In the wake of the first round of debates in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, former Vice President Joe Biden has taken a serious hit, while Sen.s Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are on the ascendant, along with Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the 2016 runner-up, has fallen behind. Even so, both Sanders and Biden are maintaining a strong presence in the race. The race seems to be shaping up as a battle between these five candidates.
While the first votes in the Democratic primary will not come until next year, it is important for candidates to raise money and introduce themselves to voters over the next few months. At this point in the race, voters have not decided whom to support. Rather, they are considering various options.
An Economist/YouGov poll published on Friday captured the shifting fortunes of candidates well. Rather than merely asking likely primary voters their first choice, the poll asked them which candidates they are considering, thus allowing a voter to choose a few different options.
Before the debates, Biden led the field with 50 percent of Democrats considering him. Warren (47 percent), Sanders (38 percent), Harris (33 percent), Buttigieg (29 percent), former Rep. Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke (D-Texas) (25 percent), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) (22 percent) followed behind. Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro followed at a distance, at 10 percent.
After the debates, Warren jumped to first place (53 percent), with Harris nipping at her heels (46 percent). Biden (44 percent) and Sanders (35 percent), still in a very strong position, fell behind their previous leads. Buttigieg (31 percent) and Booker (23 percent) experienced moderate gains, while Castro shot up to 20 percent and O’Rourke dropped to 13 percent.
When voters were asked about their first choice, Biden enjoyed a firm lead (31 percent) before the debates. Warren (19 percent), Sanders (14 percent), Buttigieg (7 percent), Harris (6 percent), and Booker (6 percent) fell far behind. Yet after the debates, Biden fell to 21 percent, with Warren holding steady at 18 percent. Harris (13 percent) and Buttigieg (9 percent) rose, while Sanders fell to 10 percent.
The Economist/YouGov poll also asked Democratic voters which candidates they think would defeat Donald Trump. Biden polled best, both before (65 percent) and after (62 percent) the debates. Before the debates, voters thought Warren (43 percent) and Harris (43 percent) would beat Trump, but after the debates they proved more bullish about Warren (54 percent) and Harris (50 percent). After the debates, fewer voters thought Sanders or O’Rourke would beat Trump in the general election.
Biden still leads in the RealClearPolitics polling average with 26 percent, ahead of Harris (15.2 percent), Sanders (14 percent), Warren (13.8 percent), and Buttigieg (5.2 percent). O’Rourke (2.4 percent) and Booker (2.2 percent) are the only other candidates above 2 percent.
Buttigieg’s polling does not place him among the serious contenders just yet, but his fundraising haul was particularly impressive in the last three months. His campaign reported raising $24.8 million, ahead of Biden ($21.5 million), Sanders ($18 million), and Harris (less than $12 million). Warren’s campaign has yet to report her fundraising numbers.
While candidates eventually win by gaining the largest number of primary or caucus votes, fundraising allows them to stay in the game and make important tactical moves as the race heats up. Furthermore, fundraising also demonstrates a candidate’s ability to gain and energize a base of support. Buttigieg’s fundraising suggests that he will be able to break out of his 5 percent position and become one of the five key contenders.
Besides polling and fundraising, endorsements form a key measure for a candidate’s strength in a primary. Political scientists have theorized that “the party decides,” i.e. that current and former party officials hold immense sway in leading voters to select their candidate. This hypothesis failed spectacularly among Republicans in 2016, and Sanders ran against the Democratic Party that year, but endorsements can still provide key insight into a presidential primary.
FiveThirtyEight’s endorsement tracker assigns endorsement points based on what kind of person endorses a candidate. Former presidents, vice presidents, and current national party leaders are worth 10 points, while governors are worth eight, senators worth 6, former party leaders (including former presidential and vice presidential nominees) are worth 5 points, representatives and mayors are worth 3 points, state leaders worth 2 points, and Democratic National Committee members worth 1 point.
On this scale, Biden wins handily with 102 points, followed by Harris with 78 points. Booker takes third with 57 points and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) fourth with 42 points. Then come Warren (25 points), Sanders (24 points), O’Rourke (18 points), Buttigieg (12 points), and Castro (12 points).
Booker’s impressive endorsement tally comes almost exclusively from the State of New Jersey, which means it most likely does not carry much weight outside his state. His most recent endorsement came in April. Klobuchar’s tally also comes from her home state of Minnesota, with former Vice President Walter Mondale the most impressive name. Even Mondale is closely associated with Minnesota, however.
Harris’s endorsements also come from her home state of California, but in the past two months, U.S. representatives from various states — Texas, Florida, Missouri, Illinois, and Connecticut — have endorsed her.
Biden also enjoys broad support from many states, even though his highest percentage of endorsements also comes from the state he represented in the U.S. Senate — Delaware. While congressmen have recently flocked to Harris’s campaign, Biden has only gained one endorsement in June and one more in July, so far.
Most Democratic leaders have hesitated to endorse 2020 candidates this early, but Harris’ growing wave of support should not be overlooked.
It is still very early in the 2020 Democratic primary, but after the first round of debates, Warren and Harris are on the ascendant, while Biden and Sanders have lost their momentum. Buttigieg stands as a possible dark horse.
Before the debate, Biden’s 31 percent — and his hefty endorsements — suggested the former vice president may soar to victory. Few candidates with such a powerful early lead have failed to take the nomination. Yet his lackluster debate performance, coupled with his recent apology for touting his ability to treat Democratic segregationist senators with civility, is likely to further weaken his position. Biden’s strong popularity among black voters is largely a result of his connection with former President Barack Obama, who has remained silent as Booker and Harris go after Biden on the issue of race.
A few other candidates like Booker and Castro may enjoy a breakout moment — and there’s always Marianne Williamson “harnessing the inspiration and the motivation and the excitement of people” — but the ultimate winner is likely to come from those five candidates.
Sadly, all of these Democrats are extremely radical on health care, immigration, LGBT activism against religious freedom, federally-mandated racially integrated busing, and more. Whichever Democrat takes the nomination, Trump will be moderate in comparison.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.