There’s only one takeaway from the new CNN-SSRS poll of the 2020 Democratic field: Joe Biden may not be the race’s front-runner for much longer.
In the first poll conducted after the first two nights of debates between the top 20(!) candidates in the Democratic race, Biden stands at 22% – followed closely by California Sen. Kamala Harris at 17%, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 15% and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at 14%.
The real story isn’t those numbers as much as it is the change between this latest poll and CNN’s late May survey of the 2020 field. Biden is now down 10 POINTS from that May poll, while Harris is up 9 and Warren is up 8. (Sanders dropped by 4 points.)
It’s hard not to see the impact of the debates – my winners and losers from night one and night two, FYI – in those numbers. Harris, and to a lesser extent Warren, shined on the stage. Biden, and to a lesser extent Sanders, sagged. (Worth nothing: These numbers come hard on the heels of those debates – so they may be capturing a bit of a recency effect among voters. Still …)
What the rapid – and steep – drop in Biden’s numbers seems to suggest is that lots of Democratic voters were sort of parking their support with the former vice president because, well, they knew him and liked him. (Biden’s favorability among Democrats in the new CNN poll is 74%, while 22% have an unfavorable view.) The issue for Biden is that when presented with other serious, credible options via the debate(s), those voters who were parked on him headed to other candidates like Harris and Warren.
Obviously, drawing too many conclusions from a single set of a data taken from a poll in late June is a dangerous proposition. But we aren’t doing this in a vacuum. We know there have been questions (concerns?) about whether Biden – a longtime senator and card-carrying member of the Democratic establishment – is the right fit for a) these times and b) this party.
The Democratic Party of 2019 is younger, less white, more female, more liberal and far more skeptical of establishment politicians than it was even five years ago. Biden has been installed as the front-runner, yes, but the seeming mismatch with not only his profile but also the sort of campaign he is running so far (Trump is an anomaly, politics – and Republicans – will return to normal once he is gone, etc.) has always been a problem.
The Point: It’s not yet clear if there is temporary or permanent slippage for Biden. But the numbers have to be deeply worrisome for his side either way.