Mixed signals for Sanders in national polls

Sanders Green New Deal
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., announcing a Green New Deal bill outside the U.S. Capitol earlier this month. Photo by Kit Norton/VTDigger

After weeks of trailing Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in national polls, Sen. Bernie Sanders overtook her in several recent countrywide surveys.

The Vermont senator is tied with former Vice President Joe Biden at 27% for first place among the Democrats running for president, according to the latest Emerson College poll. Sanders has also leapfrogged Warren in this week’s Morning Consult/Politico survey.

Meanwhile, Politico reports former President Barack Obama told advisers he would try to stop Sanders from getting the nomination if he thought he would win.

Since April, Sanders had hovered around 20% — No. 2 in the crowded Democratic primary — in Morning Consult’s polling. But Warren surged ahead of Sanders in mid-September and maintained a slight edge until Nov. 10, when she began to slip.

Warren now sits at 15% in that poll, with Sanders at 21% in second, still trailing Biden, who has 30% support nationally. South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg is in fourth place with 9%, ahead of other candidates including California Sen. Kamala Harris and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.

“Biden and Sanders continue to hold their bases, which should concern Warren, as she has waited for one of the front runners to slip these past few months – yet, their support seems to be crystalizing,” Spencer Kimball, director of Emerson College’s polling, said in a statement.

Newcomers to the race — billionaire Michael Bloomberg and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick — barely show up in the recent national polls.

“The only angle and hope candidates like Bloomberg or Patrick have for the nomination is a brokered convention, and while unlikely, the elimination of Super Delegates in 2020,” Kimball added.

Not all of the news has been positive for the Sanders campaign.

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In a Quinnipiac University poll published Tuesday, Biden is at 24% with Buttigieg second with 16%, Warren at 14% and Sanders fourth with 13%. In October, Sanders was third in that poll.

Meanwhile, Sanders has also stabilized in recent statewide polls in early caucus and primary states.

In Iowa, Sanders sits in second place at 18%, one point behind Warren, who had been comfortably leading since September, according to a poll conducted by Iowa State University

However, Warren has seen her support drop in the Hawkeye State by 10 points in the past month, allowing Buttigieg to move to the front of the pack with 26%. Biden has slipped to fourth place in Iowa with 12%. The caucus is the first week of February.

In a statement, Dave Peterson, a political science professor who oversees the polling process, attributes the recent shift in the polls to the heightened scrutiny on Warren’s Medicare for All spending plan combined with Buttigieg’s rising national popularity.

“What this tells me is that there is a segment of Iowans backing the candidate getting the most positive coverage,” he said. “If we start seeing more scrutiny of Buttigieg, then his lead might prove to be temporary as well.”

The Sanders camp received a scare in New Hampshire, where he resoundingly won in 2016, on Nov. 18 when St. Anselm College released a poll with the Vermont senator sitting in fourth place with 9%. Buttigieg led in the poll with Warren and Biden tied for second at 15%.

But a week later Suffolk University/Boston Globe published a Granite State poll with Sanders in first place among a bunched group of four. The Vermont independent led with 16% ahead of Warren, Buttigieg and Biden.

David Paleologos, director of Suffolk University’s  political research center, told the Boston Globe that for much of the campaign cycle Sanders and Warren have been fighting for supremacy among New Hampshire voters but not any more.

“The narrative is changing in New Hampshire,” Paleologos said. “Now, add to that the war between Buttigieg and Biden.”

Trying to capitalize on the recent uptick in the polls, the Sanders campaign sent out a plea asking for 15,000 donations by the end of Tuesday.

“November is a tough month for fundraising, and our movement is doing a great job keeping pace with where we need to be,” the campaign wrote to supporters.

The campaign also wrote that in the debate, Sanders — who only spoke for 11.8 minutes — showed he will “stand up to special interests when we are in the White House.”

During the Nov. 20 debate, Sanders said he agreed with former President Barack Obama’s recent comments that the average American does not want to tear down the current political system. 

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“We don’t have to tear down the system, but we do have to do what the American people want,” Sanders said in response to a question during the fifth Democratic debate. 

At an event with wealthy liberal donors, Obama had urged candidates not to push too far left.

“Even as we push the envelope and we are bold in our vision, we also have to be rooted in reality,” the New York Times reported Obama saying. “The average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.”

Earlier in 2019, when Sanders was leading in many polls, Obama privately told advisers he would “speak up to stop him” from winning the nomination, Politico reported Tuesday.

Politico asked a close adviser whether the popular former president would actually act to make sure Sanders did not win the Democratic nomination.

“I can’t confirm that,” the adviser told Politico. “He hasn’t said that directly to me. The only reason I’m hesitating at all is because, yeah, if Bernie were running away with it, I think maybe we would all have to say something. But I don’t think that’s likely. It’s not happening.”

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Kit Norton

About Kit

Kit Norton is the general assignment reporter at VTDigger. He is originally from eastern Vermont and graduated from Emerson College in 2017 with a degree in journalism. In 2016, he was a recipient of The Society of Environmental Journalists' Emerging Environmental Journalist award. Kit has worked at PRI's weekly radio environmental program, Living on Earth, and has written for the online news site Truthout.

Email: [email protected]

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