Feb 16, 2020 - Politics & Policy

How Joe Biden's free fall puts Bernie in command

Data: RealClearPolitics; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Bernie Sanders hasn't picked up the voters who are deserting Joe Biden, but he's the clear beneficiary of the former vice president's rapid collapse.

The big picture: Of the top six candidates in the race, Sanders' polling numbers have changed the least over the last few weeks — but Biden's fall has made Sanders the biggest winner, since the moderate vote is now splintered four ways.

By the numbers: Biden's national polling cratered, from 28.7% on Jan. 27 to 19.2% as of Feb. 12, with most of the damage done after his fourth-place finish in the Feb. 3 Iowa caucus, according to the RealClearPolitics average.

  • Mike Bloomberg and Pete Buttigieg climbed 6.5 and 3.5 points, respectively, in that time. (Elizabeth Warren dipped 2.6 points and Amy Klobuchar edged up less than a point.)
  • But the large, moderate voting bloc that propelled Biden is now splitting between multiple candidates.

Between the lines: Biden has lost his electability aura on top of his standing in the polls. He dropped from 29% to 17% in a Morning Consult poll this week that asked Democratic voters who they considered as having the best chance of beating Trump.

  • That shift put him in third place behind Sanders (29%) and Bloomberg (25%).

One key stat: Sanders has lower polling numbers than any of at least the past five primary front-runners — Democrat or Republican — at this point in the cycle, according to RCP data.

What to watch: Buttigieg is riding the momentum of winning Iowa and finishing a close second to Sanders in New Hampshire. But he needs money to keep going. He is not expected to perform as well with South Carolina's black voters, either.

  • Buttigieg national press secretary Chris Meagher told Axios the campaign is confident it has the resources and volunteers to compete in all of the remaining primary states.
  • Meanwhile, Bloomberg has yet to go head-to-head with candidates on the debate stage and didn't even try to compete in early voting states. He's betting on his all but unlimited resources funneled into big-delegate states to win the nomination.
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