The Slatest

Joe Biden’s Early Lead in 2020 Polling Isn’t Going to Scare Anyone Away

Joe Biden
Democrats’ early-but-maybe-not-way-too-early 2020 frontrunner: Joe Biden. Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Some hot CNN poll action from over the weekend: Joe Biden has a 20-point lead in a crowded primary field of potential 2020 candidates (including hopefuls, maybes, and hey-you-never-knows). Thirty-three percent of self-identified Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents picked the former veep as their first choice from a list of 16. Next up were a trio of senators: Bernie Sanders at 13 percent, Kamala Harris at 9 percent, and Elizabeth Warren at 8 percent. No one else fared well enough to finish above the 5.5-point margin of error.

The necessary caveats: It’s one poll, and an incredibly early one at that. It’s far too soon to say who will decide to run for president, or to predict who will still be running when the first primary rolls around in early 2020. This far out, it tells us far more about a politician’s national name recognition than it does about his or her ability to win a primary or caucus.

Still, 2020 is a long way away, but the unofficial 2020 race is already very much underway. There’s a good chance one or more big candidates—at the very least, bigger than Rep. John Delaney, who officially declared his bid last summer—will try to get a jump on his or her rivals by making things official before the end of the year. The first primary debate could be just months away, and with only so much room on stage, the networks are likely to use polling to help decide who goes on in prime time and who doesn’t. Just because we don’t take these polls as gospel doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention to them.

So what, then, can we glean from this poll? For starters, Biden’s support, which has held relatively steady in a smattering of similar surveys this year, remains simultaneously strong and not nearly strong enough to clear the field the same way Hillary Clinton did four years ago. When CNN asked the question in November 2014, Clinton was at 65 percent, about twice the support Biden has now. If Biden does run, he’d instantly become an early frontrunner, but he wouldn’t be the prohibitive favorite.

And what about Bernie? He’s still beloved by progressives, but he’s not exactly picking up where he left off in 2016, when he was polling in the low-40s toward the end of the primary after giving Clinton all she could handle. Sanders’ showing isn’t going to be enough to scare away other progressives considering a run—nor for that matter will Warren’s similarly middling performance. Then again, the poll also suggests the progressive lane may not be as wide as many on the left are hoping: Sanders and Warren combined for only 21 percent support in this poll, a rather tepid showing for two boldface names of the movement. (By comparison, Harris’ 9 percent stands out given she’s only beginning to carve out a national profile for herself.)

And what about the rest of the field? Cory Booker and John Kerry were both at 5 percent, and Michael Bloomberg and Beto O’Rourke both at 4 percent. Then came Eric Holder at 3 percent and Eric Garcetti at 2 percent, followed by the 1-percenters: Michael Avenatti, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, and Deval Patrick. And then rounding things out were Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and Rep. Delaney, who both failed to crack 1 percent.