Additional Polling Shows Harris And Warren Rising, Biden Slipping After First Debate

Three new polls show significant changes in the Democratic race in the wake of last week's debates.

Three new polls show former VIce-President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders slipping, and Senators Kamala Harris rising, in the wake of the first debate of the 2020 campaign season, but the actual extent of the change is unclear due to wide differences in the respective polls.

First up is a new poll from CNN and ORC, which shows a significant change in the Democratic race:\

Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren have made steep gains after the first Democratic presidential debate, a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS. shows, with former Vice President Joe Biden’s lead over the field shrinking to a narrow 5 points.

The results indicate a significant tightening in the race for the Democratic nomination.The poll, conducted after the two-night debate, finds 22% of registered voters who are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents backing Biden for the party’s presidential nomination, 17% Harris, 15% Warren and 14% Sen. Bernie Sanders. No one else in the 23-person field tested hits 5%.

That represents a 10-point decline in support for Biden since the last CNN poll in May, while Harris, of California, has posted a 9-point increase, and Warren, of Massachusetts, has boosted her support by 8 points. No other candidates have seen significant movement since the last poll

Harris’ numbers follow a strong showing on the second night of the debates. Among those who watched or followed news coverage about them, 41% say Harris did the best job in the debates, well ahead of the 13% who say Warren had the best performance and 10% who said Biden did. Among those who say they watched all or most of at least one night of debates, Harris’ showing is even stronger: 46% say she did the best job, 19% Warren, 8% Biden and 5% each named South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro.

And 30% of potential Democratic voters now say Harris is the candidate they most want to hear more about, up from 23% who said the same in April. That figure doesn’t include those who say she is their top choice for nominee.

Warren was the lone polling heavyweight on the stage in the first night of the Democratic debates on Wednesday. She turned in a solid performance that served as an introduction to a national audience who may have been hearing from many candidates for the first time.

On Thursday night, Harris and Biden shared the debate stage and faced off in one of the most memorable moments of either night. Harris asked Biden directly about his opposition to federally mandated busing as a means to integrate public schools in the 1970s, and about his comments on working with segregationist politicians during his time in the Senate. The move appears to have worked in her favor.

Harris and Biden are now about even in support among self-identified Democrats, white voters, younger voters, nonwhite women and those who tuned in to watch the debates. She outpaces him significantly among liberals and whites with college degrees. Warren challenges Biden and Sanders among independents, tops Biden and runs even with Harris and Sanders among liberals, and earns similar numbers to Harris among younger voters, whites and whites with college degrees.

Biden’s strongest support continues to come among black voters (36% back Biden, 24% Harris, 12% Warren and 9% Sanders) and older voters (34% of seniors back Biden vs. 14% for Harris, 12% for Warren and just 7% for Sanders). He also tops 30% among more moderate and conservative Democratic voters (31% back him vs. 11% Harris, 10% Warren and 8% Sanders).

Biden tops the rest of the field by a wide margin as the candidate potential Democratic voters see as having the best shot to beat President Donald Trump.

Overall, 43% of potential Democratic voters say Biden has the best chance to beat Trump in 2020, 30 points ahead of his nearest competitor, Bernie Sanders. Further, 6 in 10 potential Democratic voters say it is more important to them that the party nominate a candidate with a strong chance of beating Trump than it is that they nominate someone who shares their views on major issues.

But those voters who prefer a strong shot at beating Trump aren’t necessarily committed to Biden: 23% in that group say he’s their choice for nominee, with Harris and Warren close behind at 18% each and Sanders the only other candidate in double digits at 10%.

Biden’s other clear advantage in the poll is on the issues. More say he’s the candidate who can best handle the economy (28%) than name any other contender, and he ties with Sanders as best suited to handle the climate crisis (19%). He’s in second on handling health care (18%, behind Sanders’ 26%) and on race relations (16%, behind Harris’ 29%).

Although Harris tops on race relations, she lands in fourth place on the other issues tested, with just 10% saying she’d do the best job on health care and 6% each on the economy and the climate crisis. Warren, who has made her issue positions a central feature of the campaign, lands in second place on the economy (20% say she’d do the best job handling it) and runs narrowly behind Biden and Sanders on health care (16%) and the climate crisis (14%).

Looking deeper into the poll we find not so good news for the candidates beyond the top five:

  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg came in with 4%, down slightly from the 5% he hit in the last CNN national poll;
  • Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke came in at 3%, down from the last poll where he hit 5%;
  • Senator Cory Booker stands at 3% as well, which is steady from where he was in the last poll;
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar is at 2%, the same level she hit in May’s CNN poll; and,
  • All the other candidates are under 2%

The margin of error in the poll is 4.7%

Next up, there’s a new poll from The Hill and Harris that shows the same trend but to a far lesser extent:

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) surged past Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to rank third in the Democratic field after the first primary debate last week, according to a new Hill-HarrisX poll.

The survey, which was conducted between June 29 and 30 among 449 registered voters, found that 11 percent of possible Democratic primary voters chose Harris as their first choice for president, compared to 9 percent of those who favored Warren.

