By Jim Ellis
July 15, 2019 — Just before the July 4th holiday break Change Research conducted a series of research studies in three of the first four Democratic presidential caucus and primary states.
The firm tested either 420 or 421 likely Democratic nomination event voters in each place during the period of June 29-July 4: in Iowa (420 respondents), New Hampshire (420), and South Carolina (420).
Iowa is, as we know, the site of the first caucus vote, which is scheduled for Feb. 3, 2020. This will be followed by the New Hampshire primary on Feb. 11 and the South Carolina primary pegged for Saturday, Feb. 29. The Nevada Democratic electorate, with their caucus placed on the calendar for Saturday, Feb. 22, was not polled.
Part of the media coverage surrounding these surveys looks at the aggregate numbers that these three individual places produced. The three states are highly important because they, together, will set the race’s early tone. But, from a statistical perspective, the aggregate total has little bearing as to who would eventually become the Democratic nominee.These aggregate Change Research numbers, however irrelevant to the actual race trajectory, have captured some attention because they are so close. The sum of the candidates’ support percentages from the combined three states, from a total of 1,261 respondents, find Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) leading the group with 19 percent apiece, closely followed by former Vice President Joe Biden at 18 percent, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) with 17 percent, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg posting a combined 15 percent preference. No other even candidate breaks the three percent level.
What carries much greater weight, however, is the individual candidates’ status in the individual early trend-setter states. As has been prevalent in Iowa’s electoral history, neighboring regional Midwestern candidates have typically done well in the first caucus. Such is the case again according to this Change Research poll.
The results find Mayor Buttigieg leading the pack of candidates, the first time any survey has shown him in first place. He attracts 25 percent support of the Iowa respondents followed by Sen. Warren who posts 18 percent support. The remaining three, ex-Vice President Biden, and Sens. Sanders and Harris all record 16 percent preference.
In New Hampshire, it is Sen. Sanders — who carried the state with 60 percent of the vote against Hillary Clinton in 2016 — capturing the lead with 26 percent of the respondents, followed closely by Sen. Warren from neighboring Massachusetts at 24 percent, and Mayor Buttigieg with 14 percent. Biden drops all the way to 13 percent and finds himself tied for fourth place with Sen. Harris.
The South Carolina numbers are much different, and clearly better for Biden. Here, the former vice president regains a lead, with 27 percent preference, as compared to the second place candidate’s 21 percent in the person of Sen. Harris. Next come Sanders and Warren with 16 and 15 percent, respectively, while Buttigieg and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) record six percent apiece.
Since completion of the Change Research studies, Fox News fielded a later poll in South Carolina with a much larger sampling universe (July 7-10; 701 likely Democratic South Carolina primary voters) and finds Biden holding a stronger lead. Fox projects him with 35 percent support, far ahead of second-place finisher Bernie Sanders, who has 14 percent. Sen. Harris posts 12 percent, while Sen. Warren drops all the way to five percent, and Mayor Buttigieg falls even further to the two percent plateau. Sen. Booker also posts among the leaders, this time reaching three percent, which is ahead of Buttigieg.
The most telling statistics coming from the trio of states is that each projects a different leader, and that Biden, who routinely finishes at the top of national polls, fares poorly in the first two states. The obvious question these polls pose is whether Biden can sustain not winning either of the first two nominating events. If he fails to win either Iowa or New Hampshire, will the early momentum lapse prove fatal to his campaign?