Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — not unlike President Trump — has an enthusiastic but fixed following. Trump plays to his hardcore base but turns everyone else off; Sanders gives speeches on socialism but remains flat in the Democratic primary polls. That’s a problem for Sanders when facing candidates such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who is capable of expanding her appeal, and a candidate such as former vice president Joe Biden, whose appeal is broad and deep.

The latest Morning Consult poll finds: “For the second week in a row, Warren continues to grow her vote share. Biden and Sanders remain unchanged from last week. Elizabeth Warren sees a +2 rise to 13% of the vote, 6-points behind Sanders.” It’s not that Sanders’s voters are fleeing to Warren but that he isn’t attracting voters outside his core group of supporters. (“In the past six weeks, Warren has gained 5 points of vote share while Sanders has remained steady.”)

It should also be noticed that despite flaps over his position on the Hyde Amendment and comments about working even with segregationists to achieve progressive ends, Biden’s support is unchanged overall at 38 percent. In fact, Biden has increased in early primary states by 3 points to 43 percent support, a remarkable number in a field of 24 contenders. (It should be noted that contrary to the general trend, Sanders has also increased 3 points in early states.)

Now, it is true that Biden’s favorability is down from a high of 69 percent in February (before he entered the race) to 60 percent — not an uncommon phenomenon when a well-liked figure joins a campaign scrum. However, Sanders isn’t gaining new admirers either: His favorability remains stuck at 57 percent.

Perhaps more troubling for Sanders, in the latest straw polling, the uber-progressive group finds:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren leads a new MoveOn straw poll with the support of 38% of members nationwide, followed by Bernie Sanders with 17%. Warren is also in first place among MoveOn members statewide in the early voting states of Iowa (37%), New Hampshire (38%), Nevada (36%), South Carolina (32%), and California (39%).
Warren is the first or second choice of 63% of MoveOn members nationwide. This represents a substantial shift in MoveOn members’ support toward Warren since the organization conducted its first 2020 Democratic primary straw poll in December 2018.
This South Carolina voter is still undecided. But she’s sure politicians need to do more than just court African American support during election cycles. (The Washington Post)

Even more worrisome for Sanders, among members, other candidates are nipping at his heels. “South Bend [Ind.] Mayor Pete Buttigieg (26%), Sen. Kamala Harris (25%), and former vice president Joe Biden (23%) also ranking in the top five candidates among MoveOn members’ first and second choices nationwide.” Biden draws 14.9 percent in the survey for voters’ top pick, while Buttigieg draws 11.7 percent. Interestingly, when asked for their second choice, Harris at 18.1 percent comes in second behind Warren.

Put all this together, and what do you find?

First, the Twitter and cable TV coverage of scandals and Democratic voters’ views of Biden are apparently unrelated. Democrats like Biden. Period. His main antagonist in the scrape over segregationists, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), has not gained a single point either among all primary voters or among early state primary voters.

Second, unless Sanders can both consolidate his support among the segment of the party and expand his appeal beyond the far left, he’s not going to win. Warren, by contrasts, seems to have both climbed into a dominant position with the far left and grown her support among all Democrats. So far, Biden is dominating among moderates and getting enough of the progressive vote to sustain a huge lead.

Third, in the past, Sanders’s inclination has been to lash out at the media, his critics and “the establishment,” even going so far as to lump in Warren with the “corporate wing” of the Democratic Party. (He later claimed to be speaking only about the moderate Third Way group.) But there is a strong aversion among Democratic voters to candidates who attack other Democrats. With their eye on the goal of getting rid of Trump at all costs, candidates who seem to be doing Trump’s work for him will be penalized. Should Sanders, for example, take an explicit swipe at Biden in the debate, be prepared to see a swift backlash.

The presidential primary race has hardly begun, but going into the first round of debates, Biden and Warren have found a way to keep broad support, Sanders has a significant limit on his ability to gain support, and the rest are scrambling to climb into contention. We’ll see if the debates scramble the status quo.

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