Live analysis: CNN's latest Democratic primary poll
Our new CNN/SSRS poll shows movement in the Democratic race after last week's debate. Following a weak performance in last week's debate, Joe Biden has dropped 10 points from 32% in late May to 22% now. Following a strong performance, Kamala Harris has jumped from 8% in late May to 17% now.
Coming in third place is Elizabeth Warren at 15%. Just behind her is Bernie Sanders at 14%.
No other candidate polled above 5%, including big fundraiser Pete Buttigieg, who rang in with just 4%.
Here are a few other takeaways from the poll:
- Harris has seen a significant jump among black voters, while Biden has fallen. Biden declined from 49% in a combined sample of our April and May polls to just 36% now. Harris rose from 6% to 24% in the same period.
- Only 8 of the 24 candidates (those listed above) and Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Beto O'Rourke received the 2% necessary to use this as a qualifying poll towards the September debates.
- A clear plurality of Democratic primary voters and Harris supporters prefer keeping private insurance as a competitor to a government run system than eliminating it.
- Biden is still listed as the most likely to beat Trump at 43%, though that is down over 10 points from a Quinnipiac poll in late April.
- Only 10% of Democratic voters think Harris is best Democrat on the climate crisis, and only 6% think she is best on the economy or health care, which suggests a potential weakness in her candidacy.
One positive thing Joe Biden can take away from our poll is that no other candidate seems to have an ability to break through with moderate or conservative voters. Among this group, Biden is ahead with 31%. The next strongest candidate is Harris with 11%.
Indeed, all the top polling candidates besides Biden do better with liberal than moderate/conservative voters. That's potentially an issue for non-Biden Democrats because about half of potential primary voters self-identify as either moderate or conservative. They're the group powering Biden's lead right now.
It shouldn't be too surprising that Biden is ahead with moderate/conservative Democrats. All the other candidates in double digits overall (Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren) have very liberal congressional voting records. Biden's the only one whose record can in anyway be described as moderate.
The lack of choices that moderates have may explain why Biden's drop among moderate/conservative voters in this poll compared to last was only about half that of his drop among liberal Democrats. The lack of choices may also allow another candidate not polling in the top tier right now to rise. Failing that, however, Biden will be the only choice for voters looking for a moderate.
The lack of choices for moderate/conservatives also may explain why just 29% of them are very satisfied with their primary choices. That's far lower than the 47% of liberals who say so.
Kamala Harris' jump in our poll is almost assuredly because of the debates. We know this in part because Democrats overwhelmingly say she did the best of any candidate and because she saw a large jump in our poll.
But she's weak on the issues when compared to the other top candidates. Only 10% of potential Democratic primary voters say she is best to handle health care. That drops to 6% on the climate crisis and the economy. On all of these top issues, three other Democrats do better than she does.
The only issue on which Harris tops the field is race relations. That, of course, is directly tied to her debate showdown with Biden last week and isn't generally listed as a top issue for voters.
Having your campaign tied to a strong debate performance is good if you can follow up said performance with other strong performances. That's especially true when voters are looking for a candidate to take down Trump in a debate.
Debate bumps can be a dangerous game, however. I spoke about last week how Republican Carly Fiorina saw a large debate bump in 2015, while Donald Trump saw a large decline.
Unfortunately for Fiorina, she couldn't keep it up. We'll see if Harris is able to do so this year.
One of the more interesting facets of our primary poll is that we found Elizabeth Warren up to 15% from 7% in May. This might give you the idea that Warren is "surging" in part because of her debate performance.
I'm not sure that's exactly right.
There's no doubt Warren is higher than she was polling a few months ago. I just think there's good reason to think she was up in the polls before the debate.
In the middle of last month, Monmouth University had Warren at 15%. A Quinnipiac University poll in the first half of June likewise put Warren at 15%.
The Monmouth poll is especially noteworthy because all the other candidates (except Biden and Harris) seemed to match their latest CNN numbers closely. That's what you'd expect if you saw Harris as the big winner and Biden as the big loser of the debate.
If you examine the debate numbers, you get the idea that Warren wouldn't have gained majorly from her performance. Just 13% thought she did best in the debates. That was good enough for second best performance in the minds of those who watched or paid close attention to the debates. It was, however, well behind the 41% who believe Harris did best.
Many of the internals of our CNN poll look similar to polls past. Joe Biden does best among older and more moderate voters. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren do best among more liberal voters. Sanders also scores his best among younger voters. The list goes on and on.
But one thing that stands out is how Harris may be putting together a coalition that combines black voters and white voters with a college degree.
Harris pulls in 24% among black voters and 21% among white voters with a college degree. Among whites without a college degree, her support drops to 13%.
