2019年12月20日 星期五

On Politics Poll Watch: Holiday Lull? Hardly

The race is still fluid. The debate could shake things up. And fund-raising reports are coming.

Welcome to Poll Watch from On Politics. Every Friday, we’ll bring you the latest data and analysis to track the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Current state of the race

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Who’s up? Who’s down? Here’s the latest.

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By Alexander Burns

National Political Correspondent

The Democratic presidential primary is entering the holiday lull in a fluid but familiar state: Joe Biden is still the leading candidate. His national poll numbers are still flat. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are still his nearest competitors, with Pete Buttigieg as a threat in the early states.

But the race is far from stagnant. There have been two important developments in the national polls this month. Mr. Sanders has overtaken Ms. Warren as the second-place candidate in the race, rising by a modest but meaningful margin over the last few weeks. And Michael Bloomberg has quickly reached the mid-single digits after entering the race before Thanksgiving, with an abrupt rise that may have interrupted Mr. Buttigieg’s momentum.

Last night’s sixth Democratic debate could soon register in the polls. Amy Klobuchar, who has been making a persistent effort to break through in Iowa, delivered her most forceful performance yet, challenging Mr. Buttigieg over his electoral track record and qualifications for the presidency. And clashes between both Mr. Buttigieg and Ms. Warren, and also Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders, had the potential to ripple.

But polling tends to go quiet over the holidays, so it may take some time for us to get a fully updated picture of the race.

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With the start of the new year, we are likely to get a pile of new data to inform our analysis — not just from polls, but also from the candidates’ fund-raising reports once the fourth quarter closes on Dec. 31.

Those numbers will reveal whether the strongest fund-raisers in the third quarter of the year — Mr. Sanders, Ms. Warren and Mr. Buttigieg — have extended their dominance, and whether Mr. Biden has revived what was, at the time, a flagging financial operation. Candidates like Ms. Klobuchar, Andrew Yang and Cory Booker will also show whether they have assembled enough money to sustain their candidacies.

Of course, the financial contours of the race have changed since Mr. Bloomberg’s announcement. He has poured tens of millions of dollars from his personal fortune into television and digital advertising, threatening to overpower the other candidates across the map of Super Tuesday states where he is focusing his efforts. But it remains to be seen whether Mr. Bloomberg can build on his early gains or whether his surprise entry and heavy spending have given him something of a temporary bump.

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Do the debate lineups reflect reality?

Pete Buttigieg is seen as a front-runner in Iowa, largely based on one poll.Jordan Gale for The New York Times

It might be hard to believe, considering the constant chatter about who’s up and who’s down in the polls, but there’s a lot we don’t know about where things stand in the states that vote first in the 2020 Democratic presidential contest.

That lack of clarity is worth keeping in mind after Thursday night’s debate.

To make it into the debate, candidates needed to receive at least 4 percent support in four Democratic National Committee-approved polls (of either the nation or an early-voting state).

But no qualifying state poll was taken between the last debate, on Nov. 20, and this one. That means the lineup on Thursday — which included only seven candidates — may not have reflected the latest state of the race.

If any of the candidates who were excluded from the stage — like Cory Booker or Tulsi Gabbard — made a recent surge in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada or South Carolina, there weren’t any qualifying polls to show it.

“Indisputably, the polls lag,” said Douglas Burns, an owner of The Carroll Times Herald in northwestern Iowa. “That’s always been the case, and it’s certainly the case where in social-media cycles things can turn quickly.”

Pete Buttigieg is now widely seen as a leading candidate, particularly in Iowa — and, as a leader might expect, he faced attacks from most of his rivals Thursday night. But much of his reputation rests on the nine-point lead he amassed in one Des Moines Register/CNN poll last month — the only debate-qualifying survey to show him with an outright advantage.

The ground in the early-voting states is highly fluid, and fortunes can change on what seems like a weekly basis. “There can be radical shifts, particularly in Iowa, over the last few weeks” of a campaign, said Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University poll.

That’s particularly true this year, when there is an uncommonly large group of Democratic candidates, four of whom are bunched together at the top of the field. In most national polling averages (including ours), Mr. Buttigieg is at the bottom of that tier, behind Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

All nine of the D.N.C.-sanctioned polls that came out since the last debate were conducted nationally, not at the state level. But in such a crowded primary, with months to go before most nominating contests, the national electorate’s preferences are very much subject to change.

Indeed, in national as well as state surveys, most Democratic voters still say they are open to choosing a different primary candidate. In a CNN poll released on Thursday morning, 61 percent of Democratic voters nationwide said they hadn’t yet settled firmly on one.

The seven candidates who appeared onstage Thursday represented the smallest lineup at any of the six Democratic debates so far. Andrew Yang and Tom Steyer, who have been polling in the low-to-mid-single digits, barely qualified. Other candidates with similar national polling, like Mr. Booker, Ms. Gabbard and Michael Bloomberg, didn’t make the cut.

Today, the D.N.C. announced it was increasing the polling qualification standards for its Jan. 14 debate — candidates will now need 5 percent support in four polls — which could further winnow the field. As of now, only the four leading candidates and Amy Klobuchar would qualify.

And there may not be many new polls released before the committee’s Jan. 10 deadline, making it extremely difficult for candidates counting on a late surge to score a debate invitation.

“We saw a big gap in polling output because of Thanksgiving for this last debate,” Mr. Murray said. “Now we’ve got an even longer holiday period where I don’t think a lot of people are going to poll.”

Matt Stevens contributed reporting.

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