2016 Democrats, Iowa

Poll Watch: Episode 6 (Berning Down the House)

September 10, 2015

Time to overreact.  But first the disclaimer: It’s still 5 months until anyone votes.  Drawing major conclusions based on a couple of polls is dangerous.  Hillary Clinton has a ton of money and almost all of the endorsements.  Every winning candidate stumbles at some point and is a few steps from losing control of their destiny.  She won’t give up easily.

Still, holy shit.

First out of the chute this morning was a Quinnipiac poll in Iowa that showed Sanders ahead of Clinton 41 to 40.  This was his first first place poll result in Iowa.  Combined with his now noticeable advantage in New Hampshire, Bernie was in the enviable position of leading in both of the kickoff states.

Neat, but not necessarily significant by itself.  Campaigns take internal polls too, and Team Hillary likely saw this coming.  They started leaking the idea that Bernie could win both states, but she’d be ok anyway because of her southern firewall.

The overall concept makes sense, and Nate Silver explored this exact scenario earlier in the summer, before Sanders was leading anywhere, pointing out Iowa and New Hampshire were both full of the liberal, educated white voters Sanders should do best with.  Once the voters start having pigment, Hillary would have an advantage.

A bit over a month ago, I agreed, figuring Hillary was definitely at risk, but mostly from Biden.  It looked like Bernie had virtually no chance in a head-to-head battle and could only win if Biden entered and took almost all of his votes from Hillary.  Under that scenario, with motivated Sanders voters turning out in caucus states as Obama’s did in 2008, maybe somehow he could squeeze out a victory.

That was based on the idea Bernie would need to focus most of his attention on his core group of voters to win Iowa and New Hampshire and remain relevant.  Even when he started pulling ahead in New Hampshire, that still seemed likely, as he was still well behind in Iowa, if still surging.

Two weeks ago the equation changed. The Des Moines Register Iowa Poll, conducted by Ann Selzer, who is absurdly accurate in Iowa, had Bernie within 7 points and Hillary well under 50%.

This meant Bernie would likely wind up ahead in Iowa within a couple weeks.  Combined with his approximately 10 point advantage in New Hampshire, it indicated he might be able to start focusing on voters outside his core group well ahead of February voting.  None of the candidates Sanders was being compared to had that opportunity, which I think is the biggest reason they fell short.

So now, perhaps even a few days ahead of schedule, Bernie has caught up in Iowa.  Absent any change in the narrative, I would expect the next few polls to show him ahead by 5-7 points on average.

Hillary can run ads all she wants, but for someone with almost 25 years directly in the public eye, she has little chance of redefining herself.  If she tries yet another reboot, the authenticity gap widens.  If she goes negative on Bernie, she’s unlikely to find any major inconsistencies or skeletons.  That leaves two topics, gun control and defense/foreign policy.

The average Democrat is not picking their president based on gun control.  Outside of some urban areas, Democrats own guns too.  The NRA doesn’t give out an annual Bernie Award, so it’s not like he’s the ghost of Charlton Heston.

In the meanwhile, Hillary voted for the Iraq War, Bernie didn’t.  There are voters who will value her experience, but talking about the State Department reminds people of email and servers.  A third of DEMOCRATS now find her untrustworthy.

This is an increasingly scary scenario.  Notice this does not rely on any indictments of Hillary or even her close associates.  However, it’s much worse for her than I’ve indicated.  You see, I’ve buried the lede.

Later in the day, CNN released a new national poll.

Clinton 37

Sanders 27

Biden 20

Ruh roh.

Hyperbole Alert:

This is a DISASTER.  Why you ask? It’s several weeks sooner than I would have expected.

Sanders + Biden = 47 > Hillary 37

So the gap is narrowing.  The pattern is now extending as well.  What happens in New Hampshire then happens in Iowa and then follows nationally.  This does not automatically mean Hillary will trail Sanders by 10 points in Iowa and be even nationally by this time next month.

However that’s where the trend line is pointing.  A great deal of evidence now suggests that Biden does not yet have a huge influence on the gap between Hillary and Bernie.  When pollsters survey with and without Joe, the margin is normally similar.

This means Bernie could enter the debate on October 13 ahead of or even with Hillary in national polls, even if Biden decides to pass for now.

Yes, Hillary still leads by a significant margin among non-white voters.  But Bernie leads by 9 points among white voters.  That’s all white voters, not just educated, craft beer drinking Sierra Club members.  This includes white single moms, white feminists, all pale people.

But wait…..there’s more….

Among likely voters:

Trump 48

Hillary 48

Among women voters:

Hillary 51

Carson 48

In case your eyeballs just detached from their sockets, Hillary is currently running even with The Donald.  She’s trailing Jeb, otherwise known as Trump’s Piñata.  She’s trailing Dr. Carson, barely ahead of him with women.

I’d already speculated a few weeks ago that if Republicans seem likely to nominate a more risky or ideologically extreme candidate, many Democrats might want to roll the dice on Bernie.  If Hillary can’t even beat those candidates (or polls at least indicate that), it gets even easier to justify Sanders.

Bernie is a much stronger candidate than people are ready to accept.  He’s great at staying on message.  His record matches his message.  Much like Ronald Reagan (think this is the first official Reagan-Bernie match), he’s practiced the same message for multiple decades.  Today’s polling suggests it will be very difficult for Hillary to beat him.

But wait….there’s still more….

Joe Biden isn’t ready to enter the race today.  He might not be ready a week from now.  Give him 2-3 weeks and he’s in.  He telegraphed this a bit with Stephen Colbert saying he wasn’t ready yet, but owed it to his parents and Beau to get up off the floor.

It was one thing to hold off with many Democrats publicly urging him to stay out.  It’s another thing as the chorus for him to enter grows.  In the same CNN poll:

Biden 57

Trump 41

He’s ahead of Jeb too, though trailing Carson, who is currently the most popular politician in America.  Biden runs better among women against Trump than Hillary does.  If in fact there is a War on Women, apparently women would rather Joe fight it.

Among Democrats, though Hillary leads Biden, he is the second choice of more voters than her or Bernie.  Adding together first and second choices, they are already virtually even.  There is no gender gap between Biden and Clinton among Democrats.  While Sanders does better with men, Joe is favored by women, at the same ratio as Hillary

If Democratic women are not particularly partial to Hillary.  If white female Republicans and Independents prefer Biden, why on earth is Hillary a better general election candidate?

If the incumbent president would likely prefer Biden and policy differences between Hillary and Joe are minor, why would Democrats choose her?

That’s without indictments.

If by some chance Biden stays out, Hillary is in for a brutal fight.  Sanders is no Obama, but 2016 Hillary doesn’t measure up to the 2008 version.

If Biden announces in by the end of September, Hillary likely goes into the first debate in third place needing the performance of her life.

Hillary Clinton no longer has a 50% chance of being the Democratic nominee.  Unannounced Joe Biden is your new favorite.  Bernie is for real.  Game on.

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