Former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren have gained support since the summer in their fight for the Democratic presidential nomination and are beginning to separate themselves from the rest of the party’s sprawling 2020 field, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll finds.
Meanwhile, Colorado's U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet was among a handful of candidates scoring a 1% result in the new survey.
Biden was the top choice of 31% of Democratic primary voters, while Warren was favored by 25% in the poll, which was conducted after the party’s third primary debate, in Houston, last week. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was the only other candidate with double-digit support, at 14%.
Biden and Warren were the only candidates whose support grew meaningfully since a July survey. But measures of voter enthusiasm for Warren have risen during the year while declining for Biden.
Some 70% of Democratic primary voters rated themselves as enthusiastic about or comfortable with Warren, compared with 64% who said so of Biden. In a sign of her support, Warren attracted 20,000 people to a rally in New York City’s Washington Square Park Monday night.
The survey underscored Biden’s strength among voters age 50 and older, as well as among African-Americans, two voting groups that often play influential roles in Democratic primaries.
Republican pollster Bill McInturff noted that only three contenders have double-digit support even after Democratic voters have been exposed to a large field through televised debates and other media events.
“The race isn’t getting broader. There aren’t more people in the mix. There are fewer people,” said McInturff, who conducted the survey with Democrat Jeff Horwitt.
Peter Hart, a Democratic pollster who also worked on the survey, cautioned that past presidential campaigns have often fluctuated ahead of the first nominating contests. “What we see in September isn’t what we see in December,” Hart said. The first 2020 contest, in Iowa, will be held next February.
Warren struggled with fundraising and lagged behind some opponents at the start of her candidacy. But enthusiasm for her has surged in recent months. The 70% of Democratic primary voters who said they were enthusiastic about or comfortable with Warren compared with 57% who said so in March.
Democratic enthusiasm has declined, by contrast, for Biden. The 64% who said they were enthusiastic about or comfortable with him in the new survey compared with 73% who said so in March.
Some 62% said they were enthusiastic about or comfortable with Sanders’ candidacy. Some 37% said they had reservations about him or were uncomfortable with him, compared with 35% who said so of Biden and 21% who said so of Warren.
The poll also shows Biden with strength among moderate and conservative Democrats, while among black voters, he had 49% support, while Warren was at 13% and Sanders was at 5%.
Among liberals, Warren was backed by 36% of respondents, compared with 19% apiece for Biden and Sanders.
When asked to name their second choice, respondents picked Warren, who received 21%, followed by Sanders at 16% and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 12%. Eleven percent said Biden was their second choice.
The Journal/NBC News poll surveyed 506 registered voters who said they would vote in a Democratic caucus or primary. The poll was conducted from Sept. 13-16 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.36 percentage points.
Both Biden and Warren have built upon their support compared with the Journal/NBC News poll in July, when Biden received 26% and Warren was at 19%. Sanders was at 13% in that July poll.
The latest poll underscored the challenge for the long slate of Democratic candidates who are trying to break into the top tier.
The survey found weaker support than in July, for example, for California Sen. Kamala Harris. She had the backing of 13% of Democratic primary voters in the prior survey, conducted shortly after she drew wide attention for confronting Biden over racial issues in a televised debate. In the new survey, she registered 5% support.
Buttigieg received 7% support in the new survey, while entrepreneur Andrew Yang had 4%. Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Cory Booker of New Jersey garnered 2% each.
Seven candidates registered at 1%: Bennet, Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, former Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.
Real Clear Politics shows Bennet averaging 0.6% support in recent Democratic-primary preference polls. His low survey scores kept him off the debate stage in Houston on Sept. 12.
The Coloradan has made the early caucus state of Iowa a focus, launching ads there this week.
Biden has sought to tie himself closely to former President Obama, defending their administration’s signature health law and running advertising that emphasizes the two men’s partnership on economic and social issues while in the White House.
The survey shows Obama as overwhelmingly popular within the party, with 90% holding a positive view of the former president. That compares with 64% who have a positive view of former President Bill Clinton.
Obama’s presidency receives high marks in the poll, with 78% saying they are satisfied that he did as much as possible to address the issues facing the country. Twenty percent said they were unsatisfied with Obama’s record.
The poll also offers a window into the party’s ideological divide as it seeks to define itself after the Obama years.
Slightly more than half of Democratic primary voters—56%—want a nominee who will propose larger-scale policies that would cost more and might be harder to pass into law but would bring major change. Warren is the leading choice for presidential nominee among this group.
Forty percent want someone who proposes smaller-scale policies that would cost less and might be easier to pass into law but would bring less change to these issues. Biden is the leading choice among this group.
Biden’s more centrist views have faced a critique from liberals in the race such as Warren and Sanders, who have pressed for a more expansive role of government in the nation’s health-care and tax system.
Mark Harden of Colorado Politics contributed.