Emergency Poll Freakout

There’s a new national survey from Monmouth. Joe Biden is third. He’s below 20%. There are two ways to look at this:

WTF!?!?

Or

Meh

Let’s see which makes more sense. We’ll begin with the 6.7 on the Political Richter Scale scenario.

Concern #1: Monmouth doesn’t usually hate Biden.

Last time they had him at 32%. Now 19%. The previous result was a couple percent below the RCP average from that part of June. If the same ratio holds, Biden might not be at 19% but he would be in the very low 20s.

A candidate in the high 20s/low 30s, as he’s been in the majority of surveys for the past couple months has a much better chance of getting nominated than someone where this indicates he is. 21% is shaky for a candidate with his name recognition and visibility. 28% is enough to win multiple early voting states.

Concern #2: There’s no immediate proximal cause

Yeah, Biden said a couple dumb things recently. He mixed up Keene, New Hampshire with Vermont. He decided to muse about what would have happened if Obama was assassinated while he was VP. Not exactly ideal. But hard to believe these were the verbal straws that finally snapped voters’ C6 vertebrae.

When Biden dropped right after the first debate, it was due to a particular bad performance, and the good showing of the person who contributed to his bad one. The sugar high wore off, he did better his next time, Kamala Harris did worse, and equilibrium was restored.

There’s less to point to here, which means it may be more legit. Also, he bled voters to both Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. If it was just Warren, you could buy into the narrative that she’s winning Democrats over week by week. Bernie is being Bernie. If voters aren’t having second thoughts about Biden, why swap right now?

Concern #3: He lost voters in many demographic groups

Monmouth showed a retreat among older voters (-9), and abandonment by younger voters (-15). Voters of color walked away (-15), as did white voters (-14). Less educated voters said sayonara (-17), while college grads wobbled (-8).

It’s likely easier to win back voters in a few categories than all. And he’s down to 6% among voters under 50 (though 33% for 50 and over.)

Concern #4: He’s consistently polling better nationally than in Iowa

Biden is at a disadvantage in the Hawkeye State. Democratic caucusers are more liberal and more white than most other places. Neither of these things help him. Warren’s organized campaign and sure to be impressive ground game are going to work against him too.

If he’s ahead by 10-15 points nationally, that’s possibly enough to get him an Iowa win, and/or enough cushion for him to rebound from losing in the first contest. If he’s basically even nationally, he’s got zero cushion at a time where he’d likely really need it.

His best early state is South Carolina, which goes fourth. Nevada is hard to project, and New Hampshire borders the states Warren and Sanders represent, on top of lacking the African American voters Biden is relying on.

Whatever #1: Emerson, Politico, and others care to differ

Emerson and Politico both have new surveys out. The coverage dates are a few days more current than Monmouth. Biden is at 31% and 33% respectively.

Moving beyond what Real Clear Politics shows, Morning Consult is at 33%, and HarrisX has Biden as high as 36%. Biden is still more likely to score over 30 than under 25.

FiveThirtyEight rates pollster quality. Monmouth is an A+. It’s not like we should ignore their result. But Fox News (A), SurveyUSA (A), CNN (A-), and Quinnipiac (A), have shown Biden doing just fine over the past couple of weeks.

Emerson is a B+, it’s not like they’re a bunch of hacks. There’s no correlation between pollster rating and how Biden does. His two most consistent skeptics are YouGov (B) and Change Research (C+). Maybe they caught something early that Monmouth has confirmed. We need more evidence though.

Whatever #2: It’s not like Monmouth has either Warren or Sanders way ahead of him or each other

There are a pile of surveys showing Biden out in front by 10, 15, sometimes even 20 points. There are zero polls showing someone else way ahead. This Monmouth survey is a perfect example of how it looks on the rare occasion where Biden trails nationally.

When his numbers are weaker, he loses a little here and a bit there, but there’s no one easy replacement for him. If Warren or Sanders were in the 30s in multiple surveys, we’d have a legit shift here.

Whatever #3: The share for the Top 3 is remarkably consistent

August 2019: 59%

June 2019: 61%

May 2019: 58%

April 2019: 53%

March 2019: 61%

January 2019: 53%

Yes, Biden dropped badly. He’s 9 points worse than any other Monmouth survey in 2019. But he’s not losing out to exciting new choices. It’s a reshuffling of the support between the Big Three. Bernie Sanders plummeted from 25% in March to 14% in June. Now he’s back to 20%.

Bernie has equal name recognition. He ran last time. If Sanders can get back voters who strayed without noticeably changing his script, so can Biden.

Whatever #4: Biden has shown remarkable polling resiliency

A number of pundits are convinced Biden’s wheels are going to come off at some point. Whenever it finally happens, be it next week, next month, or near the end of his second term when he’s 85, they’ll say “I told you so.”

Monmouth is on the DNC list of approved pollsters. The result fits the narrative perfectly. It will be at least a few weeks until we see their next results. If Biden’s overall position is similar to where it is now, I’d bet he’ll tick up a bit.

Why do I say this? We’ve seen the same with other pollsters. HarrisX is constantly surveying the field with nightly tracking polls. They aren’t as good as Monmouth, aren’t certified by the DNC, and don’t show up on Real Clear Politics.

Biden’s blended average from 8/15 to 8/18 was 26%, his lowest numbers since early in the month. From 8/23 to 8/26 it jumped to 36%. He didn’t suddenly recover. If you average the two results, you get 31%. Want to guess what his average with them over the past couple months is?

Conclusion:

Biden is not gaining on the field. He’s not going to run away with this. His negatives are up. Younger voters are very skeptical. Liberal voters are skeptical. Multiple pollsters think the race is closer than the averages indicate.

The press wants a horse race. Me too. Biden isn’t exciting. There’s a very real chance he’s too old to do this. I’m pretty damn sure he is. He’ll probably lose Iowa. Front runners lose Iowa a lot. If they also lose New Hampshire, they don’t get nominated.

Wish I could say this Monmouth poll really proved something. Instead, I still think we’ll need to wait until New Hampshire votes to see if Biden is going to hang on as the leader or not. It’s going to take more than one very credible poll to convince me he’s free falling.

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