Current polls for the 2020 Democratic primary aren’t predictive. They do, however, provide some data to debunk or underscore the horse-race coverage. And the latest survey out of New Hampshire is striking.
The Monmouth University poll tells us there is one front-runner now, and it’s not close. “Biden holds a clear lead with 36% support of registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters who are likely to participate in the February 2020 primary. He is followed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at 18%. Other contenders include South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg (9%), Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (8%), and California Sen. Kamala Harris (6%). Registering at least 1% in the poll are former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke (2%), Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (2%), New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker (2%), former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (1%), Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan (1%), and entrepreneur Andrew Yang (1%).”
Understand that in 2016 Sanders won the state with 60 percent of the vote. He’s at less than a third of that now, far closer to Buttigieg, Warren and Harris than to Biden. Let’s look at why Sanders is struggling. From Monmouth:
Biden does especially well among voters aged 65 and older, garnering 53% support with this group compared to only 9% for Sanders. The former vice president also bests Sanders by 36% to 19% among those aged 50 to 64, but he trails the Vermont senator by 20% to 27% among voters under the age of 50. Biden tops Sanders by 45% to 10% among self-described moderates and conservatives, but he lags by 23% to 29% among liberals. A majority of likely Democratic primary voters (58%) describe themselves as moderates or conservatives in New Hampshire, a state that allows unaffiliated voters to participate in either party’s primary.
We cannot emphasize enough that actually voters in the Democratic primary are not far left and don’t want someone who is far left. Voters do want someone to carry on President Barack Obama’s legacy, not bad-mouth it, and their logical preference is Biden. (“Among those who say Obama is very important, 39% currently support Biden while 15% support Sanders, followed by Buttigieg (10%), Harris (9%), Warren (8%), Booker (3%), and Klobuchar (3%).")
Most of all, what Democrats really want to do is win. “The overwhelming majority (68%) of likely Democratic voters prefer to have a nominee who would be a strong candidate against [President] Trump even if they disagree with that candidate on most issues. If they were forced to choose, just 25% say they would favor a Democratic candidate who they are aligned with on the issues even if that person would have a hard time beating Trump.” Every candidate and every campaign adviser would do well to have these numbers displayed prominently in their headquarters. You do not have to chase the left. In fact, it’s a bad strategy.
Likewise, it’s not critical to embrace impeachment, since only 20 percent of New Hampshire Democrats think this is very important.
Other numbers from the poll deserve mention. Harris has extraordinarily high favorable ratings (60/10 percent), as does Buttigieg (54/7). In a large field where other candidates cannot attack every competitor, these two have the chance to define themselves as voters may just be tuning in (literally, for the debates). They’d both be wise to position themselves just to the right of Sanders. As fresher faces, though still liberal, they may be far more of a threat to Biden than Sanders.
Warren’s position at 8 percent in New Hampshire should not be all that surprising, given that she’s from the state next door. She has been getting very positive coverage, however, because she is talking substance. It’s hard to tell whether her fount of substance itself is helping boost her standing or the increased coverage is. At any rate, her audience may overlap considerably with Sanders’s. (Moreover, she leads with 15 percent as voters’ second choice.)
And finally, let’s be candid that (at least for now) O’Rourke is languishing. After his splashy rollout, he is at 2 percent in New Hampshire, and at 4.4 nationally in the RealClearPolitics average. If he is going to be more than a footnote, he needs to show some depth, be willing to appear in televised town-hall meetings and explain why what he is offering is different and better than everyone else.