Tuesday, October 8, 2019

The Warren Surge

That it's happening is undeniable; see the chart below from the RCP rolling average of Democratic primary polls. How it's happening and what it portends for the future are more debatable questions.
Warren is running a very good, smart, disciplined campaign and it is paying off, allowing her to fully capitalize on the natural appeal of her populist campaign themes. Her rival on the left, Bernie Sanders, is fading and will now be dogged by serious questions about his health. Joe Biden, while still a formidable foe, is running a lackluster campaign that has done little to dispel doubts about his age and establishment orientation.
So no wonder her trendline is sharply up and she is now virtually tied with Biden. Where is her burgeoning support coming from? The best quantitative breakdown is from Geoffrey Skelley on 538. Warren has always been a favorite of very liberal, mostly white, mostly college-educated voters but now, argues Skelley, the data show that.....
1. Warren is appealing to more moderate voters too
2. Warren is finally starting to make inroads with voters without a college degree
3. Warren is also winning over voters who aren’t white
4. Warren is also maybe winning over some former Harris backers
It's looking more like a real coalition! Note particularly these two excerpts from Skelley's article:
"For the past couple of months, Warren has been the leading candidate for college-educated voters, particularly white ones,1 but there are now signs she’s garnering support from voters who aren’t college educated, too. This is important for Warren because a plurality of Democratic voters are white voters without a college degree, and they currently form a key constituency for Biden and Sanders. And in Quinnipiac’s latest survey, Warren had 26 percent support among non-college whites, which put her in a near-tie with Biden at 27 percent and ahead of Sanders’s 19 percent. By comparison, in Quinnipiac’s late-August survey, Warren had 20 percent to Biden’s 30 percent among non-college whites and was roughly tied with Sanders, who had 19 percent support among that group.....
Arguably the biggest threat to Warren’s chances at the nomination has been just how white her support is. She has consistently had low support among nonwhite voters, especially African Americans, who make up anywhere from 20 to 25 percent of the Democratic electorate. But polls now suggest Warren may be, at last, gaining traction. Quinnipiac’s past two national polls showed Warren’s support among black voters nearly doubled from 10 to 19 percent, and the most recent YouGov/Economist survey found her at 15 percent among African Americans compared to 9 percent in its final August poll. And Monmouth’s late September survey found her at 20 percent among nonwhites more broadly, up from 14 percent in August."
With these trends, should we start assuming that Warren will be the eventual nominee? Frankly, I think it's quite a bit too early to make that assumption (though perhaps one could say that she now has a better chance than any other individual candidate of succeeding, a much weaker statement). And Jonathan Bernstein usefully reminds us that it might even be premature to assume that the race has boiled down to Warren-Biden contest. Certainly, the record of previous nomination contests should give us pause.
"Take Iowa. Yes, Warren now has a slim polling lead over Biden, with everyone else far behind. But a quick check of the historical record suggests things could still change radically. Four years ago, Donald Trump and Ben Carson were locked in a tie in Iowa. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio were in third and fourth. Four months later, Cruz rose from 9% to 27% to take first place in the caucuses; Rubio went from 8% to 23%, with Trump narrowly edging him out for second place. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton’s numbers didn’t change much from October to February – but Bernie Sanders gained about 16 percentage points and almost beat her.
What about 2012? Early October polling had Mitt Romney on top, followed by three candidate – Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry – who never went anywhere. Rick Santorum was in seventh place in the polls at 4%. He eventually surged to narrowly beat Romney in Iowa with almost 25% of the vote.
In 2008, Barack Obama’s first-place finish was about 10 percentage points higher than his early October polling numbers. But Iowa caucused a month earlier that year, so if we go back to early September, Obama was in third place, about 16 percentage points below his eventual caucus total. On the other side, Mike Huckabee was in fourth at about 10% in September and early October polls; he wound up winning the caucuses easily with 34% of the vote.
In each of the last five contested Iowa caucuses, in other words, at least one candidate gained at least 15 points in the polls over the last few months. That suggests that essentially every remaining contender in the 2020 race would have enough time for a late surge."
That said, my friend and sometime co-author John Judis, in a recent TPM blog post, is willing to put his chips down now on Senator Warren:
"At the risk of appearing foolhardy several months hence, I want to say that in the last week, it has become very likely that Elizabeth Warren will win the Democratic nomination. A two-tier race, with Warren, Joe Biden, and Bernie Sanders in the top tier, has become a race largely of Warren against herself."
As I say, I'm still not so sure but, if she does become the nominee, there will still be a lot of challenges left to actually beat Trump. Judis, in the same TPM article, enumerates them well:
"Warren’s problem, if anything, is that she is too close politically to Sanders and has heeded too much the siren call of the metropolitan and college-town liberals. She needs to think about winning an electoral college majority in November 2020, and that means backing off programs that raise the specter of higher taxes for the working class or that would allow Trump to paint the Democrats as cultural elitists. That means moving away from Medicare for All, decriminalizing illegal immigration, and reparations. There is nothing wrong, for instance, with advocating Medicare for All as an ultimate goal and Medicare for Anyone as the immediate means to shore up the Affordable Care Act.
I often hear the argument that if Democrats move to “the center,” they will suffer the fate of Hillary Clinton in 2016. But Clinton didn’t lose because she was insufficiently radical. She lost because she couldn’t overcome her email scandal and because she ran a campaign focused on culture, not economics — on the promise of a woman president (“I’m with HER”) and on her challenger’s character. That didn’t speak to the insecurities that many swing voters felt. Warren’s challenge will not be to out-radicalize Trump, but to assure voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan and other swing states that she understands their problems and will do something about them. If she can do that — and maintain the support of minorities and of middle-of-the-road suburban voters in states like Virginia and Colorado who rejected Trump and the Republicans in 2018 — she could be the next president."
I agree with this. Warren could indeed be our next President--and likely a very good one--but her chances of actually occupying the Oval Office, if she does get the nomination, are very much dependent on pivoting to a general election strategy that takes these imperatives into account--in other words, she will need a general election strategy as smart as her nomination strategy.

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