Behind the Polls: Is Warren Really Up?

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 10, 2019 — The publication, Market Watch, carried a story that the Drudge Report included on their daily national site yesterday indicating that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) had topped former Vice President Joe Biden in four of five most recent national polls, but they didn’t cover the entire polling picture. (Market Watch story: A new front-runner for the 2020 Democrats? Warren edges Biden in average of polls)

The MW story cited Warren leading Biden in the Quinnipiac University survey (Oct. 4-7; 646 registered US voters), the Investors Business Daily/TIPP Poll (Sept. 26-Oct. 3; 341 registered US voters), The Economist/YouGov study (Sept. 28-Oct. 1; 602 likely US Democratic primary voters), and the Monmouth University (Sept. 23-29; 434 registered US voters) survey. Her aggregate edge fell between one and four percentage points, yet neither candidate broke 30 percent in any of the polls.

“With Biden facing questions over the Ukraine and China because of the Trump impeachment inquiry, and Sen. Sanders now experiencing health problems, Sen. Warren could soon be establishing herself as the clear front-runner and person to beat …”

The only other highlighted survey came from Politico/Morning Consult (Sept. 30-Oct. 6; 16,529 likely US Democratic primary voters) that actually found the former vice president continuing to lead by his typical 12-point margin, 33-21 percent, with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) recording 19 percent support.

The story’s premise is that these polls suggest that Sen. Warren has already caught Biden and that she may well be the new national Democratic leader. There are several reasons why this might not be the correct conclusion, however.

First, MW doesn’t cover all of the released polls within the same time frame. Left out were the HarrisX (Oct. 4-7; 774 likely US Democratic primary voters), David Binder Research (Sept. 19-22; 1,200 likely US Democratic primary voters), and Ipsos/Reuters (Sept. 26-30; 1,136 registered US voters) polls. Each of these surveys give Biden leads between five and 17 percentage points.

Second, notice that the smallest sample polls are the ones that favor Warren, where the polls with the larger, and typically more reliable, respondent cells project relatively strong advantages for the former vice president. In fact, the IBD/TIPP Poll, usually consistent, should be discounted entirely in this case. Using just 341 registered voters over an eight-day period creates an error factor so high as to be unreliable.

Third, though the media likes to play the national numbers as a major story because it is an easy message to communicate and for readers and listeners to understand, these statistics have little relevance in a nomination election where delegate votes are earned on a state-specific basis.

There is little doubt that Sen. Warren is a strong candidate and is fast developing the best position among the three major contenders. With Biden facing questions over the Ukraine and China because of the Trump impeachment inquiry, and Sen. Sanders now experiencing health problems, Sen. Warren could soon be establishing herself as the clear front-runner and person to beat, but that is not yet cemented into place.

The early voting schedule, very important for establishing position and momentum, looks to cut against Biden. The first state, Iowa, voting on Feb. 3, will not likely provide the former vice president a clear-cut victory. In fact, he could easily finish out of the top spot, which could well be the tipping point that sends his campaign into a downward spiral.

After Iowa, Biden must go into Sens. Warren and Sanders’ political backyard in New Hampshire where it is likely that one of the New Englanders will finish in the first position.

If the first two states do unfold in this manner, Biden’s back would be against the wall heading into the third voting state, the Nevada Caucus, and the pressure would mount upon him to carry the state. If he can get to the south still intact, the political calendar and terrain becomes much more favorable for him, as polling suggests he is the dominant figure throughout the more conservative states.

The conflicting recent national polling and coupled with the attempt to forecast strengths and weaknesses as it involves the political schedule and voting locations, suggests that this nomination campaign remains undecided. Still four months away from the first votes being recorded in any state, it is important to remember that the contest can still venture into unexpected directions. Until the factors become better defined, and until time plays out, the nomination remains up for grabs among the three major candidates, irrespective of what national polls may or may not portend.

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