Skeptics of former vice president Joe Biden are quick to point out that it is nine months before the first votes are cast. Still, he continues to lead his closest rival Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) by a mile. Everyone else is in single digits.
The latest Morning Consult poll finds Biden at 39 percent (statistically the same as last week’s survey), Sanders at 19 percent (also the same) with Sens. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) at 8 percent and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 6 percent.
While on one hand the race seems static, the pollsters note that Sanders has declined with his strongest age group (18 to 29) from 39 percent in February to 33 percent now. (Some of those have gone to Warren, who has improved with this age bracket.) Biden also is pummeling Sanders with over 65 voters (52 percent to 9 percent) and with other age groups as well. The race is 45 to 14 percent for voters ages 55 to 64, and 41 to 18 percent for those 45 to 54 years old.
In early primary states, presumably where voters are more plugged in, Biden leads by 20 points, but Warren is up 3 points from last week at 9 percent.
Let me suggest five takeaways from the polling at this stage in the race.
First, the only chance for many candidates to break out of the pack will be the debates, and it won’t be easy with the field divided into two panels on consecutive nights and each candidate likely getting less than 10 minutes. If Biden is attacked, he may well swat the challenger away, with little time for the latter to follow up. In each of these outings Biden will be happy if nothing much happens or the “hits” are divided among the zillion candidates. (Also remember he can be both a fierce debater, as he was against Paul D. Ryan in 2012, and, when need be, very disciplined, as he was against Sarah Palin in 2008.)
Second, it’s entirely possible Warren will pass Sanders. She’s going up in the polls, getting coverage for an endless string of policy ideas and radiating cheeriness. Sanders is simply rerunning 2016. It’s telling that his youngest voters, perhaps bored with the rerun, are beginning to drift away. He compares unfavorably to Warren when it comes to age, demeanor and substance.
Third, Biden isn’t likely to self-destruct on his own. The media’s obsession with his supposed propensity for gaffes seems overwrought. President Trump showed that in a big field a candidate can flick away gaffes, which get swallowed in the 100 Twitter news cycles before average voters hear of them. One or more of his Biden’s competitors will have to knock him off balance and that, as we said, isn’t easy in these 10-ring circuses. In short, while it’s a long way to voting time, no one should underestimate the advantages and good will Biden enjoys.
Fourth, the gap between Twitter/pundits/cable TV and actual voters is huge. Biden does much better in the Morning Consult/Politico poll with non-Twitter users (because of his commanding position with over-65-year-old voters who may not be on social media). “Thirty-two percent of Democratic primary voters who use Twitter daily support Biden. Among voters who don’t ever use Twitter, that jumps to 44 percent,” the poll says. Unfortunately, candidates, pundits and journalists are inextricably pulled into the Twitter buzz, looking for “trending” topics and noting when a candidate gets clobbered, usually by far-left Twitter users who are overrepresented on Twitter. The best thing a campaign could do would be to have a very junior staffer monitor the Twitterverse and allow everyone else (especially the candidate) to ignore it as much as possible.
Finally, the money race looks more traditional lately. All the candidates swore off PACs, but many are doing big fundraisers with donors who can “max out” without a second thought. Warren won’t do these, but Biden, Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke have. While this doesn’t make a whole lot of difference now, as we get closer to Super Tuesday, fundraising matters (especially in huge states such as Texas and California).