December/January – Democratic Primary

(Picture: ABC News)


As 2019 fades into the past and a new decade begins, so to comes a new summary of the Democratic Primary, and its inevitable winners and losers from the months of December and January

dec jan dem polling

(Picture, RealClearPolitics)

Notable events

  • The 3rd December saw California Senator, Kamala Harris, drop out of the race, citing lack of financial resources as the reasoning. Despite showing early signs of success, most notably after her public debate spat with Joe Biden, which saw her polling numbers rise as high as second place, her campaign saw a rapid drop off into obscurity. Many suggest that Tulsi Gabbard’s highly publicised condemnation of her previous record as a prosecutor may have had a big impact in this.
  • January also saw the suspension of both Julian Castro and Corey Booker’s campaigns, on the 2nd and 13th January respectively. Little energy was created by either campaign despite months of effort, with neither candidate registering more than 5% in any poll since April of last year.


December/ January’s Winners

Bernie Sanders – This period arguably saw the best showing for the Sanders campaign since his announcement almost a year ago. Between October and November, he averaged 16% in polling, and trailed Biden, Warren and Buttigieg in the crucial first four states, but over the same period has increased his average by over 25% to around 21% overall, with many predictions now showing him winning the first three states. This shows a remarkably turnaround and evidences the energy of the Sanders campaign that has not been seen elsewhere in this primary. Bernie also received a number of high-profile endorsements from progressive interest and campaign groups, many of which he was touted to lose to Elizabeth Warren mere months before. The Sanders campaign were also bolstered in the past week by the endorsement from popular podcast talisman Joe Rogan. Despite somewhat of a backlash from many of his critics on social media and in certain mainstream publications, the potential impact of an endorsement from a podcast with 1.5 billion annual views could be very impactful for the Sanders campaign.

This period was not without controversy for the Vermont senator however, with the heavily reported spat with Elizabeth Warren being focused on heavily by the media. This largely centred around claims by Warrens campaign that in 2018, Sanders had suggested that a woman ‘could not be president’. Whilst this claim was largely unsubstantiated and seems to have little to no negative impact on Sanders’s immediate polling numbers, the breakdown of the Warren/Sanders alliance may prove detrimental in the long run, especially if Warren decides to endorse Joe Biden later on in the campaign. As well as from Warren, former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton also took aim to Sanders, claiming that ‘nobody likes him’, as well as other sleuths of negative remarks. At face value, this should be a damning blow to any campaign, but considering the toxic brand Clinton still projects across the country, with approval ratings of 36% (which is almost identical to that of Trumps lowest ever rating), it could arguably be suggested that Clinton’s disdain is just as much of a boost for the Sanders campaign than it is a rejection.

Overall, the December and January period has seen a huge boost for the Sanders campaign, having arguably seen off competition from all but one candidate in the race, seemingly narrowing the contest down to an inevitable Biden vs Sanders showdown in the next few months. Whilst Biden seems to have the advantage of being the ‘default’ vote, Sanders has the energy, funding and grassroots mobilisation to make the contest too close to call as of yet.

Michael Bloomberg – Despite only joining the race at the end of November, former New York Governor Michael Bloomberg’s huge levels of campaign spending has seen him move into fourth place in much of the polling. This rise in the polling arguably comes from a decline in numbers of both Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden, as well as from voters who had previously supported the likes of Kamala Harris and Corey Booker. The name recognition of Bloomberg has certainly helped his campaign, as well as the aforementioned huge levels of spending committed by the billionaire. As well as this, the strategy for Bloomberg has differed from the likes of Buttigieg or Steyer, and instead of focusing funding into the first four states, has elected to pump money into every state, leading to a larger national percentage in the polls. However, despite this increase from Bloomberg, it seems very unlikely that he will many delegate pledges, and his shot at the presidency is practically impossible.


December/January’s Losers

Elizabeth Warren – The clearest and most significant loser of the December and January period has been the Massachusetts Senator, Elizabeth Warren. Despite holding second place in the polls for almost the entirety of September through to December, the Warren campaign has seemingly hit a wall for support, now trailing Sanders by over 5%. This is perhaps attributable to several reasons. Firstly, Warren was always faced with a difficult position of being flanked on both sides by the Sanders and Biden campaign, both of which had far greater funding and name recognition. If Warren tried to appeal to the floating ‘progressive’ vote, she faced losing ‘moderate’ support to the likes of Buttigieg, Harris and Biden, but if she moved further away from progressivism, she faced losing a big bulk of her support back to Sanders. Warren evidently chose the latter, and is now facing the consequences in the polls. Many point to her backtracking on ‘Medicare for All’, and sudden shift in political branding as the biggest factors in losing much of her ‘progressive’ voter base. As well as this, the aforementioned public spat with Bernie Sanders has not relight the Warren campaign as perhaps her team had hoped, with many claiming it was more a testament to previous questions over Warren’s integrity, than a legitimate critique of Sanders, due to the lack of evidence provided.

Overall, December and January has perhaps signified the end for what was once a promising and exciting campaign. Warren’s failure to capitalise on the progressive movement has seen her support slowly squeezed by Sanders, who benefits heavily from this switch occurring just before the state voting begins. However, it is very possible that Warren may become the ‘Kingmaker’ of the primary, with her endorsement of Biden or Sanders having potential to swing the race in either direction.

Pete Buttigieg – Much like Elizabeth Warren, the former mayor of South Bend Indiana, Pete Buttigieg, has seen a sizeable drop off in the months of December and January. Currently sitting at around 7% in the polls, Buttigieg’s rapid rise in November and early December came as quickly as they appeared, with a drop to as low as fifth place. This drop could perhaps be attributed to the rise of Michael Bloomberg, who arguably courts a similar brand of ‘moderate’ Democrat. Either way, it would seem that the Buttigieg campaign has failed to excite or register with voters, and may perhaps be the next high-profile campaign to drop out once the state votes begin.


December/January’s Mixed Bag

Joe Biden – A monthly summary of Biden’s campaign often seems somewhat similar to re-enacting scenes from ‘Groundhog Day’. Has he made gaffes? Yes. Has he failed to offer substantive policy direction on any area? Yes. Is he still winning? Somehow, yes. Since June, the Biden campaign has retained a remarkably consistent presence in the polls, with numbers consistently between 25-28%. This cements the idea that Biden is the ‘default’ candidate for the Democratic party, as he generally polls very low on policy support, but by far the highest on questions of ‘electability’, something of upmost importance for many Democratic supporters.

The evident tactic of Biden’s campaign to limit his public interactions has proved to be somewhat effective in stemming his previous haemorrhaging of support, and has kept his campaign at a consistent, if unenergetic level. This puts Biden in the best position amongst all the candidates, as the data suggests that simply doing nothing should ensure his nomination. The worry for Biden is of course the surge of Sanders, who has the clear advantage of momentum and volume of campaigners. The race is still Biden’s to lose, and only time will tell who the victor will be.




Other Polling Sources





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