Welcome to Poll Watch, our weekly look at polling data and survey research on the candidates, voters and issues that will shape the 2020 election.
Throughout the 2020 presidential race, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have seemed like reluctant foes.
They met with each other before starting their campaigns. They had each other’s backs at the debates, until they didn’t. Most important, they agreed on how to confront the issues — boldly and structurally — if not always on the exact details.
But Ms. Warren’s pool of voters, who are casting for an alternative after she dropped out of the Democratic race on Thursday, generally doesn’t look like Mr. Sanders’s base. There is reason to believe that former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. could pick up nearly as many of Ms. Warren’s former voters as Mr. Sanders does.
“Obviously the more strong liberal policy folks should break more for Sanders than Biden,” Paul Maslin, a longtime Democratic pollster, said in an interview. “But I don’t know that it’s going to be anywhere near unanimous. If Biden is over the hump and is now clearly the accepted candidate as the best to beat Trump, and there’s a coalescing of the party around that view, he’s going to gain all kinds of support.”
There is certainly significant overlap between the core support of Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren, the party’s two leading liberals. He is particularly well positioned to usurp the kinds of older millennials and Generation X liberals who often favored Ms. Warren.
Indeed, in a Quinnipiac poll conducted early last month, when Mr. Biden was reeling from a weak performance in the Iowa caucuses, Ms. Warren’s voters were four times as likely to name Mr. Sanders as their second choice as they were to pick Mr. Biden.
Even still, only a third of her supporters in that poll pointed to Mr. Sanders as a runner-up. That equals out to less than 5 percent of the Democratic electorate. Besides, a lot has happened in the past month; most other candidates have disappeared from the race, and much of the party has united behind Mr. Biden.
Most troublingly for Mr. Sanders, Ms. Warren’s support profile has roughly as much overlap with Mr. Biden’s as it does with his. There is now reason to believe that the two remaining candidates will just about evenly split the gains from Ms. Warren’s departure.
Ms. Warren’s base is heavily tilted toward college graduates, women, white people and middle-to-high-earners. It’s not as if Mr. Sanders has been unable to win votes in these demographics. For instance, his backers on Super Tuesday were just as likely to be women as to be men.
But there is a working-class tilt to Mr. Sanders’s support that does not play out with Ms. Warren’s. He is diminishingly popular as you go up the income scale, whereas the opposite is true of Ms. Warren.
If the average Warren voter is an upper-middle-class white woman, Mr. Sanders is in a tough spot: He has serious vulnerabilities among this group. In Massachusetts — where Mr. Sanders beat Ms. Warren in her home state by five percentage points — he won just one-fifth of white women with college degrees, making this his weakest such age-education-gender group. Ultimately he lost the state to Mr. Biden by seven points.
“For most suburban or upper-middle-class white women, Joe Biden is a pretty comfortable place to land,” Mr. Maslin said.
“There’s the Obama connection, there’s a sense of stability and experience that’s probably pretty helpful, and then to the extent that they’re being pragmatic, they probably see him as a potentially stronger candidate against Trump,” he added, though he noted that polling did not suggest that either Mr. Biden or Mr. Sanders was significantly better positioned for the general election.
The good news for Mr. Sanders is that Ms. Warren’s backers are highly likely to identify as liberals — even more so than his own — and exit polls suggest that the two candidates’ voters tend to agree on the issues.
The bad news for him is that his remaining rival, Mr. Biden, has already shown an ability to win over a solid chunk of liberal voters. In Super Tuesday states with available data, 40 to 60 percent of Biden voters identified as liberals.
But the moderate former vice president isn’t an ideal choice for Ms. Warren’s voters, either. He has not articulated policy goals nearly as far-reaching or precise as Ms. Warren did. Many of her higher-educated, technocratic-minded voters may struggle to find either candidate convincing.
Ultimately, Ms. Warren’s voters are likely to wash out, unless she makes a big endorsement that effectively pushes them one way or the other. And even in that case, it can be hard for candidates to break through with certain demographics that have proved stubbornly averse to them.
The fundamental problems for Mr. Sanders as he looks to stall Mr. Biden’s momentum are that he cannot seem to break through with black voters or older voters, in spite of his increasingly targeted appeals to African-Americans and his campaign’s focus on his lifelong attempts to preserve Social Security. Ms. Warren’s base — heavily white, and light on voters over 65 — doesn’t have much to offer him on those fronts.