showed Warren leaving 50 percent of debate-watchers with a more favorable opinion of her, an improvement that dwarfs those engineered by her rivals:

But debate trophies are no substitute for votes. And for the moment, it’s not clear whether Warren’s impressive performance won a significant number of converts into her camp. Quinnipiac does have the Massachusetts senator’s support rising by six points to 21 percent, enough to give her a firm grip on second place. But Warren gained those votes largely from a sinking Kamala Harris, whose support fell by five points to 7 percent following the debates. Biden’s support in the Q-poll is down a mere two points and still sits at a commanding 32 percent overall. Meanwhile, Politico/Morning Consult has Warren gaining just two points to 15 percent, which leaves her three points behind Sanders, and 17 points behind Biden, whose level of support was unchanged from the previous Politico survey. Finally, the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll — taken entirely after the second debate — actually shows Warren losing support since her showing in Detroit. In that survey, she boasts just 9 percent support, compared to Sanders’s 18 (which, granted, may tell one more about the quality of the Ipsos poll than the significance of Warren’s performance, but still).

The absence of an unambiguous Warren surge seems to be rooted in the combination of Democratic voters’ overriding concern with defeating Trump, and the belief that an old white man would give their party its best chance of doing so. In the Reuters poll, electability was a top priority for Democratic voters, and Biden and Sanders were widely considered the safest bets to take on Trump. That comports with Quinnipiac’s results, which suggest that Democratic voters do not see “strength in debates” as an important component of electability:

And that position isn’t crazy: Hillary Clinton won her 2016 debates with Donald Trump (per contemporaneous polling) by a wide margin. But that wasn’t enough to win a majority of votes in the arbitrary states where it counted.

All this said, Warren’s “post-debate bump” looks massive compared to Cory Booker’s. The New Jersey senator won broad acclaim for his showing last week, and yet his total support remains just above zero percent in both national polls and early states.

The fact that Booker’s viral takedowns of Biden won him no converts — while Uncle Joe’s decision to close out the debate by saying his own name and then series of random numbers cost him approximately no support — suggests that Warren will need more than superlative debate performances to catch the Democratic front-runner.

Polls: Warren Won the Debate (But Debates Don’t Matter Much)