2020年1月17日 星期五

On Politics Poll Watch: The Sanders-Warren Split

As the alliance between the two leading liberals collapses, Joe Biden’s national lead holds steady.

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

There are less than three weeks to go in the Iowa caucus campaign, but we may already have seen its climactic moment: the debate-stage confrontation between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren over gender, sexism and personal honesty. The two progressives have been leading candidates for months, but neither has been able to sideline the other. As a result, our polling average continues to show Joe Biden with a relatively modest but stable lead among Democratic voters nationally.

It may be difficult for another campaign-trail moment to break through because of the impeachment trial that began on Thursday in Washington. The proceedings against President Trump started to overshadow the primary contest last fall, and the start of the actual trial will only intensify that dynamic. For several candidates — including Mr. Sanders, Ms. Warren and Amy Klobuchar — the trial will also disrupt campaign travel, since they will have to attend to their duties in the Senate.

But the race may not be quite as flat as our polling average suggests. If it appears that no candidates have moved in more than a month, that may be because we have had so little data to work with. There has been only one reliable national poll since the start of the year; it found Mr. Biden holding a six-point lead over Mr. Sanders, with Ms. Warren a few points behind him. Pete Buttigieg and Michael Bloomberg were in single digits.

The picture in the early states is somewhat more defined, and yet, perhaps even less conclusive. The top four candidates have been bunched up in Iowa and New Hampshire, while Mr. Biden has been leading in Nevada (by a modest margin) and South Carolina (by a convincing one.) Two different Iowa polls over the last week tipped different men as slight favorites, with a Des Moines Register/CNN survey favoring Mr. Sanders and a Monmouth University poll favoring Mr. Biden.

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The closeness of the early-state race is, in part, why the Sanders-Warren friction this week seems so important. In order for a progressive to win the nomination, one of the two will most likely have to establish a clear advantage over the other in Iowa and New Hampshire, and then rally liberals into a unified coalition in later states. The events of this week may have made both tasks harder.

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Why Biden hasn’t budged

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has continued to stay on top of many polls, in large part by presenting himself as the best option to beat President Trump. Joe Buglewicz for The New York Times

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign has been defined by what it’s not as much as by what it is. He hasn’t made waves with big-ticket policy proposals, and he has mostly avoided skirmishing with his Democratic rivals.

And so, nine months into his campaign, Mr. Biden is in a remarkably similar position to where he was when he began: He’s the presumptive front-runner, despite a lack of agenda-setting plans or breathless enthusiasm from supporters.

Poll results can help us understand why. For one thing, Democratic voters appear to want a candidate who they think has a good chance of beating President Trump more than one whose policy views sync up perfectly with their own.

In a Monmouth University poll last month, this question was put to likely Democratic primary voters nationwide: Would you prefer a strong nominee who could defeat Mr. Trump, even if you disagree with that candidate on most issues — or a candidate with whom you see eye to eye, but who would have difficulty overcoming the president?

Almost twice as many respondents chose the candidate with a better chance of winning.

Polls suggest that Mr. Biden’s support is built largely on these very voters, who are seeking an experienced leader to reverse the Trump administration’s policies.

In a CNN poll last month, 40 percent of likely Democratic voters who responded said they thought Mr. Biden would be the strongest candidate against Mr. Trump. Only 16 percent pointed to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Mr. Biden’s closest rival.

But a degree of insecurity still lingers. The former vice president has faced strikingly few challenges from his rivals or from debate moderators in recent months — a boon to his candidacy that could evaporate if his opponents’ tactics change.

“Unlike Sanders, whose core support is very much gung-ho for him and knows what they signed up for, Biden’s supporters are looking for the strongest candidate,” said Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. “He has so far survived that examination, but that doesn’t mean it can’t change over the next few weeks.”

Indeed, Mr. Biden’s support dipped for weeks in the fall amid a surge from Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who was seen as possibly more capable of uniting the moderate and left wings of the Democratic Party. But her polling numbers began to waver after her support for “Medicare for all” drew criticism, and much of Mr. Biden’s support appeared to stabilize.

Democratic voters have grown more liberal over the past two decades, but moderates still tend to lean Democratic, and they make up a big enough share of the party to play a decisive role in choosing its nominee.

“You have a lot of Democrats who are not beholden to an ideological position but feel comfortable with him,” Mr. Murray said of Mr. Biden. “They’re coming from all walks of life.”

About as many women support Mr. Biden as do men, and he is the most popular candidate among black Democratic voters — a key constituency, particularly in the primaries. (Mr. Sanders has encroached on that lead, however, and now trails by less than 10 points among African-American voters and other nonwhite voters, according to some national polls.)

Just as crucially, Mr. Biden’s numbers are as strong among white voters without college degrees as they are among those with a higher education. That puts him at a distinct advantage over Ms. Warren and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., two of his strongest opponents.

Mr. Biden’s one major vulnerability is among young people. Polls of Iowa, New Hampshire and the nation at large consistently find him polling below 20 percent among voters under 50.

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