As Joe Goes, So Go the Democratic Presidential Contenders

By Jim Ellis

Former vice president and ex-Delaware senator Joe Biden: is he in or out of the 2020 presidential campaign?

Feb. 28, 2019 — A new national Morning Consult poll (Feb. 18-24; 15,642 registered US voters likely to vote in a Democratic primary via online questionnaire) finds former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders pulling away from the rest of the Democratic presidential field.

Sen. Sanders is clearly getting a boost from his formal announcement. According to the Morning Consult regular tracking, he is up six points from just before he became an official candidate. It remains to be seen if his rise begins a trend or is just a polling blip because of increased media attention.

Overall, the MC data finds Biden’s national lead among the segmented Democratic voters dropping to just two points over Sen. Sanders, 29-27 percent. But, the pair are now well ahead of the remaining contenders. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) drops a point in her own support, meaning she lost a net seven percent to Sanders from the last poll. Her new national total is 10 percent, three points ahead of both Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and former US Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX).

Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) are next with four and three percent, respectively, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the only other candidate above one percent preference (two percent). The other dozen individuals who have either announced or publicly indicated they are considering entering the race are in the one percent support range.

In concentrating on just the first four early caucus and primary states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina), the support factor and candidate order remains consistent with the national numbers. Among the “First Four,” Biden commands 30 percent support as compared to Sen. Sanders’ 27 percent, and Sen. Harris’ 11 percent. All others are in single-digits.

The First Four are important because they help set the early tone, which will prove extremely important in this nomination contest. With 65 percent of the first ballot delegates being selected likely to occur on or before March 17, 2020, the early trends could well be definitive in developing the political momentum necessary to secure the nomination.

This is particularly true for Sen. Harris. With California moving its primary to March 3, which looks to be the 2020 campaign’s “Super Tuesday”, making sure she has enough momentum from the First Four will properly position her to reap a strong delegate crop from her home state. California has 419 elected delegates, more than any other entity, and she must post a large margin here in order to have sustaining power when the remaining parts of the country begin to cast their own ballots.

Reports suggest that Biden is close to making a decision about whether to enter the race. Most of the analyses anticipate him becoming a candidate, but what happens if he decides against running? Morning Consult looked at who would be the polling respondents’ second choice if their first selection decided not to run or exits the campaign.

In this case, those who selected Biden or O’Rourke are most important for purposes of analyzing this question because they are the only unofficial contenders of the five candidates isolated for a second-choice question.

Of the Biden supporters, 28 percent would go to Sen. Sanders should the former VP choose not to jump into the race. Another 12 percent would gravitate to Sen. Harris, while eight percent move to Sen. Warren. The remaining half of the Biden universe chose a lesser known candidate or indicated they had no second choice.

The O’Rourke voters, should he not enter the race, would break almost evenly between Sanders and Biden. If O’Rourke bypasses the presidential campaign, 22 percent of his supporters say they would back Sen. Sanders, while 20 percent would join the Biden camp. Another 12 percent would move toward Sen. Harris.

This poll is interesting in that it projects a clear top tier containing Biden and Sanders with a growing chasm between them and the other candidates. It remains to be seen if this pattern continues. The Biden decision will greatly affect future polling whether or not he becomes a candidate, while the next survey numbers should give us an indication about whether Sen. Sanders’ announcement bounce will have any staying effect.

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