You don’t have to look too deeply at the evidence to recognize that the indestructible Uncle Joe Biden has once again returned from a political near-death experience and is again a viable presidential candidate. On September 6, according to RealClearPolitics national polling averages, Biden was in first place with 29.8 percent of the vote, with Elizabeth Warren just ahead of Bernie Sanders for second place at 18 percent. Biden hasn’t returned to first place, but after a free fall in his polling averages following a fourth-place finish in Iowa and a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire, he’s stabilized in second place behind Sanders; he’s now pretty much in the same position Warren was in September.
That’s also true in a broader, more strategic sense. I picked that September date as a benchmark because it represented the final day of a YouGov/FairVote ranked-choice poll that simulated how the Democratic race might evolve as lesser candidates dropped out, by asking respondents to name secondary preferences in order instead of the usual process of naming just one. That survey showed that Biden was a bit more vulnerable than one might have expected the then-front-runner to be: As first Pete Buttigieg, and then Kamala Harris, and then Bernie Sanders were eliminated from the running in “rounds” of ranked-choice calculations, Biden was ultimately pitted against Warren — who led him 53/47.
YouGov/FairVote repeated the experiment earlier this week. This time the candidates eliminated by “rounds” of ranked choices were, in order, Gabbard, Steyer, Klobuchar, Warren, Buttigieg, and finally Bloomberg, leaving Sanders and (again) Biden as the finalists. Sanders led Biden in final preferences 51/49. It’s interesting that Biden was actually tied with Bloomberg in terms of first-place preferences, but then croaked the billionaire easily when Buttigieg and Warren were taken out of the picture. Bloomberg’s removal put Biden very close to Bernie in the final accounting.
Could this all be prophetic? Perhaps. If Bernie keeps a strong lead on and immediately after Super Tuesday but isn’t rapidly approaching a majority of delegates, and Biden does better than Bloomberg, you could see the former veep begin to consolidate the anti-Sanders vote, just as he does in the ranked-choice experiment. But that will depend on imponderables like Bloomberg’s endless resources and whether candidates doing poorly decide to stay on primary ballots hoping for some miracle.
Biden’s resurgence has been just short of the miraculous, however (though no more so than, say, John McCain’s in the 2008 GOP primaries after poor fundraising and big cutbacks in spending led a lot of observers to count him out). He’s been lucky, of course. Warren’s steady decline in support, Buttigieg’s inability to win minority voters, and Bloomberg’s two terrible debate performances have all contributed to Uncle Joe’s relative buoyancy. It also helped that Kamala Harris and Cory Booker were not around to sap Biden’s black support during his winter of discontent. If he ultimately wins the nomination, we’ll probably all forget how often his political obituaries were written.