Two polls frame the Demo­cratic race and the power of black vot­ers

The Washington Post Sunday - - NEWS - Dan Balz [email protected]­post.com

A few months ago, a Demo­crat who is per­son­ally in­volved in the pres­i­den­tial race was of­fer­ing his pri­vate anal­y­sis of the com­pe­ti­tion. He framed it in a way that was dif­fer­ent from the con­ven­tional as­sess­ment but that might prove to be a smart way of think­ing about what is be­gin­ning to un­fold.

At the time, for­mer vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den’s per­for­mance on the trail and in de­bates was rais­ing doubts about his can­di­dacy. But this Demo­crat, who only wanted to as­sess the race with­out be­ing iden­ti­fied, said he re­mained rea­son­ably bullish about Bi­den’s chances.

The rea­son, he said, is that he saw the com­pe­ti­tion for the nom­i­na­tion com­ing down to a con­test be­tween the pro­gres­sive wing of the party and the African Amer­i­can wing. He be­lieved that Bi­den’s sup­port in the black com­mu­nity could be the cru­cial dif­fer­ence in the out­come of the race.

That for­mu­la­tion is a vari­a­tion of the way the Demo­cratic con­test is of­ten framed, as the pro­gres­sive wing vs. the mod­er­ate wing. But to­day it seems all the more rel­e­vant, given two polls re­leased this week­end.

The lat­est Iowa poll con­ducted by J. Ann Selzer for the Des Moines Reg­is­ter and CNN, pub­lished Fri­day evening, shows Sen. Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.) now lead­ing there with 20 per­cent sup­port, fol­lowed by Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren (D-Mass.) at 17 per­cent, for­mer South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete But­tigieg at 16 per­cent and Bi­den at 15 per­cent.

That rep­re­sented growth for San­ders, who was at 15 per­cent in Novem­ber, and a de­cline for But­tigieg, who led the Novem­ber Iowa poll with 25 per­cent sup­port. War­ren was up a sin­gle point, while Bi­den’s po­si­tion in the Iowa poll was un­changed be­tween Novem­ber and to­day.

The Iowa poll matched what is vis­i­ble on the ground in Iowa, which is that San­ders, af­ter a heart at­tack last fall and other set­backs to his cam­paign, is on the move. His sup­port­ers in Iowa, as else­where, are loyal and com­mit­ted. His cam­paign team be­lieves his or­ga­ni­za­tion will be as ef­fec­tive as any other in get­ting peo­ple to the cau­cuses on Feb. 3.

But the Iowa poll also high­lights an ever-chang­ing land­scape: In the four Regis­terCNN polls, there have been four dif­fer­ent lead­ers: Bi­den, then War­ren, then But­tigieg and now San­ders. Only 40 per­cent of Iowans in the new poll say they have made up their minds. The oth­ers are lean­ing to­ward some­one but could be per­suaded to change or haven’t picked any­one yet.

A San­ders vic­tory in Iowa would give him a boost in New Hamp­shire, a state he won eas­ily in 2016 but that also fea­tures a four-way com­pe­ti­tion a month ahead of its pri­mary. Along with War­ren, San­ders rep­re­sents the strength and the as­pi­ra­tions of a pro­gres­sive wing of the party head­ing to­ward the first votes of the year.

Based on the cur­rent num­bers, Bi­den could fin­ish any­where in the top four in Iowa. He has thrown con­sid­er­able re­sources, sur­ro­gates and per­sonal time into the state in the past six weeks. The lack of move­ment should be a cause for con­cern. Be­cause there ap­pears to be more en­thu­si­asm be­hind other can­di­dates, Bi­den’s or­ga­ni­za­tion will have to push hard on cau­cus night.

