New Polls Show 2020 Presidential Candidates Drifting in & Out of Lead

By Jim Ellis

April 15, 2019 — We reported upon polling data (Change Research and Emerson College) last week that suggested Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) had edged ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden and is even out-polling Sens. Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Elizabeth Warren in their respective home states of California and Massachusetts, but newly released figures already show variation.

Two polls reverse Sanders’ early positive trend including one from his neighboring state of New Hampshire. In 2016, Sen. Sanders easily outpaced Hillary Clinton (47-28 percent with 25 percent voting for an uncommitted slate) to win the first-in-the-nation primary in that election year.

Monmouth University recently surveyed the Iowa Democratic electorate (April 4-9; 351 likely Iowa Democratic caucus participants) and found former VP Biden leading Sen. Sanders by a substantial 27-16 percent margin, as South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg catapults into third place with nine percent. Sens. Harris and Warren then follow with seven percent apiece. Ex-Texas congressman, Beto O’Rourke, is next with six percent, and the remainder of the field posts four percent or less.

Almost simultaneously, St. Anselm’s College polled their home state (April 3-8; 326 likely New Hampshire Democratic primary voters) and found Biden leading in New Hampshire, too. Here, the support percentages are 23-16-11-9-7-6 percent, respectively, for Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg, Warren, Harris, and O’Rourke.

These results are a bit surprising, however, especially in light of the Emerson College Massachusetts poll (April 4-7; 371 likely Massachusetts primary voters) taken within the same time period that found Sen. Sanders leading Biden in the adjacent Bay State, 26-23 percent.

The sample sizes of 351 Democratic voters in Iowa and 326 for New Hampshire are low, so the error factor is high in both polls. But, the margins between Biden and Sanders, and then Sanders and the rest of the field, suggests a clear separation, at least in Iowa, within the top tier and between the upper and lower level.

While Sanders is now looking at an 11-point deficit, plenty of time remains before the Feb. 3 Hawkeye State caucus vote. Much can change in the succeeding months, and we must remember that Sen. Sanders showed strength here in 2016 when he fought Hillary Clinton to a virtual tie.

Though the California, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Iowa polls reveal different leaders, one factor appears consistent across the board: that those previously hovering around the first-tier periphery, such as Harris, O’Rourke, and sometimes Warren, are falling back and now only attracting single-digit support.

Another consistent element among the four surveys suggests that Mayor Buttigieg is gaining political strength, and no longer languishes in the lower tier. In most of the later polling, the South Bend mayor is hovering around, or reaching, double-digits, meaning he is close to becoming a first-tier candidate. How long his new momentum will last, however, is unclear and it’s possible that his current trajectory could soon reverse.

Iowa and New Hampshire are important states in the nomination process not because they carry a large delegate base – in fact, their first ballot contingents are quite small: Iowa, 41 (30th largest of 57 voting entities) and New Hampshire, 24 (tied for 39th) – but their placement at the top of the voting schedule always seems to make them national trend setters. Often times, this first caucus and primary have proven to jump-start some campaigns but ended many others.

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