The first high-quality poll conducted after last week’s Democratic debate is out, and it suggests the debate changed plenty – in a bad way for Joe Biden and a good way for both Kamala Harris and the race’s other leading woman.
The CNN/SSRS poll shows Biden sinking 10 points from its last poll in late May. Meanwhile, both Harris and Elizabeth Warren have surged, nine points and eight points, respectively. The cumulative effect is that Biden’s lead has declined to just five points – his smallest advantage in any high-quality poll since the start of the 2020 race.
Here’s the current breakdown:
Biden: 22% (-10 from last poll)
Harris: 17% (+9)
Warren: 15% (+8)
Bernie Sanders: 14% (-4)
Pete Buttigieg: 4% (-1)
Cory Booker: 3% (same)
Beto O’Rourke: 3% (-2)
Amy Klobuchar: 2% (same)
Everyone else 1% or below
For those keeping score at home, that’s the field’s women up 17 points and its men down 17 points.
The results pretty much confirm the conventional wisdom that the debate was a setback for Biden and a boon to Harris. If there are any surprises, they are the degree to which it seems to have shaken things up immediately and Warren’s parallel rise. While she was largely unscathed in Wednesday night’s portion of the debate, her performance wasn’t as lauded as Harris’ was, nor did she have the chance to directly take on Biden or Sanders.
Exactly why Biden has fallen back to earth isn’t completely clear. Given the nature of Harris’ attack – on his past opposition to busing to integrate schools – there was some thought he might lose some of his high support among black voters, who have formed a disproportionate part of his base. But while some numbers are floating around on social media, the sample of black voters in the poll isn’t large enough for CNN to break out in the cross tabs. And even if you get those numbers, the margin of error would be very high.
But there is one question on which this may have registered. CNN asked people which candidate would be best on several issues. Biden’s worst of the four issues? Race relations. While 29% thought Harris would best handle this issue, just 16% picked Biden. He was still in second place, but that’s hardly the showing you’d expect for someone who previously had as much as a majority of the black vote.
Biden’s image isn’t quite as sterling as it was before, but it’s not as if it took a nose-dive. While his favorable/unfavorable split among Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters in the May CNN poll was 77%/12%, it’s 72/21 in the newest poll. Sanders’ image shifted similarly, with a five-point drop in his favorable rating (76 to 71) and a seven-point increase in his unfavorable rating (15 to 22). And other candidates also saw increases in their unfavorable ratings, including Warren.
The most likely conclusion is the one I’ve advocated for a while: that Biden’s early lead has largely been predicated on his superior name recognition and goodwill left over from his time as Barack Obama’s vice president. Barely 50% of people knew candidates like Harris well enough to rate them.
The debate last week was a chance for many of these candidates to make a first impression, or at least a chance to provide a more informed impression. Harris seems to have taken advantage of it. And as other candidates become better-known and more people tune in to the 2020 race, it will be up to Biden to make an affirmative case for his campaign. The same goes for Sanders.
It’s still early, but the first poll after the first debate seems to confirm that Biden’s big early lead was built on anything but a solid foundation.