If the election were held today, the polls show that Joe Biden would win the Democratic nomination and defeat President Trump in something of a landslide. In that regard, polls do not matter. The election is not being held today, and those polls obviously do not take into account how enthusiastic voters are about going to the polls or their ability to vote due to suppression efforts. A lot can change in the six months before the primary, and a lot more can change in the 18 months before the general election.
But in one way, polls do matter, especially in a crowded primary field: They provide information about which candidates are doing well, which candidates are rising and falling, and which messages resonate with voters. In that regard, Elizabeth Warren seems to be approaching a tipping point, where enthusiasm subsumes electability concerns, which can have this fun sort of snowball effect. Enough people love her now that she’s seen as electable, which erases those electability concerns, which dismantles reservations some voters have about her, which generates more exposure, which attracts more attention, which creates more support. It’s exactly what happened to Obama in between September 2007 and January 2008, when Obama went from 33 points down in the polls to a tie with Hillary Clinton.
Elizabeth Warren may very well be in the beginning stages of that snowball effect, and that snowball typically begins to take shape in early-voting states. We already showed you that she had jumped six points in Iowa, where she’s only one point behind Bernie Sanders for second place. The results in other early voting stages are even better because she has actually surged from the middle of the pack into second place in Nevada:
New Monmouth poll of Nevada:— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) June 12, 2019
Biden - 36%
Warren - 19%
Sanders - 13%
Buttigieg - 7%
Harris - 6%
First poll in any early state that has Warren over Sanders.
And in California:
Nevada and Iowa, of course, are caucus states, so those voters are getting a very good look at the candidates, and with Warren, they clearly like what they’re seeing, which has translated to higher numbers. And while it’s not yet worked its way into national polls, the momentum suggests that Warren has emerged as the number two candidate:
There's a decent case that Warren has emerged as a clear No. 2.— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) June 13, 2019
Also a case (which I mostly don't buy) that Harris has fallen off the lead lap. Her favorables are good but she isnt a lot of people's first choice.
But let's wait and see what things look like after the debate.
Obviously, the debates in two weeks (and again in July) could change the entire dynamic of the race (although, how often do we actually see debates totally transform a race) and Warren could also surge to the top and completely flame out like Howard Dean. The trick for Warren — or any candidate, really — is to to be perceived as the number two candidate, try to create the narrative of a two-person race, and nudge Democratic voters into backing either her or Biden, and in a head to head without the other candidates, I do believe that she would garner more support.
It’s early, and obviously too soon to talk about head-to-head match-ups, but at this point in the race — as Sanders begins to fade and Biden’s numbers dip — that’s where the momentum is heading, although I can certainly see other scenarios where someone like Kamala Harris dominates a debate, gets a good tailwind and creates her own snowball effect. However, Warren seems to be building the perfect snowball: Slowly and steadily collecting enthusiastic supporters who are not going to be all that willing to jump to onto another snowball. She and Kamala are also the second choice candidates for a lot of Democratic voters, whereas for Bernie, anyway, it’s all or nothing: He’s barely anyone’s second choice, which suggests that his support is at 20 percent with or without 22 other candidates, and that’s obviously not a good place to be.
I guess the real question now is, how well does Warren handle all the negative attention that comes from a surge of positive attention? And can she come up with a quick and pithy retort to concerns surrounding her heritage, because unfortunately, that is an issue that is not going to go away for her until she figures out a clean and simple way to extinguish it. So far, it’s the one issue for which she does not seem to have a plan.