Rumors of Biden’s Demise Were Greatly Exaggerated

Remember how Kamala Harris impaled Joe Biden in the debate? Remember how his poll numbers dropped in the following few days? Don’t look now, but the most recent numbers show Biden is exactly where he was before any of that happened.

Let’s track his results through a few major polls over the past couple months. The Real Clear Politics list gives us breadcrumbs. In each case we’ll show the survey taken closest to the first debate, the poll(s) taken in the aftermath, and the most recent.


Pre Debate (6/6-6/10): 30% (+11 over Sanders)

Post Debate (6/28-7/1): 22% (+2 over Harris)

Most Recent (7/25-7/28): 34% (+19 over Warren)

That’s right. Biden is stronger with Quinnipiac than before the debate, and his margin is almost twice as wide. You’ll also notice the second place candidate was different in each of the three surveys.

Continue reading “Rumors of Biden’s Demise Were Greatly Exaggerated”

Almost Everyone Hates Almost Everyone

We always hear how this is a divided country. Given that we’ve had the same two major political parties for 150+ years and the whole blue state, red state thing, it feels like that’s a binary thing. This side or that. Are you Fox News or MSNBC?

But the Democratic Party is divided between the AOC wing and the traditionalists. The GOP was captured by Trump, but in doing so, many Republicans fled. Does that mean we’re split in three? AOCistan, Trumpland, and some squishy middle, despised by each side?

Perhaps, though I think it’s more messy than that. Regardless of how we’re split, a corollary—you can argue whether it’s cause or effect—is most politicians with a lot of national recognition are despised.

The 2016 election was decided by the voters who didn’t like Trump or Clinton. Both had popularity ratings below their share of the vote. Because the election hinged on less than 100,000 votes, spread between Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, a more granular view shows it was decided by voters who strongly disliked/hated the two.

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Polls Across America: Southern Comfort

At the exact moment I’m typing this, things are looking up for Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. He may face plant again in the next debate, but he’s in first place in every poll taken in the past week that FiveThirtyEight has posted. And they post a lot more polls than Real Clear Politics does.

We’re talking about 20ish polls taken in a whole lot of different places. From California to New Hampshire. Texas to Iowa. Not all leads are the same. Several of these are within the margin of error. While it’s better to lead by 10 than trail, that’s not a safe lead more than half a year before anyone votes.

Some of his margins are more comfortable though.

Alabama +21

Mississippi +26

Missouri +28

South Carolina +22

He’s up 16 in Georgia. Fifteen in Tennessee. Leads native son Beto O’Rourke by 10 in Texas. We don’t have recent numbers in Florida. If you take the June numbers, average them, and round down for his post-debate hit, Biden is +20ish.

There’s a clear trend here. If it’s a southern or Civil War Era border state, Biden does well. If Donald Trump won very easily, Biden does well. These states combine everything that works for him.

White Democrats are disproportionately older. They’re more conservative than their West Coast or Northeast brethren. Not only are Deep South states heavily African American, but black voters are favoring him by a wider margin than elsewhere in the country. Check out these numbers from Mississippi. Before the debate, Biden led Kamala Harris by a 10:1 ratio.

After the debate, a different pollster has Biden at 47% overall instead of 50%. Keeping in mind that there’s virtually no such thing as a white Democrat in Mississippi—only a slight exaggeration—poll samples are usually 75% black, this means Biden didn’t lose anywhere near as much ground with African American voters as he did in blue states.

Time for a reminder. Not all black voters are the same. Not even close. Just because 90% of African Americans vote for the Democratic candidate every four years does not mean this is a monolithic voting block in primaries.

Even when it seems a given candidate is widely favored, it’s still more complicated than it looks. Hillary Clinton was way more popular than Bernie Sanders in 2016. Except among voters under 30. In that case, age was more predictive than race.

In South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi, Clinton destroyed Sanders. She won over 80% of black voters in those primary states. But in Michigan, Bernie’s upset (he was trailing by 20 points in last minute polling) was driven in part by African American voters in the Detroit area who did not favor Hillary by the same margins as in the South.

