Democratic rivals chip away frontrunner Joe Biden’s lead in new polls

Biden has consistently maintained a lead in national polls. It remains to be seen whether he will come out on top

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published September 12, 2019 5:03PM (EDT)

Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Joes Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang (Getty Images/ Scott Eisen)
Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris, Joes Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Andrew Yang (Getty Images/ Scott Eisen)

Rivals vying for the Democratic nomination are chipping away at the lead held by former Vice President Joe Biden, who remains on top in a trio of new national polls.

A poll released Wednesday by CNN shows Biden drop between mid-August and early September, while several of his rivals see incremental increases. Biden falls five percentage points from 29 percent to 24 percent between the two surveys. Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts jumps four points from 14 percent to 18 percent to capture second place from Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who rises just two points from 15 percent to 17 percent.

Also rising are Sen. Kamala Harris of California (from 5 percent to 8 percent), South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg of Indiana (5 percent to 6 percent), former Rep. Beto O'Rourke of Texas (from 3 percent to 5 percent) and businessman Andrew Yang (from 1 percent to 2 percent). By contrast, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro dropped from 2 percent to 1 percent in the CNN survey.

A Hill-HarrisX poll also released Wednesday brings better news for Harris and Yang than any of the frontrunners. Among Democratic and independent registered voters, Biden leads with 27 percent (down from 30 percent), followed by Sanders with 15 percent (down from 17 percent) and Warren with 12 percent (down from 14 percent). The two biggest gains are from Harris and Yang, with the California senator rising from 4 percent to 7 percent and the New York businessman from 2 percent to 5 percent.

A divergent way to look at the state of the race emerged Thursday after a new survey from YouGov sponsored by FairVote simulated ranked-choice voting in order to ascertain candidate preferences. As Vox explained:

The way ranked-choice voting works is that candidates with fewer votes are eliminated, and then their votes are redistributed to whomever each voter designated as their next-ranked preference. For instance, a voter could rank Sen. Bernie Sanders as their first choice and Warren as their second choice — meaning that, if Sanders was eliminated, this vote would be transferred to Warren.

The survey allowed voters to rank 10 of the 20 Democratic candidates — or simply choose from the top five. When given the full array of options, 27 percent of voters pick Biden as their first choice, with 23.6 percent choosing Warren and 16.2 percent selecting Sanders.

When the options are narrowed to the five frontrunners — Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris and Buttigieg — and an instant run-off system is applied, Buttigieg is the first candidate eliminated, followed by Harris and then Sanders. Warren ultimately tops Biden by a margin of 53 percent to 47 percent.

Though Biden has consistently maintained his frontrunner status in polls, it remains to be seen whether he will come out on top when Democratic primary voters head to the polls next year. Historically speaking, the early frontrunner has often done well (see Al Gore in 2000 or Hillary Clinton in 2016), but there have also been occasions when frontrunners have famously fizzled out (see Ed Muskie in 1972 or Howard Dean in 2004).

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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