As for impeachment, 50 percent of those surveyed say President Trump has committed impeachable acts; 46 percent disagree. Fifty-five percent of respondents support opening the inquiry; 44 percent don’t.
In this poll, “Elizabeth Warren had the support of 27 percent [of adults surveyed], with Joe Biden backed by 26 percent and Bernie Sanders a distant third at 10 percent. Support for South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg climbed to 7 percent from 5 percent. No other candidate polled more than 3 percent.” Warren has been steadily climbing (up 10 percent since August polling) while Biden gradually has been slightly declining (down 4 percent since August).
Perhaps worse for Biden, his lead over President Trump, which has bolstered his electability argument, is declining. (“The October poll showed Biden beating Trump 51 percent to 44 percent. He led 54 percent [to] 42 percent in September.”)
Let’s look at five critical questions for Democrats, beginning with Biden. His own numbers are slightly down, but his biggest challenge is a clear opponent in second place who has vacuumed up support from other contenders. Warren seems to have improved at Sanders’s expense but also as Sen. Kamala Harris (Calif.), Beto O’Rourke and others remain mired in middle to low single digits. While Biden is punching back against Trump and spurious accusations against himself, he has yet to puncture Warren’s appeal. For him, the real question is: How and when does he take on Warren’s progressivism?
That brings us to the second question, this one concerning Warren. She has not had to go after Sanders to establish herself as the stand-out candidate for progressives. Even before Sanders’s heart attack, she was establishing herself as more engaging, prepared and accessible candidate, one with a clear message she articulates well. She has not, however, faced serious challenges, although Buttigieg has begun poking and prodding her to give a direct answer on how she will fund her Medicare-for-all. Debates, we have learned, are not the ideal place to attack another candidate, given the voters’ distaste for intra-party fights. However, at some point either Biden or a Biden alternative from the center of the ideological spectrum is going to need to go directly at voters’ concern that she may be too far left to regain key states lost in 2016. Warren’s big open question: Can she draw from all segments of the party — including moderates and African Americans (many of whom are moderate) — without losing her base?
The third question is whether Sanders, who was already slipping in the polls, falls even further to the point where he is a non-factor or leaves the race entirely? Sanders’ heart attack — and his campaign’s less than immediately candid explanation of his health situation — will undoubtedly and appropriately raise questions about health, age and endurance. (That should also be an issue for Biden, Warren and Trump.) If he does drift down in polling, the assumption is that Warren would win the lion’s share of his voters, but that is far from certain. Polling shows that Biden, however, is the second choice of many Sanders voters. Ryan Cooper wrote in September, “The top second choice for Sanders supporters is actually Biden (26 percent versus 24 percent for Warren). Meanwhile, Sanders is the top second choice for Warren supporters, but only by a small margin (24 percent for Sanders versus 21 percent for Biden). Voters often have weird preferences like that.” Sanders’s question is: Can he can regain his second-place standing and, if not, where do his voters go?
The fourth question has to do with Trump’s impeachment. If he looks more vulnerable, Democratic voters might be willing to take a chance on a riskier candidate; if he is not on the ballot, the entire “electability” argument may be turned on its head given the widespread believe it was Trump personally, not the GOP, who picked the lock on the states in the Upper Midwest. Conversely, Biden might have a good case to make that given the wreckage Trump will leave behind, someone with no learning curve needs to get into the Oval Office as soon as possible, especially on the foreign policy realm. (If the public perceives how badly Trump has bollixed up foreign policy and shredded alliances, Biden’s stock may go up.) So many candidates and voters have operated under the assumption the Trump of pre-impeachment days would be on the ballot, thereby necessitating a certain kind of nominee. The open question for the entire field is: How does impeachment affect both the candidates’ messages and their appeal?
Finally, the early, small states in the primary calendar will have plenty to say about who continues on in the race and who, if anyone, can climb into contention. Both Buttigieg and Harris are campaigning strenuously in Iowa; Buttigieg’s polling and fundraising numbers suggest he could well pass a fading Sanders, especially in an early state Sanders might have been expected to dominate. It once seemed inconceivable that a Midwest mayor of a medium-sized city could move up to challenge the two top contenders. Buttigieg remains a long shot, but not an inconceivable nominee. Our final question then becomes: Is Buttigieg or anyone else in the field capable of riding a wave to a better-than-expected finish in an early state, thereby lifting the candidate into the top tier?