For a minute there, it looked like Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 campaign would burst into flames five feet above its launchpad. The senator began her presidential bid by attempting to nullify one of her conspicuous liabilities — only to amplify that liability, amuse conservatives, and alienate indigenous groups. Within months, her finance director had quit, and her top left-wing rival had out fundraised her by an order of magnitude. Then, Joe Biden made his candidacy official, and promptly opened up a 30-point lead over the Massachusetts senator.
Nevertheless, she persisted. And with a little over four months before Iowa gets caucusing, Warren’s prospects have radically changed. As of this writing, betting markets now consider her by far the most likely candidate to win the Democratic nomination. For months now, each wave of new polling has shown her star steadily rising both nationally and in early primary states. And the latest batch of surveys is no exception.
A national Quinnipiac poll released Tuesday finds Warren’s support nationally climbing from 19 percent in August to 27 percent today — a large enough gain to put her ahead of Biden in that survey for the first time ever. Meanwhile, a new UC Berkeley/Los Angeles Times poll of the California primary suggests Warren has gained 11 points in the Golden State since June, giving her a commanding lead over the rest of the field. Meanwhile, the most recent data from the early states of Iowa and New Hampshire comport with this general trend.
But the best news for Warren in these polls may lay beneath the headline data. Here are five quick takeaways from the last week of polling that bode well for Warren’s odds of facing Trump next November:
1) Biden is bending, and just might break.
If you only looked at the national polling averages, Uncle Joe would appear to be in very solid shape. RealClearPolitics’s poll of polls has Biden boasting 29 percent support, which is just a tiny shade beneath where he’s typically been over the past three months; in other words, the national data shows no steep or uniform decline in Biden’s standing.
But in the early voting states — where each campaign’s resources have been concentrated — the picture looks much dimmer for the former vice-president. At the start of July, Biden’s average support in Iowa was 26 percent; today, it’s just 20. Warren now leads the field in the Hawkeye State by nearly three points in RCP’s polling average. And surveys from New Hampshire tell a similar story: As of mid-July, Biden was leading Warren there by an average of 22 points; now, he leads by an average of three. And Monmouth University poll released this week has Warren ahead of him by two.
Meanwhile, the national landscape may be in the process of converging on Iowa and New Hampshire’s: In Quinnipiac’s newly released national poll, Biden’s support is 7 percent lower than it was in the same survey one month ago. Other pollsters have documented declines in the percentage of Biden supporters who are “enthusiastic” about their candidate. Finally, there are some non-empirical reasons to think the former vice president’s standing will continue to erode. Thus far, Biden has benefited from the perception that he would be a uniquely “electable” nominee. But the increasingly conspicuous decline in his verbal skills — combined with the fact that the Democrats’ newly launched impeachment push is sure to call attention to his son Hunter’s influence-peddling (and Trump’s ostensibly, wildly false allegation that Biden corruptly intervened to fire a Ukranian prosecutor who was looking into Hunter’s company) — could erode Biden’s claim to being the Democrats’ “safe” option.
2) Warren’s base of support appears to be diversifying.
For most of the campaign, one of Warren’s apparent weaknesses was her coalition’s demographic homogeneity: She commanded the adoration of college-educated whites, but piddling levels of support among most other parts of the Democratic coalition.
This fact lent itself to two competing interpretations:
1) Something about Warren’s persona or program made her a niche candidate, who was already near her ceiling of support (there being only so many white professionals in blue America) and would thus fade away.
2) College-educated whites were more likely than other Democrats to be paying close attention to the primary race. Thus, Warren’s poor showing with nonwhite, and non-college-educated voters merely reflected the fact that her name was not as widely recognized as Joe Biden’s or Bernie Sanders’s. And if this were the case, then her strong support among college-educated whites might actually be a leading indicator of her appeal to the broader Democratic coalition: Once other groups began tuning in to this year’s race, they too would see the same things that had made “Patagonia Democrats” swoon.
While there may be an element of truth to No. 1 (Warren does appear to be especially appealing to Democrats who share her skin tone and academic pedigree), recent polling data has made the second look increasingly plausible. Quinnipiac’s new national poll show’s Warren’s coalition diversifying in both racial and class terms. In fact, the Q-poll has Warren beating Biden among white voters without a college degree by a remarkable 37 to 20 percent margin.
The Los Angeles Times poll of California tells a similar story. After performing poorly with non-college whites in the same poll back in June, Warren now claims 29 percent of the demographic’s vote, while Sanders and Biden respectively boast 20 and 18 percent. And although Biden still leads the field with 40 percent support among African-American voters, Warren now has 24 percent support among that key demographic in California, putting her in second with that constituency.
But there’s even more direct evidence that Warren’s real base isn’t college-educated white voters, so much as it is voters who are paying attention: In the progressive think-tank Data For Progress’s polling of the 2020 primary, Warren consistently performs best among voters express a high level of interest in the news — including non-college-educated and non-white news junkies.
3) Harris 2020 (almost certainly) isn’t happening.
For a brief period in early July, Kamala Harris led both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in national polls. The California senator also boasted considerable support among professional Democrats and liberal donors. Many observers expected her to emerge as Biden’s main rival. But she’s proven to be the 2020 version of Scott Walker — a candidate with strong Establishment support who makes a lot of sense on paper, but never made much headway with actual voters. Quinnipiac now pegs Harris’s support at a mere 3 percent; her average in national polls is 5 percent. Critically, her numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire are almost identical to her national figures. Unless she orchestrates an improbable comeback in one of those early states, Harris could be forced to euthanize her campaign by early March, leaving Warren the only viable option for Democrats who wish to elect a female president.
4) Warren is acceptable to a broader range of Democratic voters than any of her rivals.
Both the Quinnipiac national poll, and Los Angeles Times California survey, show Warren with a higher favorability rating among Democratic voters than Biden or Sanders. And the Times finds that nearly 70 percent of California Democrats rank Warren as their first or second choice. Those results are consistent with a Data For Progress/Civiqs national poll released earlier this month, which showed Warren as the most popular second choice among Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg, and Harris voters. And several other surveys have produced similar findings. This obviously bodes well for Warren if and when the Democratic field narrows, and suggests that a contested convention, she may have a strong claim to being a “unity” figure.
5) Sanders is stagnating.
Bernie Sanders’s campaign is very much alive. The Vermont senator’s has amassed enviable donor and volunteer networks, and has led in multiple recent polls of early primary states. Still, Sanders’s support has been stagnant nationally for months now, while his average share of the vote in Iowa has fallen from 19 percent in July to 12 percent today. Given that the senator is already well-known among Democratic primary voters, it is not clear how much room he has to grow. Sanders has made no secret of the fact that he favors Warren over his other primary rivals. So, it is at least possible to imagine a scenario in which Sanders’s campaign runs out of steam by next April, and then throws its considerable resources behind Warren.
Of course, Warren’s nomination remains far from a sure thing. Biden’s numbers are still formidable. Sanders is still within striking distance. And it’s still early. But at this point, there’s a strong case that Warren is the candidate you’d want to be.