The other poll tells the other side of the story. This one was con­ducted by The Wash­ing­ton Post along with Ip­sos, a non­par­ti­san research firm and re­leased Satur­day morn­ing. The sur­vey sam­pled at­ti­tudes of 1,088 non-His­panic black adults na­tion­ally from a large on­line panel re­cruited through ran­dom sam­pling of U.S. house­holds. It rep­re­sents one of the most ex­ten­sive sur­veys of African Amer­i­can at­ti­tudes about the 2020 cam­paign.

One way of think­ing about the Iowa poll is that the lead­ing pro­gres­sive can­di­dates ac­count for 37 per­cent of the vote to­day while the three lead­ing mod­er­ate can­di­dates, Bi­den, But­tigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who is at 6 per­cent, also ac­count for 37 per­cent. In other words, par­ity along the ide­o­log­i­cal scale.

But when the race is viewed through the prism of the African Amer­i­can vote, it’s a dif­fer­ent story. Among black Democrats, Bi­den stands at 48 per­cent. San­ders is run­ning sec­ond at 20 per­cent. War­ren gets 9 per­cent and But­tigieg 2 per­cent. Bi­den has slightly more sup­port than San­ders, War­ren, But­tigieg, for­mer New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), An­drew Yang and Tom Steyer com­bined.

In the sur­vey of African Amer­i­can Democrats, Bi­den leads among men and women, lib­er­als and mod­er­ates, and all ed­u­ca­tional groups. He leads in the states that will vote be­tween now and Su­per Tues­day (March 3) and in the states that come af­ter that. He leads in all re­gions, with his big­gest sup­port in the South.

The one group of African Amer­i­cans where Bi­den doesn’t lead is among those un­der age 35. San­ders has the sup­port of 42 per­cent of those younger African Amer­i­cans, while Bi­den is at 30 per­cent. His deficit to San­ders among younger black Democrats is more than off­set by his 60-point lead among those over age 65.

An­other group is more closely di­vided. Th­ese are black Democrats who pre­fer a can­di­date who is closer to them on the is­sues. Bi­den has a sta­tis­ti­cally in­signif­i­cant lead among that group. Among the much larger group who say the most im­por­tant thing they want is a can­di­date who can de­feat Pres­i­dent Trump, a ma­jor­ity cur­rently sup­port Bi­den with ev­ery­one else in mid-dou­ble or sin­gle dig­its.

De­scrib­ing the Demo­cratic cam­paign as a com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the pro­gres­sive wing and the African Amer­i­can wing is, ad­mit­tedly, some­thing of an ap­ples and or­anges com­par­i­son. But it speaks to what re­mains one of the big­gest unan­swered ques­tions of the 2020 Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion con­test: Will African Amer­i­cans stick with Bi­den if he stum­bles in the first two states?

Should Bi­den do badly in Iowa and New Hamp­shire, that ques­tion would be an­swered in South Carolina, the fourth of the four early states to hold con­tests. As in the Post-Ip­sos na­tional poll, sur­veys in South Carolina have con­sis­tently shown Bi­den ahead, thanks pri­mar­ily to his solid sup­port among African Amer­i­cans. There’s no re­li­able guide to the so­lid­ity of that sup­port.

The Post-Ip­sos poll pro­vides good news for Bi­den, but like so much else thus far in the Demo­cratic race, it cap­tures im­pres­sions and at­ti­tudes amid a fluid con­test and ma­jor news break­ing on mul­ti­ple fronts. African Amer­i­cans re­main a foun­da­tional part of the Bi­den can­di­dacy. He can­not af­ford to see that foun­da­tion eroded by signs of weak­ness once the vot­ers start to cast their bal­lots.

AN­DREW HARNIK/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Four Iowa polls have had four dif­fer­ent lead­ers, firstly for­mer vice pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, bot­tom left; then Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren (D-Mass.), bot­tom right; then for­mer South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete But­tigieg, top left; and, most re­cently, Sen. Bernie San­ders (I-Vt.), top right. In a new na­tional poll of black vot­ers, Bi­den holds a com­mand­ing lead.

JOHN LOCHER/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

MELINA MARA/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

AN­DREW HARNIK/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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