Biden Remains Ahead of the Pack

By Jim Ellis

Feb. 14, 2019 — A new Morning Consult national survey of Democratic presidential primary voters again finds former Vice President Joe Biden leading an ever-growing pack of hopefuls vying for the opportunity of facing President Trump in the 2020 general election.

The survey (Feb. 4-10: 11,627 registered voters who say they may vote in a Democratic presidential primary or attend a party caucus; 517 “early primary state” voters from Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina), finds the former VP and long-time Delaware senator holding a 29-22-13 percent lead over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I/D-VT) and California Sen. Kamala Harris.

Sixteen more candidates or potential candidates were included in the poll, but none could crack double-digits. In the second tier, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) pulled eight percent, closely followed by former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) with seven percent, and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) who attracted five percent support. All of the others fell in between three percent and zero, inclusive.

Looking at only the four early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina (derived from an aggregate respondent group of 517 self-identified Democrats in those places), the order of candidates in the top tier doesn’t change, and Biden extends his lead to 33-21-11-10 percent over Sens. Sanders, Harris, and Warren. Sen. Booker gains one point to six percent, while ex-Rep. O’Rourke falls to five percent. No one else exceeds two percent.

An interesting section of the Morning Consult poll was devoted to which of the candidates would be the respondents’ second choice. Asked of those choosing one of the five top candidates on the ballot test, either Biden or Sanders proved to be the default answers.

The Biden supporters, should the former vice president not enter the presidential field, would move toward Sen. Sanders in a 27-15-9 percent spread, with the succeeding two subsets going to Sens. Harris and Warren, respectively.

Conversely, if Sen. Sanders were not a candidate, his vote base would head toward the former vice president, Sen. Warren, and Sen. Harris, in that order. This secondary preference division would be 26-16-7 percent in favor of Biden, with 51 percent either indicating they have no second choice or refusing to state another preference.

In a bit of a surprise, Sen. Harris’ supporters, if she were not in the race, would also trend toward Biden. Within this group, Sens. Sanders and Warren have little pull. In a 20-14-13 percent split, the reported second choice candidates are Biden, O’Rourke, and Booker, respectively.

The Warren faithful would break toward Sanders, Harris, and Biden in a 25-14-13 percent clip, while the O’Rourke backers would split almost evenly between Sanders (20 percent) and Biden (18 percent), with Harris close behind (14 percent).

The Morning Consult pollsters then tested favorability ratios for 18 of the 19 individuals they listed on the ballot test. Without explanation, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) was excluded from the favorability test.

Not surprisingly, the two brandishing the best image among the tested Democrats were ex-VP Biden (78:11 percent favorable to unfavorable) and Sen. Sanders (72:16 percent).

Those with the worst scores among the top ballot test finishers, though no one landed in upside-down territory, were former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (34:22 percent), and Sen. Warren (52:18 percent).

But, the lower tier fared rather poorly. Here, five lesser known candidates barely could score a break even in their favorability ratings with the vast majority of respondents believing they did not have enough information about the person to form an intelligent opinion:

  • Ex-Gov (VA) and DNC National chairman Terry McAuliffe, 15:10 percent
  • Ex-Governor (CO) John Hickenlooper, 14:8 percent
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), 13:11 percent
  • Ex-Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), 12:9 percent
  • Governor (MT) Steve Bullock, 10:9 percent

Invariably, once the debates start and the lesser known candidates receive more attention, at least one of them will break from the pack, thus changing their favorability scores and possibly the race outcome. But, if one of these latter candidates is to do so, they will have to significantly improve public perception while becoming better known.

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