The “horse race” of presidential primary politics is officially underway, as we’re drawing nearer to the Iowa Caucus election date.
Within that horse race, a narrative of ideological differences between the top three candidates has encapsulated the media. Former Vice President Joe Biden, considered the centrist/moderate, is trying to fend off Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who are depicted as leaning further to the left comparatively.
The reporting is sound in some ways, to be sure: where those three candidates stand on the ideological spectrum is not in dispute. However, there appears to be this false sense that Biden supporters are inherently against anything Sanders or Warren stand for, and vice versa.
While there are sharp divides over the candidates on policy, on principle, it appears as though that storyline is flawed. Indeed, a Morning Consult poll released this week shows a significant portion of Biden’s supporters would pick one of the candidates who is significantly further to the left of him as their second choice.
The poll found that Biden has a wide lead nationally at the moment against the other two, with 29 percent of Democratic-leaning voters saying they want him to be the presidential nominee for the party. Twenty-three percent say they back Sanders, while 14 percent are supporting Warren.
But the “second pick” poll is where things get interesting. Among Biden supporters, you would expect their next choice to be someone with a moderate streak to them. Instead, you see that 27 percent of Biden supporters would pick Sanders as their second choice, while 21 percent pick Warren.
This tracks with Morning Consult polling, which shows that Sanders supporters' second pick is Warren (and also, Sanders is the second choice among Biden supporters, as you might not predict) https://t.co/OGePWp1mMd pic.twitter.com/JPV9tktJiD
— Alex Kotch (@alexkotch) January 17, 2020
In other words, 48 percent (nearly half) of Biden supporters say that, if they couldn’t have Biden, they’d rather have a candidate with significantly more progressive values as their second pick to lead the party in November.
The love is shared both ways, too. While 30 percent of Sanders’s supporters pick Warren as their second choice (going with what conventional wisdom would dictate), an almost equal amount, 28 percent, say that Biden would earn their vote if Sanders can’t win.
Among Warren supporters, 32 percent say they’d pick Sanders as their second choice, with 23 percent saying Biden would win their vote in the event she’s not an option.
So what does this all mean? While it’s important to report on the differences between the candidates, the supposed “infighting” between the members of the party — particularly, among the voters themselves — seems to be overhyped, to some degree.
All three of the top-tier candidates in the Democratic Party’s contested nomination race receive positive reviews from voters intending to take part in the primary elections this spring — Sanders and Biden both have 73 percent favorability ratings, while Warren gets a 64 percent favorability mark. None of the three garners an unfavorability rating, among Dem voters, greater than 21 percent, Morning Consult found.
In other words, voters within the Democratic primaries are probably going to rally behind and support whoever the nominee ends up being. The doom-and-gloom you might hear about on social media, that supporters of Candidate A won’t ever back Candidate B, isn’t being reflected in the polling data.
Concerns that a candidate isn’t progressive enough (or is “too far to the left”) to energize the base are also overblown — the current commander-in-chief is doing plenty to ensure voters will come out in droves come November.