From a “what’s good for democracy” standpoint, the 2020 Democratic presidential primary has been something of a breath of fresh air. There are a number of good candidates and good ideas, with fewer scandals and less infighting than one might expect from a field this large. But from a “what’s good for ratings” standpoint, the 2020 Democratic primary is a nightmare.
What’s the media supposed to do to get ratings out of the Democratic primary race when everyone is behaving? The worst that Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren have been willing to say about each other is to politely disagree over budget numbers. Bernie Sanders has been behaving. When one of the fringe candidates has occasionally taken an ugly shot at one of the top tier candidates, the public has made clear that it has no interest in such antics, meaning the media can’t play those incidents up for ratings. Yet the pundits have to say something controversial about the primary race, or people change the channel and go watch football instead.
Joe Biden is the highest profile name in the Democratic primary race, and he’s still widely seen as the frontrunner, and the easiest way to get ratings out of any race is to paint the frontrunner as being “in trouble.” The media has generally been really good about labeling the fake Biden-Ukraine scandal as being fake. But in the same breath, the media has often implied that the fake Biden scandal is driving Biden’s poll numbers downward. The thing is, Biden’s numbers aren’t actually going down.
The current average of polls has Joe Biden at around 27%. That’s within the margin of error of where Biden was when the summer began. His numbers haven’t dropped. He hasn’t lost any supporters. He does, however, have a problem. In that same timeframe, Elizabeth Warren has seen her poll numbers more than double, and average of current polls now has her at around 22%. Warren is the only candidate whose poll numbers have seen any growth, and it’s significant growth.
But the numbers say that Warren’s rising popularity isn’t at Biden’s expense. Instead Warren is pulling supporters from Sanders, whose numbers have dropped off since the summer. Warren is also winning over supporters who had been in the “undecided” pile. Biden isn’t losing any of his support, not to Warren, and not to anyone else. But Biden isn’t gaining any support either.
We’re still so far away from the first 2020 Democratic primary votes being cast, it’s not worth going into detailed analysis about how Biden, Warren, and the others might fare in the early primary states. That would require assuming that nothing major will change in the race between now and then, which is a big assumption. For now, the thing to know is that Biden is still holding steady, even as Warren closes in on him by gaining supporters who weren’t in Biden’s camp to begin with. You can decide whether that means Biden is in “trouble” or not. But Trump’s efforts to hurt Biden don’t appear to have actually hurt him.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report