Again, this is not predictive of the end results, which, after months of retail politicking, might look very different, but it does tell you something about the state of the race today and the candidates’ potential paths to the nomination.
Biden, who as a presidential candidate has bombed in the Iowa caucuses (drawing only about 1 percent in 2008), now secures a healthy chunk of the vote and, perhaps more important, gets a 76 percent positive opinion rating. However, it’s Buttigieg (81 percent positive) and Warren (84 percent positive) who seem to have made the best impression in a state known for “Iowa nice.”
Needless to say, the potential for Buttigieg and Klobuchar (for whom the Focus poll has shown better numbers than other polls) to soar to the top tier in the primary race remains. That’s especially true if they can best Sanders, who is struggling, in an early state. (Recall Sanders in 2016 won more than 49 percent of the vote in the caucuses.) If Biden does falter, these two candidates have the opportunity to cast themselves as the center-left alternatives.
Equally important, in the wake of his nasty attacks on Biden’s age in the last debate, 60 percent have ruled out Julián Castro. The gimmick-rich Andrew Yang has been written off by 64 percent. More surprising, 46 percent say they have written off Sanders and Beto O’Rourke (despite a good debate outing, he draws only 1 percent support).
Despite Warren’s strong showing, “Support for a centrist candidate remains. 60% said they believe Democrats need to move to the center to beat Trump. 32% strongly believe beating Trump will take a moderate Democrat.”
There are a few takeaways from all this.
First, we should remember that early states, which have a disproportionately large voice in picking the nominee, will not be won by 20,000 mostly young New Yorkers in Washington Square, but in far more intimate settings in these early states.
Second, with so many competitive candidates in an enormous field, the winner is unlikely to be determined in the first two contests, but candidates surely can be eliminated. This traditional “weeding out” role for Iowa and New Hampshire is particularly important in a field of more than 20 candidates. It’s quite possible that after Iowa and New Hampshire, the race will boil down to four or five candidates.
Third, the expectations game makes the two early states especially treacherous for Sanders, who at one time might have been considered the favorite in both, given his strong Iowa showing in 2016 and his runaway win in New Hampshire with 60 percent of the vote. Should he finish outside the top two spots in both states, his chance for the nomination likely will evaporate. (Interestingly. he just replaced his New Hampshire state director.)
Finally, while the national media focus on crowd size and national polls, in a just a few months candidates, especially those like Buttigieg and Klobuchar whose outlook brightens considerably with a strong finish, will decamp to the early states. Think Rick Santorum in 2016, who visited all 99 Iowa counties, and John McCain, who held more than 100 town halls in New Hampshire in 2008. And it’s worth noting that no one has gotten more practice in town halls than Warren, who has done more than 100 of them.