Polling Update: Mid-August Standings

Greetings! It’s time for a fresh look at the numbers. When we last did this, 10 days ago, there wasn’t evidence of a big post-debate bounce or collapse for anyone. The headlines are indicating Elizabeth Warren has advanced a bit further. How true is this? Has she separated herself from Bernie Sanders?

To see supporting data, check out:

Real Clear Politics


Reminder: The RCP list is more limited, but more closely mirrors the polls being considered by the DNC for debate qualification. Past history has shown some of the additional surveys listed by FiveThirtyEight can be predictive, though they can’t help candidates get to debate.

We have several individuals or groupings to look at:

The Leader: Joe Biden

31, 23, 31, 33, 32, 33, 34, 30, 33

These are his most recent recent results in each of the national polls listed by RCP (from newest to oldest.) Besides the one outlier, very consistent. There’s a little more variation when you look at the extra FiveThirtyEight listings, but his polling average is 30% and most of his results are within a few points of that. You can argue what the future holds, but the present is clear.

-2, -2, -3, 0, -2, N/A, 0, N/A, +3

That’s the change from the previous survey conducted by the same pollster. A very moderately negative trend. This tells us the second debate didn’t help him, though it didn’t wound him badly either. You can make a really good argument he’s reached at least a temporary ceiling in the low 30s.

National surveys are neat. Actual nominations are determined more by early state results. Biden is running behind his national numbers in Iowa and New Hampshire, though he’s still competitive. He’s running ahead in South Carolina. There is limited data in Nevada. If you average all of his early state surveys of the past few weeks, guess what? 30%.

The strategic implications of falling short in Iowa are a topic for another day. For now, he’s Mr. 30 Percent.

The Challengers: Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders

Stay tuned for a separate post in the next day or two. They’re clearly the #2 and #3 candidates in the polls right now. Warren is a little bit ahead in the survey averages. But there’s a lot more volatility than with Biden or Harris. Each candidate has several results at or around 20%. But they also are frequently closer to 10%.

More than any other contenders, it really matters which polls you’re paying attention to. Warren is beginning to advance again. If you match a poll against previous results from the same pollster, her numbers are usually up. Sanders may not be gaining, but he’s definitely not losing much ground.

Warren is stronger in Iowa. Bernie in New Hampshire. Because the interplay between their two candidacies is so impactful on others, and the numbers are so cloudy, it justifies more attention.

Waiting in Line: Kamala Harris

8, 8, 7, 9, 8, 7, 9, 9

Above are all of RCPs post-second debate results.

Below are the recent HarrisX daily tracking poll results:

8, 7, 7, 6, 6, 7, 7, 6, 7, 7, 7, 8, 7, 7, 7

Ever been on a plane that arrived a bit early and had to sit on the tarmac for 20 minutes waiting for a gate to open? Yeah, that’s her.

A lot of voters are willing to consider her. She reached 20% in many surveys right after the first debate. But right now, her top tier gate is occupied. And there’s no immediate indication it will be available soon, or guarantee that another plane won’t occupy it first.

In the Next Debates: Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Andrew Yang

Yang is not going to be the nominee. We care about his numbers because it indicates how many voters aren’t satisfied with more mainstream choices. The better he does, the more we’ll hear about universal basic income.

It’s an interesting topic, and though it’s easy to portray as part of an increasing attempt by Dem candidates to make Sweden look like a Reaganite paradise, Richard Nixon actually proposed a version of this almost fifty years ago.

His national survey range is 1 to 3 percent. His trendline is mostly flat with a very modest incline. Four percent in a recent Gravis Marketing New Hampshire survey is his peak.

Yang needs enough candidates to qualify for the September and/or October debates for the DNC to split them into two nights of 5 or 6 candidates so that he gets plenty of air time. If he uses that well, we may see him become an interesting variable. That’s several ifs. I’ll shut up about him for now.

Bias Alert: I really like that he doesn’t wear a tie, even when he wears suits and/or is at a debate.

Klobuchar is the discount version of Harris. Instead of waiting for a top tier spot, she’s hoping a second tier place becomes available. The Minnesota native has taken advantage of proximity to get a couple of qualifying Iowa polls in. But she’s still averaging only 3% there.

Nationally, she’s scored at least 1% in every post-debate survey shown by RCP. Only 7 other candidates can say this. She’s hit 2% twice. Pending further developments elsewhere in the field, we can set Klobuchar aside for now.

We’ve established Harris is next in line to truly contend. Klobuchar is the “break glass in case of danger” option. In between are the trio of Buttigieg, Beto, and Booker.

They combine for 10% of total support. Half belonging to Buttigieg. When Mayor Pete was at his temporary peak, he had 10% by himself. So did Beto after his launch. Booker never quite got there, but was in the upper single digits in several polls after his announcement.

