Probing the Second Choice

By Jim Ellis

Former vice president and ex-Delaware senator Joe Biden

Sept. 18, 2019 — The Morning Consult organization released their post-debate survey and it shows former Vice President Joe Biden stabilizing his lead over the Democratic presidential field. Arguably the contender who needed to register the best performance in the September debate, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), because she had lost considerable support since her August performance before a national televised audience, fell well short of her intended goal.

According to the MC data (Sept. 13-15; 7,487 Democratic likely primary voters with an over-sample from the first four voting states, Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina), Biden remains well ahead of his two closest competitors. The results find the former vice president securing 32 percent support, holding constant from the August post-debate poll. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also remains in a stagnant position posting 20 percent both in the new September survey and from August. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), however, increased from 15 to 18 percent after the two Democratic presidential forums.

Sen. Harris has been on a downward spiral since July, a period that could prove to be her candidacy’s apex. After the first debate, Sen. Harris reached 14 percent support in the Morning Consult survey, and appeared to be on an upward trend. After the August forum, however, she slipped to nine percent, and post the September forum she slid even further to six percent preference.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has also fallen over the course of time. It appears he hit is high mark in April when he scored nine percent nationally but fell back to the five percent range in July and, except for a short-lived blip in August, has remained stagnant in the mid-single digit range.

Though the numbers are consistent for the leaders in the Morning Consult survey series, other polling firms see a much tighter contest among the top three. The second choice question that MC routinely asks, on the other hand, may provide better perspective as to where the race is headed, or where it might should one of the top three fade in the early voting states, leave the campaign, or remain tightly bunched to force additional roll call votes at the convention.

In all of their monthly polls, Morning Consult asks a question regarding to whom the respondents would turn if their first choice, for whatever reason, was no longer a factor in the race. Here, we see an interesting mix, and one that could lead to a free for all if any one of these three leaders departs the race for whatever reason or they are close enough on the first convention ballot to initiate further balloting.

If Biden were to exit, his supporters would break almost evenly between Sanders (28 percent) and Warren (26 percent). Should Sen. Sanders go, his backers would also split almost evenly to Biden (29 percent) and Warren (28 percent). And, should Ms. Warren drop out, we see a familiar pattern among her first choice supporters. They would break 23 percent for Sanders and 22 percent for Biden.

The second choice question is interesting because it suggests that there is no clear person to whom the race would default if it became a two person battle, regardless of who might remain. The numbers also fail to suggest that one of the three leaving the campaign would boost one or more of the lower tier candidates.

The Morning Consult polling is suggesting that, unless something major happens to change the race pattern, which is always a possibility with so much time remaining before the voting public casts the first ballots, the contest could well move into the toss-up domain, which would enhance the possibility of an open convention, or at least one that could move to multiple balloting. At that point, the Super Delegates, who are barred from voting on the first roll call but would return and could again play a major role in deciding who becomes the party’s next presidential nominee.

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