The ability to team up white voters with a college degree and black voters is very reminiscent to what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama did in 2016 and 2008 respectively. Both lost white voters without a college degree by a significant margin in their respective primaries, though were able to win because of black and white college voter backing.
Black voters, of course, make up most Democratic voters in the south, while college white voters are ascendent within the Democratic coalition.
When it comes to the age breakdown, Harris does about equally well with those under 50 years old and those 50 years old and up. That's different than either Clinton (who had old people most on her side) or Obama (who had young people most on his side).
The one thing Joe Biden still has going for him is voters think he is the most electable in a year in which voters are prizing electability. In our poll, 43% of potential Democratic primary voters say Biden has the best chance to beat Trump. That's significantly higher than Bernie Sanders (13%), Kamala Harris (12%) or Elizabeth Warren (12%).
While it's difficult to know which candidate will eventually be the most electable, you can understand why voters think Biden has the most crossover appeal.
Take a look at the net favorability (favorable-unfavorable) ratings among the top four Democrats among those voters who are not Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents.
- Biden: -42 points
- Harris: -46 points
- Sanders: -57 points
- Warren: -55 points
Biden, in other words, has the "best" rating among non-Democrats of the top contenders. Interestingly, Biden's net favorability rating is actually up 2 points from late May, even though his standing among Democrats has fallen. Harris' rating has also improved since about a month ago.
Meanwhile, the two candidates on the left part of the party, Sanders and Warren, have the worst rating.
It's not all good news for Biden on the electability front, however. Less voters think he is the most electable than previously. When Quinnipiac University asked potential Democratic primary voters who they thought had the best chance of beating Trump in April, 56% said Biden.
You'll often hear the word "lane" thrown around when it comes to the primaries. For example, there is a liberal lane, a moderate lane, etc.
Our poll (as well as others) suggest that the 2020 Democratic primary is more like the LA freeway, with under and overpasses around and about. That is, there may be lanes, but they intersect each other quite frequently.
Take for example age and ideology. Biden does best among those age 50 and over at 28%. He gets just 15% among those under age 50. Biden scores 31% among those who call themselves moderate and conservative, while only taking in 12% among self-described liberals. (Harris is ahead with this group at 24%.)
Now look at those liberals age 50 and older. Biden jumps to 19%, which is good enough for first among this group.
Or perhaps, you want to look at age and race. Biden does somewhat better among all nonwhite voters at 25% than white voters at 20%. But when you break it down by age, you see Biden gets up to 26% among whites age 50 and older. He's at just 12% among white voters under 50. Among nonwhites voters 50 years and older, Biden gets over 30%.
The point is the effect of different demographic and political variables are not occurring in isolation. They all work together to form voter opinions.
The qualification requirements are about to get significantly tougher for making the debate stage. Instead of needing 1% in three qualifying polls to make the September debate (as in the June and July debate), candidates will need 2% in 4 qualifying polls released between June 28 and August 28.
Our CNN poll is the first poll candidates can use to qualify for the debate. As previously discussed, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren all got at least 4% in our poll.
New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, (3%) Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar (2%) and former Texas Congressman Beto O'Rourke (3%) all also got to that 2% threshold.
No other candidate managed to reach that point.
Indeed our poll points to the trouble that a lot of candidates may have getting 2%. There were an additional four candidates (former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and businessman Andrew Yang) who got 1%. Beyond that, no one could even reach 1%.
It's one thing to get 1% by chance even when you don't have 1% of the Democratic primary electorate supporting you.
It's another thing entirely to get to 2% by chance alone.
Additionally, candidates will have only two months to reach that 2%. They'll need to do it four times.
Unless something changes, the number of debaters will shrink dramatically.
One of the more interesting facets of the Democratic primary campaign so far has been how Joe Biden, the former vice president to the first black president, has held a lead among black voters, even as two black senators are running.
Biden still leads with 36%, while Kamala Harris comes in with 24%. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders follow with 12% and 9% respectively. Warren and Sanders are about where they were in a combination of our April and May samples.
Biden's advantage though has definitely ebbed over the last few months. In our April and May combined samples, Biden led the pack among African-Americans with 49%.
Meanwhile, Harris was all the way back in fourth place with 6%. In other words, she's jumped about 20 points.
Harris' gain follows a significant uptick in endorsements from black lawmakers. Harris now leads Biden in endorsements from Congressional Black Caucus members.
Biden's drop follows last week's debate, when Harris called him out for how he spoke about segregationist senators and his past opposition to federally mandated desegregation busing.
Harris may have additional growth with black Democratic voters. More than 20% cannot form an opinion of her. Less than 10% cannot form an opinion of Biden. More black voters (29%) trust her on race relations than trust Biden (23%).
Interestingly, our poll shows no movement for the other African-American in the race, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. He pulls a mere 2% in the poll. That's actually down a statistically insignificant 2 points from an aggregate of our April and May polls.