By Jim Ellis
Jan. 16, 2020 — The most recent early-state polling again underscores the distinct possibility that we will not see a clear Democratic presidential leader emerge before Super Tuesday.
We are now inside three weeks before the Iowa Caucuses and the survey data and candidate messaging strategies are beginning to take firm hold. Polling is close among the top four candidates, though they appear to be in a proverbial pinball machine as the four bounce from top to bottom at least in the Hawkeye State.
It is likely that either former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg places first. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is likely to finish midway within the four leaders, seeing her support drop as we get closer to actual voting.
The Caucus rules could change some precinct outcomes. It is probable that the party will adopt a rule, as they have in the past, that allows a voter to change his or her vote if their candidate finishes last in a precinct Caucus tally. In any event, projections suggest that the top four will each exceed 15 percent of the at-large vote to qualify for delegates, and potentially achieve such a preference number in each of the four congressional districts.
This means we could well see a splitting of the 41 first-ballot delegates among the four candidates with the first-place finisher getting approximately just 12 delegates and the fourth-place qualifier earning as many as eight.
The news improves for Biden in New Hampshire, but the just released Patinkin Research Strategies study (Jan. 5-7; 600 likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters) also shows at least three candidates qualifying for delegate apportionment. Here, Sen. Warren again appears to be falling off the pace.
The Patinkin results finds Biden up 21-19 percent over Sen. Sanders, with Mayor Buttigieg in third position at 17 percent preference. Sen. Warren, recording one of her worst New Hampshire polling results, finishes with only 10 percent on this survey. Her low rating could be an anomaly, however, since we have not seen her dropping to this level from any other pollster.
The new RKM Research and Communications poll (Jan. 8-12; 434 likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters) also projects three individuals qualifying for Granite State delegate votes. This poll also finds Biden closely leading Sanders, 25-22 percent. Here, Sen. Warren is back to her customary 18 percent support level with Mayor Buttigieg as the one falling behind. His preference figure is only seven percent according to this study.
New Hampshire has only 24 first-ballot delegates, so the first-in-the-nation primary is not likely to produce a definitive result for any one contender.
A Myers Research/Strategic Services survey of the Nevada electorate (Jan. 6-8; 600 likely Nevada Caucus attenders) now finds Sen. Sanders nipping Biden for first place, 29-28 percent, but the data again suggests that at least Sen. Warren will also qualify for delegate apportionment.
The Myers data also sees a bump for billionaire Tom Steyer, but not as exaggerated as last week’s Fox News poll that found him tied for third place with Warren. The Myers result projects Steyer in fourth position with eight percent support, two points ahead of Buttigieg, who has dropped off the pace in the Silver State.
If the three candidates qualify to split the 36 Nevada first-ballot delegates, Sen. Sanders would score approximately 14 committed delegate votes, Biden would claim 13, and Sen. Warren would earn in the neighborhood of nine votes.
In South Carolina, Biden has been dominant for months and is clearly in the driver’s seat to place first in the primary. The latest surveys suggest that only two candidates could split the state’s 54 first ballot delegate votes. The Fox News poll (Jan. 5-8; 808 likely South Carolina Democratic primary voters) finds Biden leading the candidate field with 36 percent support with Steyer surprisingly in second place with 15 percent, followed closely by Sanders at 14 percent. Here, Warren has, as in the New Hampshire poll, attracted only 10 percent support.
As we can see, the first few states are in a very fluid political situation and anything can still happen in the remaining weeks that could rather dramatically alter the actual tallies. And remember, all these polls were taken before Tuesday’s Democratic debate. Iowans vote on Feb. 3, New Hampshire voters cast ballots on Feb. 11, Nevadans Feb. 22, with South Carolinians following on Feb. 29. Super Tuesday, featuring 14 states and one territory, is scheduled for March 3.