Booker is the high-end version of Julian Castro. He does well in a debate, gets some extra attention and extra donors. But it doesn’t translate noticeably to poll results. Of the last 50 national surveys listed on RCP, he received one, two, or three percent in 49 of them (the exception was a zero.) There’s no discernible pattern.

Some polls have voters list their backup choice. He doesn’t score well there either. He may have moved from being a voter’s sixth choice to third or fourth choice, but that’s not going to appear anywhere tangible right now.

When Mayor Pete went up, Beto was on his way down. O’Rourke isn’t necessarily the recipient of Buttigieg’s late May slide, but they do seem to move in opposite directions. Both are mostly stable right now. However, Beto’s trendline is better. Comparing each of his recent RCP polls to their predecessors (most recent on the left):

0, +3, +1, 0, 0, N/A, +1, N/A, 0

It’s not like there’s a Beto Boom, but some are improvements, and none are declines. He didn’t debate well. So if he can hold serve or improve while fumbling through the first couple debates, and will have a less crowded stage next time, there’s room to make a run.

He’s also refocusing his campaign in the wake of the El Paso shooting to focus more on gun control, and directly confronting Donald Trump. I’m planning a separate post on this, but for the first time since his launch, it appears Beto has a plan to differentiate himself from the field.

Conversely, Buttigieg’s numbers are pointing the wrong way, if mildly. Here’s his comparison set:

-2, -1, -1, -1, -1, N/A, +1, N/A, +1

Mayor Pete has the advantage of running ahead of his national numbers in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He’s raised more money than Beto and Booker combined. He’s still the best bet of the three. But this isn’t late April anymore. He’s very much part of this pack, not a top tier contender. Buttigieg will need to broaden his base or become the top choice of a given demographic to have a shot.

Working on Qualifying: Tom Steyer, Julian Castro, Tulsi Gabbard, Kirsten Gillibrand, Marianne Williamson

Williamson probably won’t make it to the debates. But it’s not definite. She gets a 2% survey every once in a while. She’ll likely reach the 130,000 donor requirement. We’ll come back to her if it looks like she’s close to qualifiying.

Gillibrand is hanging by a thread. One qualifying poll. No particular advantage in any early state. Still gets 0% sometimes, and has a lower RCP average than Williamson. She will likely reach the donor goal by the October debate if not sooner. As I type this, I’m wondering why she’s not in the eliminated group below. Nothing to see here yet.

Gabbard already has the donors. She still needs three more qualifying polls. She’s got a lot of stage presence. If she qualifies for future debates, she’ll be the 11th or 12th in. Which would guarantee multiple nights and getting significant additional exposure.

Among candidates on her level, she has the highest variance in poll numbers. In the post-debate RCP batch, Gabbard has a 0%, but also a 3%.

Castro just needs one more qualifying survey. He’s got the donors. Steyer is going to be the 10th qualifier, so like with Gabbard, if Castro makes it, he’ll guarantee splitting the debates into multiple nights. His previous appearances have gone well, and he usually gets a (very) mini-post debate boost.

He is doing better than before the first debate. Now he almost always at least registers, and gets a 2% for each 0%. Yes, it’s ridiculous to call this progress. However, more than ten candidates would gladly swap with him.

Like Yang, Steyer won’t be the nominee. But he’s going to qualify for the debates any day now. He won’t drop out because he’s out of money or needs to protect his nonexistent seat in congress. His heavy advertising in early voting states is going to influence the overall narrative.

He’s already got a 4% result in New Hampshire. A third of Granite State voters are Independents. I’ll be watching his numbers over the next few weeks. The better he and Yang do there, the less space there is for the Buttigieg, Beto, Booker group.

Team Rounding Error: Tim Ryan, Michael Bennet, Steve Bullock, John Delaney, Bill deBlasio, Jay Inslee, Seth Moulton, Joe Sestak, Wayne Messam

You will not see any of these individuals in the September or October debates. None have reached 2% in a single qualifying poll. None have reached 2% in any survey of any kind listed by FiveThirtyEight over the past few weeks. Like not even quirky pollsters surveying Oklahoma. Nada.

Ok. Correction. Jay Inslee pulled 6%. In Washington. The state he’s governed for most of a decade. The exception that proves the rule as they say.

Only Inslee is somewhere between 65,000 and the necessary 130,000 donors for qualification. They won’t all drop out before Iowa. Some are running inexpensive campaigns. It’s not like Joe Sestak has anything else to do at the moment. John Delaney has already pissed away more than a year and many millions of dollars.

I can’t promise never to speak of these individuals again, but for the purposes of polling, they pretty much don’t exist. It’s rare to find a survey where the whole group combines for more support than undecided.

If you made it all the way to the end of this, I thank you for your dedication and commend your patience. Can’t wait for the field to thin out a bit.

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