Kamala has already closed the gap in places like California. If she gets the best of Biden again next week, she’ll pick up more ground. But we should not assume a voter in Oakland will act like a voter in the Delta, just because they classify themselves the same way on their 2020 Census form. And younger voters of all ethnicities are still feeling the Bern.

Biden isn’t guaranteed to retain his current support all the way until most of these states vote in March. If he finishes fifth in Iowa, he’s done. However, it’s going to take a lot more than another shabby debate to knock him off his pedestal in Mississippi, Missouri, et al.

Correlation Sometimes is Causation

Pick a poll. Any poll at all. Look at the underlying data on Bernie Sanders. You’ll notice four things every time:

His voters are younger. Much younger.

His voters make less money

His voters are the least likely to have a college degree

His voters are the least likely to say they’re following the primary campaign closely

Yes, his voters are also usually more liberal/progressive than moderate/centrist. That’s true of several other candidates too. There isn’t much difference between his splits and Elizabeth Warren’s on ideology. Sometimes Kamala Harris has similar numbers.

He’s doing a little better with male voters, but not noticeably or consistently. Warren is often several points stronger with women. Bernie has no such gap. Unlike 2016, where Sanders consistently trailed Hillary Clinton among non-white voters, particularly African Americans, he’s now racially neutral. While he’s no Biden, in a few southern states, Bernie is doing better with black voters than Harris.

We’re left with the above four traits. It’s easy to create a narrative. In the last primary season, Sanders grabbed 43.1% of the vote. He’s now polling at 15% nationally. There aren’t many individual states where his average result is much higher.

So two thirds of his 2016 voters are now elsewhere, and those who remain aren’t paying attention. Either these supporters will abandon him when they begin following the contest, like his others did, or they’re going to mindlessly vote for him.

Continue reading “Correlation Sometimes is Causation”

Polls Across America: Kamala’s House?

California is the biggest prize on Super Tuesday. Any Kamala Harris, Democratic Party Presidential Nominee scenario runs through her home state. Before her debate triumph, it was clear she’d need to gain nationwide to have a chance at home.

Now, with her leveling up, but Joe Biden still leading overall, we have a few post-debate Golden State polls to help us figure out how much more ground she needs to cover. As Nate Silver pointed out this week, Harris doesn’t lead in any of the first four states. If she does well, but doesn’t win any, that would roughly mirror her current position.

Would that suffice?

Continue reading “Polls Across America: Kamala’s House?”

Follow the Money (Part 1: How We Got Here)

Campaign finance is forever changed. Ever since an underdog candidate from Vermont turned his back on big donors who wouldn’t have supported him anyway and proved you could raise even more in small donations from random citizens.

Though he didn’t get the nomination, within two years, he was the beacon Democrats followed while winning back the House in a resounding midterm victory. As you suspected, we’re talking about Howard Dean.

It looks like we’re most of the way through a transition from campaign finance that traditionally relied on larger donors and/or public funding to a model that uses big money donors as an accessory, not a measure of viability, while completely eschewing the public option. Here’s how we got here:

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Debate Pre-Preview: The Reckoning

After an overly drawn out draw procedure on CNN, we now have the matchups for Debate 2.0:

Biden v. Harris (Night 2)

This is the main event. Also very good news for the people at CNN in charge of booking ads. Over the past 7-10 days, Kamala Harris’s polling bounce has begun fading. Joe Biden’s decline first slowed and is now reversing. His national average, while lower than pre-debate, is still double that of his main competitors.

In various interviews, Biden said he was surprised Harris attacked him in such a manner. This is either disingenuous on his part, or malpractice by his campaign team to have let him believe he would be safe. This shaky excuse is only good for one usage. Biden now has almost two weeks to prepare for the rematch.

We shouldn’t be surprised he was off. Besides being 76, and having lost a step or three from his prime, Biden hadn’t participated in a debate since fall 2012, and a multi-candidate scrum since late 2007.

But he better be ready this time. It won’t take much. As a leading candidate, getting more time than many others, he’s going to speak for ten minutes max. One 30 second properly rehearsed and delivered bit, and the first debate never happened.

