The Democratic front-runner is a democratic socialist, according to a new poll from CNN.
In a survey taken late last week, the network found Bernie Sanders leading the Democratic 2020 field nationally for the first time this cycle, as both he and Joe Biden pulled away from the pack. As of early December, CNN had Biden besting Sanders by a margin of 26 to 20 percent, with Elizabeth Warren in third at 16 percent. Since then, Sanders has jumped seven points, while both Biden and Warren ticked down two. The Vermont senator’s 27 to 24 advantage over Biden is small enough to be within the poll’s margin of error. But Sanders’s 13-point lead over Warren is the largest he’s posted in a major poll since April of last year.
And those headline numbers may not even be the best news that CNN had for the Sanders campaign Wednesday morning. In 2016, the senator’s improbably potent presidential run was done in by the Vermonter’s limited appeal among nonwhite voters. But there was always reason to suspect that this had less to do with that (vast, heterogenous) demographic’s antipathy for Sanders than it did with its affection for Hillary Clinton. Now, according to CNN, Sanders is statistically tied with Biden among voters of color, claiming 30 percent support among them to Biden’s 27.
Of course, all of these findings should be taken with several grains of salt. If it is true that Sanders has erased Biden’s advantage with nonwhite voters, then the shape of the race has fundamentally changed. Until now, there’s been a presumption that any Biden challenger would need to compensate for sizable losses in overwhelmingly nonwhite southern primaries by running up the score in the vice-president’s weaker regions. If that logic no longer holds, victories in Iowa and New Hampshire could provide Sanders with a durable claim to front-runner status. On the other hand, the fact that both CNN’s headline numbers — and its results among nonwhite voters — are significantly out of step with other polls suggest that we may simply be looking at a flawed survey. For the moment, RealClearPolitics’ average of national polls gives Biden a six-point lead over Sanders.
And even if CNN’s poll is accurate, Sanders would still have his work cut for him. If the primary became a two-way race, it is unclear exactly where the other candidates’ supporters would land. But 57 percent of the CNN poll’s respondents said that nominating a candidate who can beat Trump is more important than nominating one who agrees with them on the issues — and 45 percent named Biden as the most electable candidate, while just 24 percent said the same of Sanders. Taken together, these results suggest that Biden has room to grow his support if he can retain his aura of electability as the field narrows.
That said, the poll offers Sanders supporters some cause for optimism about the potential for expanding the senator’s base. While a few polls have found Sanders’s attracting a slightly higher percentage of intraparty detractors than other Democratic candidates, CNN’s finds that more Democratic voters would be “enthusiastic or satisfied” with a Sanders nomination than with the nomination of any other 2020 candidate.
Meanwhile, the survey gives Sanders a comfortable seven-point lead over Trump in a hypothetical general election, which is smaller than Biden’s advantage, but ostensibly large enough to quell fears about the senator’s electability — for now, anyway. Should Sanders emerge from Iowa as the Democratic front-runner, there is every reason to expect that the rest of the field would flood the airwaves win warnings about the perils of nominating a socialist (with Michael Bloomberg picking up a large share of the tab). How the senator would hold up on under such a barrage is anybody’s guess.
Biden remains a formidable front-runner, but the path to “political revolution” in 2020 has never looked more plausible than it does today.