Warren v. Sanders: Is it Even a Contest?

Elizabeth Warren has consigned Bernie Sanders to the dustbin. A recent national Fox News poll has her leading him 21% to 10%. To show you how much she’s surged and he’s collapsed, in March, Fox had him ahead of her 23% to 4%.

While national surveys get more attention, the race begins in Iowa. The results of the first caucus drive the narrative going forward. The most recent survey from Monmouth has Warren at 19%, Sanders at 9%.

This is a reversal from the April results which showed Sanders at 16% and Warren at 7%. Overall, the Iowa Democratic electorate far prefers Warren. Her Favorable/Unfavorable number is +62. This is the highest of any candidate. He’s at +25, lower than Amy Klobuchar, and needing a periscope to get near Harris, Biden, or Buttigieg.

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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:

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Requiem for a Candidate: John Hickenlooper

Let’s compare two candidates. We’ll pick up their story in late 2010.

Candidate A: After working as a geologist, he found himself unemployed after a corporate buyout, during a historic downturn in the oil market. Facing a career crossroads, he borrowed money from friends, family, and the local economic development fund to launch one of the first brewpubs in the country.

In launching and sustaining his business, Candidate A got very involved in the community, becoming mayor in 2003. Quickly recognized as one of the most popular and effective mayors in the country, he won re-election in 2007 with 88% of the vote, drawing bipartisan support. In November 2010, he takes the next step and becomes governor.

Candidate B: High school valedictorian. Graduated with distinction from Harvard. Went to Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship. Worked a series of short-term lower level political jobs. Spent a few minutes as a consultant at McKinsey. Ran for state treasurer as a Democrat in a red state and lost by more than 20 points.

Nine years later, Candidate A and Candidate B both run for the Democratic Party presidential nomination. Candidate A makes zero impact, and withdraws six months ahead of the Iowa Caucus. Candidate B raises more money than the other 20+ candidates in the second quarter, and sits securely in fifth place in national polls, running closer in Iowa and New Hampshire than overall.

What happened in between?

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The Big Three

As of this morning, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren control a full two-thirds of total national polling support in the Democratic nomination contest. The remaining 20+ contestants are good for a quarter, with about 8% of poll respondents in the pit of indecision.

Here’s another way to look at the standings:

Biden 30.3%

Kamala+Pete+Beto+Booker 19.1%

Warren 18.5%

Bernie 17.5%

Undecided 7.8%

All Others 6.2%

Kamala Harris made this a four person race for a minute after the first debate round. Not only did she start fading quickly, but is now all the way back to where she was before landing that right cross on Biden. When she’s having a good moment, Harris is the Goldilocks candidate. When she’s not, she’s too hot for some, and too cold for the rest. We may hear from her again, but for now, she’s in a different tier.

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Being a Billionaire Doesn’t Suck

The Democratic electorate has no interest in John Hickenlooper, Michael Bennet, Jay Inslee, or Steve Bullock. Four current or very recent governors or senators, popular with their home states. The most current estimates have all four missing the next round of debates. You need four qualifying polls of two percent or higher. These four individuals have combined for one. Only Inslee is anywhere near the additional 130,000 donor requirement. Thank u, next.

Tim Ryan, John Delaney, and Seth Moulton, please exit the campaign bus. Three current or former representatives, with nary a constituency. Then there’s Bill deBlasio. He’s not going anywhere either, but at least he can say his national favorability ratings have surpassed his NYC ones in negativity. Hey, somebody has to be the least popular politician in America. I almost forgot to mention Joe Sestak. Would you have noticed if I had?

Random white male politicians don’t have any use in the 2020 Democratic nomination contest. Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, and what’s left of Beto O’Rourke have filled this category in full. Two famous old guys, two young pups with suitable narratives. We’re good here.

If one is willing to accept the Democrats just aren’t looking for a pseudo-centrist, 1992 Bill Clinton-style nominee, even one suitable for the Me Too Era, next month’s debate stage in Houston will be plenty diverse. In addition to the four white guys who made the cut, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, and Andrew Yang are in.

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Delaney in a Coal Mine

I can’t find the stat that prompted this piece. David Axelrod and Mike Murphy have a podcast. Hacks on Tap. It’s pretty good if you like that sort of thing. And their logo is a take off of the Old Style beer logo. Extra points for that. In their most recent episode, Axelrod mentions a Quinnipiac poll that showed Democratic viewers hated John Delaney’s debate performance.

Elizabeth Warren was judged the debate winner, and was something like +50 or +60 with Dem viewers. Delaney was -30. The problem is I can’t find the damn data. When I pulled up the Quinnipiac results, there were questions about the debate, but not the favorable/unfavorable performance data Axelrod referred to.

I seriously doubt he’s making this up. He may have access to data beyond what Quinnipiac has on their website. Maybe he was referring to a different poll that I also can’t find. Regardless, I’m going to ask you to trust that the numbers he quoted are fundamentally correct.

For those who weren’t watching, or have managed to consign a debate from two weeks ago to the recesses of your cranium, Warren and Delaney jousted seemingly nonstop for the first hour of the first debate of the second round of debates. The biggest point of contention was Medicare for All. Warren is in favor, Delaney believes it will bankrupt a huge amount of hospitals.

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So When Do the Standings Change?

This isn’t normal. Ever since the initial dislocation from Joe Biden jumping in wore off, nothing has moved very much. In that time, we’ve seen two rounds of debates, a quarterly fundraising report, and all sorts of regular campaign stuff. Yet, with few exceptions, we’re where we were three months ago.

If you tour the polling from this stage in the previous several nomination cycles, you’ll find some to way more volatility. Scott Walker went from lead pack to out of the race in a couple of debates in the summer of 2015. Though he recovered, John McCain’s campaign almost collapsed eight years prior.

That same year, Barack Obama sometimes looked like he was seriously challenging Hillary Clinton, and other times appeared out of contention. This ebb and flow is normal. Not only is three months of stasis unusual, but there’s no sign it’s changing.

Biden did badly in his first debate, lost several points and then recovered them as quickly as he lost them. Early surveys after the second debate show no further changes. By itself, this isn’t a big deal. Donald Trump showed a similar pattern for a longer stretch of time in 2015.

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Detroit Debate Night One Recap: The Long March

That was a looonnnngg debate. More than two and a half hours. With ten candidates, I guess it was necessary, but wow. Done whining. On to the review.

Most candidates were stronger than in their first attempt. The CNN moderator team was stronger than the NBC group in the first debate. The enhanced anti-interruption rules helped. Overall, this was cleaner than last month.

Let’s see how the candidates did:

Group 1: Bernie & Liz

Elizabeth Warren is a good debater. Unlike round one, where she was a very strong presence for the first hour and then faded to the background a bit, she was fully engaged for all 150+ minutes. There’s no way any of her supporters will abandon her based on the debate.

Also unlike round one, she got to do some real jousting. While nobody is going to confuse John Delaney with Donald Trump, voters looking for a candidate who can throw down have extra reason to have confidence in her.

Bernie was much stronger than last month, especially in the first hour, when he powered through the health care section. Basically, he did the Full Bern. Larry David is lucky it’s summer, or he’d be stuck reprising his role this weekend.

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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.

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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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