Warren on the Brink

Please throw this back in my face if President Warren is inaugurated 14 months from now, but she’s in legit trouble at the moment. A new national survey from Quinnipiac is out. Before we continue, yes, I’m aware this is a single data point. I’m further aware Warren is the top second place choice of respondents. And I know most voters aren’t fully locked in yet. Also, nobody votes for more than two months.

She’s still got a big problem. First, Warren clocked in at 14%. Six weeks ago, her national average was almost double that. It’s a big drop. For all of Joe Biden’s slips and slides, this hasn’t happened to him. Next, Quinnipiac is normally very favorable to Warren. In four surveys taken between late September and late October, she scored 27, 29, 30, and 28 percent.

In those same polls, Pete Buttigieg recorded 7, 4, 8 and 10 percent. So the closest of these had her ahead of him by 18 points. Now he’s ahead 16-14.

First he caught (and seems to have passed) Warren in Iowa. Then he flagged her down in New Hampshire. Both bad, because she really needs to do well (and win at least one of the two) in both states that are demographically strong for her. Iowa Dems skew liberal, and New Hampshire borders the state she’s representing in the Senate.

It’s not like she’s going to haul down Biden in Nevada and/or South Carolina after struggling in the first two states. This was like a DEFCON-3. What prevented total panic was the realization that Mayor Pete is the very definition of unproven on the national stage, having a moment, and having not shown he could catch the Top 3 in states that include voters with pigment.

We’ve heard about polling from South Carolina that shows Buttigieg with zero or close to zero support among black voters. In the Twittersphere, and media echo chamber, this is a huge thing, and a reason to dismiss his chances. And it’s definitely not a good for him, no matter what.

South Carolina won’t decide the presidency though. It’s going to vote for Trump, regardless of who the Democrats nominate. And Quinnipiac has things to say about this. Here is who African Americans are supporting nationally right now:

Biden 43%

Sanders 11%

Warren 6%

Harris 5%

Buttigieg 4%

Booker 3%

Bennet 3%

Klobuchar 1%

Patrick 1%

Bloomberg 1%

There’s Biden, there’s Sanders amongst the youngest voters, and then there’s everyone else. Mayor Pete still has a noticeable gap. He’s at 17% amongst white voters. I’m not pretending he doesn’t have considerable work to do. But so does Warren. And that’s the issue in question here.

A month ago, she had advantages on him everywhere except for with white, moderate, high income voters who thought she was too liberal and Biden too much of a dotard. Buttigieg was a niche candidate with a chance to cause her problems in Iowa, not someone who could knock her out on Super Tuesday.

Now Warren has an edge on him only with upscale white liberals of all ages and Millennials who don’t want Bernie. That’s a base. It’s not a nominating coalition. Reminder: Before you jump on this just being one survey, remember it’s a pollster that has given her months of favorable results.

And there are several breakdowns that are more scary for her. Buttigieg is the first choice (by a 25%-23% margin over Biden) among voters without college degrees. Warren is at 8%.

Among Democrats, Warren actually leads the Mayor 16%-15%. But he’s ahead of her 21% to 8% among Dem-leaning Independents. This is a problem. First, if we’re talking about electability, the candidate who can’t appeal to this group has a giant red flag. Biden is at 22%, Sanders at 20%. It’s not that Buttigieg has locked this group down, it’s that Warren is repelling them. If the Mayor crumbles, someone like Klobuchar or Bloomberg is a more likely next stop.

I’ve saved the worst news for last. When Warren was climbing, a distinct trait was her over-performing with voters who were paying more attention. It proved predictive. The voters who were chilling would catch up in a matter of weeks or months, and eventually she was at the national polling summit.

Now, Biden is number one with attentive voters at 25%, Buttigieg is next at 20%. Warren follows at 16%. Absent a change in narrative, or Warren regaining momentum, you can argue the gap between her and the Mayor will actually grow once some of the less attentive voters lock in and pay more attention to him.

As per usual, Sanders trails among the attentive voters. I’ve argued for months this has more to do with who likes him than anything he’s doing. His base, primarily younger, and usually without tons of degrees, just doesn’t follow the nomination contest with the same vigor.

Maybe if and when they lock in, Warren can steal a few more supporters. But her math only works if she’s winning, or at least very close with voters who consider themselves somewhat liberal. Even in this disappointing survey, she has 33% of voters who consider themselves very liberal, well ahead of Bernie.

Biden leads among moderate/conservative voters at 33%, with Warren mired at 6%. Again, these voters are not available to her. Buttigieg has a respectable chunk (15%), but they’re going to Klobuchar, Bloomberg, or the man in the moon before Warren gets them.

Her issue is being at 20% (with Buttigieg at 26%) among somewhat liberal voters. This isn’t an insurmountable gap. She’s the second choice of 43% of Buttigieg voters of any ideology. He’s only the second choice for 13% of her voters.

Overall, Warren is the second choice of 20% of voters, Mayor Pete 10%. A couple things switch, and she’s back ahead of him. But it would have been unfathomable a few weeks ago that she’d need to worry about this. And there are still a ton of other options for voters who are worried about her electability if they sour on Buttigieg.

Any time a candidate is moving in the wrong direction, especially when there are a couple of months before they can win somewhere to gain momentum, it’s a risk. When a voter who liked you best downgrades you to next best, it’s just as easy to slide to their third or fourth choice as recover the top spot.

It’s instructive what happened to Buttigieg several months ago. He had a moment back in April, and was trailing only Biden and Sanders in a few polls. For a couple/few weeks, he was in the 10% range nationally, better than that in Iowa and New Hampshire.

Then Warren began eclipsing him with some of these somewhat liberal voters. He had the shooting of an unarmed African American in South Bend. Kamala Harris had her debate moment with Biden. Next thing you know, Buttigieg is at 4-5% nationally, high single digits in Iowa. It took him several months to get back to where he was on Mother’s Day. He just cleared his original high point in the last few weeks.

Warren doesn’t have six months to right herself the way he did. She’s still appealing to more than enough primary voters to build a winning coalition. But Harris and Cory Booker will tell her, being on the consideration list isn’t good enough. First, she needs to stop the slide and make sure she’s still in double-digits in mid-December.

Then, and I’m not sure how yet, Warren needs to flip the narrative that she’s an electoral risk, with a liability of a health care policy proposal, and begin regaining voters by early January. Her problem isn’t Buttigieg, as much of a direct threat as he is. It’s the idea that somewhat liberal voters will keep looking in his general direction, be it he, or an ideological doppelgänger.

Tick tock.

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