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What Matters in Iowa (Part 3–Best Practices)

Hi! If you’re just joining our journey to the center of the Iowa caucus, please consider reading the first piece—an overview, and the second, which covers the positive and negative signs that indicate how a candidate will do on Caucus Day.

Our next project is examining ways candidates can improve their standing. How they can be their best Iowa selves. For each of the options below, we’ll see who is best poised to take advantage, who must take advantage, and who isn’t a fit. At the end, we’ll add up the results for an extremely unscientific score.

NOTE: We aren’t looking at *every* candidate. Twelfth place in the Real Clear Politics national polling average is 0.8%. In Iowa, that’s 0.7%. If someone isn’t at that level in either average, they don’t require analysis. Except Steve Bullock, outgoing Governor of Montana. He has the only two Iowa endorsements on the FiveThirtyEight tracking list.

The Full Grassley

If a 10-year-old asks you what this is, shockingly, it’s safe to tell her. It merely refers to Senator Chuck Grassley’s annual habit of visiting each of Iowa’s 99 counties.

Continue reading “What Matters in Iowa (Part 3–Best Practices)”

When Polls Collide: Is Mayor Pete Ahead or Fifth in Iowa?

25%, 1st Place

10%, 5th Place

6%, 5th Place

Average: 13.7%, 4th Place

Hmmmmmm. Does the truth really lie somewhere in between the data points? Or are one of the extremes more on target?

Polling averages exist for a good reason. Surveys have a margin of error. It’s too easy to read too much into one result. The standard measure is the Real Clear Politics average. If you read a piece about poll numbers, and an average is referenced, it’s likely theirs. Standards are good too. Common frames of reference make writing a piece like this easier.

RCP doesn’t count every poll though. They grab all the most-respected surveys and some of the others. There’s good overlap with the polls certified by the DNC to count toward debate qualification. FiveThirtyEight publishes a wider range of polling. If they don’t list it, it doesn’t exist. They also have a poll-rating system.

Outlier results are more common from lower-rated providers, but that doesn’t mean they’re always wrong. Sometimes they’re correct, but in a different way than they thought. AKA, two wrongs can indicate a right.

Let’s visit 2016. Hillary. The Bern. A razor thin Iowa result. South Carolina extinguishing Bernie’s fire. The final RCP average in Iowa was very accurate. Clinton led by 4%, but Martin O’Malley held 4.3%. With the 15% viability rule—a candidate needs to reach 15% at each individual caucus location in order to count—O’Malley’s support was guaranteed to get redistributed. Bernie got most of it and the final result was an effective tie.

Score one for the averages. The road to get there was a bit more fraught. Outliers abounded. Both Gravis Marketing and the Loras College poll frequently showed Sanders trailing Clinton by 20 or 30 points, even when many other surveys had them within single digits.

Two weeks ahead of the caucus, CNN showed Bernie up by 8. Loras had Hillary at +29. These pollsters were viewing two alternative universes. Gravis began showing a tighter contest, with their final survey a few days ahead of the vote recording Clinton +11.

Gravis was wrong. Loras was wrong. Embarrassingly so. Or were they?

Continue reading “When Polls Collide: Is Mayor Pete Ahead or Fifth in Iowa?”

The Generation Chasm







The median American is 37.7 years old. The median voter is 52. The above numbers are ages. They belong to the Speaker of the House, House Majority Leader, House Majority Whip, and 3 of the 4 leading Democratic presidential candidates.

Not all Septuagenarians are created equally. Bernie Sanders is the most popular candidate with the youngest Democrats. Elizabeth Warren is the second best liked. This isn’t news. But as I was hacking through the data in a new set of early voting states by Change Research, there were a few surprises.

Democratic voters were asked how favorably they felt about the primary candidates, as well as a few other famous Democrats. In a same-party situation, I find the strongly/very favorable number the most interesting. It should far, far, far exceed strongly/very unfavorable.

Barack Obama is the most popular Democrat with other Democrats on the planet. He scored at 81% very favorable, 1% very unfavorable (+80). Keep that in mind as a benchmark. Among voters 18-34, he registers as +74. For the Over 65 crowd, +88. Now some others:

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