This marks a 6-point bump for Harris from when an identical poll was conducted two weeks ago. The previous poll, taken between June 14 and June 15, showed Warren and Harris, along with former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke (D) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D), locked in a statistical tie for third place.

Harris still trails Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Vice President Joe Biden by solid margins.

Thirty-three percent of respondents picked Biden as their top choice. Meanwhile, 15 percent of respondents said Sanders was their preferred candidate, which marks a 2-point bump from the previous survey.

Harris’s rise comes amid what many considered to be a standout debate performance during last week’s debate.

Harris stole the debate spotlight after criticizing Biden for invoking his working relationships with two segregationist senators as an example of “civility.” The California senator also confronted the former vice president over his opposition to school busing to desegregate schools during the 1970s.

Biden called Harris’s criticism a “mischaracterization” of his views. He later tried to clarify his position, saying he believed that the issue should be resolved at a state level, and that courts, and not the Education Department, should have set the rules on busing. 

Beyond the top four, the rest of the poll looks like this:

  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg comes in fifth place with 6.0%;
  • Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke is in sixth place at 4.0%;
  • Senator Cory Booker and Senator Amy Klobuchar stand at 2%; and,
  • All other candidates are under 2%, with nobody showing any significant movement since the debate.

Finally, there’s a new poll from Quinnipiac that, mirroring the CNN poll, shows a significant change in the nature of the race for the Democratic nomination:

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) surged into second place following last week’s Democratic presidential debates, cutting deep into former Vice President Joe Biden’s long-held lead in the primary contest, according to a national poll released Tuesday.

Harris soared to 20 percent in the Quinnipiac University poll, while Biden fell to 22 percent among Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters. That’s a significant change from a Quinnipiac poll released last month that showed Biden leading the pack with 30 percent and Harris lingering in a distant fourth place with 7 percent support.

The Quinnipiac survey is the latest in recent days to show Harris riding a wave of new support following her standout performance in Thursday’s debate.

Here’s the results for the full poll, along with the change from the previous poll:

  • Joe Biden — 22% (down 8 points from the last Quinnipiac poll);
  • Kamala Harris — 20% (up 13 points from the last Quinnipiac poll);
  • Elizabeth Warren — 14% (down 1 point from the last Quinnipiac poll)
  • Bernie Sanders — 13% (down 6 points from the last Quinnipiac poll);
  • Pete Buttigieg — 4% (down 4 points from the last Quinnipiac poll);
  • Cory Booker — 3% (up 2 points from the last Quinnipiac poll);
  • Beto O’Rourke — 1% (down 2 points from the last Quinnipiac poll);
  • All other candidates are 1% or under

The impact on the RealClearPolitics poll average has quite noticeable.

  • Joe Biden — 27% (down from 32.1% before the debate);
  • Bernie Sanders — 15.2% (down from 16.5% before the debate);
  • Elizabeth Warren — 13.8% (up from 12.4% before the debate);
  • Kamala Harris — 13.4% (up from 7.0% before the debate);
  • Pete Buttigieg — 5.2% (down from 7.0% before the debate);
  • Beto O’Rourke — 2.6% (down from 3.3% before the debate);
  • Cory Booker — 2.4% (steady from before the debate); and,
  • All other candidates are averaging below 2% with little sign that they are breaking out of that lower-tier track

The chart shows us how much the race has changed:

These polls are yet another reflection of the extent to which Harris has been able to boost her campaign in the wake of Thursday night’s debate, during which she effectively undercut the former Vice-President based on his past record on federally enforced busing and integration in the 1970s. Warren, on the other hand, benefited from her equally strong performance during the first night of the debate during which she was essentially on the stage as the frontrunner for the night and escaped largely unscathed as much of the sparring was between former HUD Secretary Julian Castro and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke, neither one of which appears to have benefited at all from their debate performance. The other candidates, meanwhile, seem to be fading further back in the field and are arguably in danger of passing into irrelevance unless they can jump-start their campaign as we head later into the summer and the fall.

Obviously, this isn’t good news for Joe Biden but it’s worth remembering that it’s still very early in the process.. As of today, there are 217 days until the Iowa Caucuses, 225 days until the New Hampshire Primary, and 243 days until the South Carolina Primary. There will be many debates between now and then, including another one on July 30th and 31st which will be carried by CNN and a third on September 12th and 13th which will be carried by ABC News. After that, there will be at least four more debates, with the number of eligible candidates shrinking each time, between October and the start of voting in February. There is plenty of time for Biden to regroup and get things back on track, and plenty of time for Harris’s rivals to turn their attention to her and her record which, given her time as a prosecutor in San Francisco and Attorney General of California, includes policy positions that are likely to be of concern to many civil liberties advocates.

In any case, while CNN and other news outlets are making the predictably big deal out of these numbers, it’s worth putting all of this in perspective. As we can see, there is a significant difference between the CNN and Quinnipiac polls and The Hill poll and in that respect, it’s worth noting that the second poll is consistent with the Morning Consult poll that I wrote about yesterday. This suggests that the CNN poll could be something of an outlier notwithstanding the fact that it seems clear that Biden has slipped to some extent in the wake of the debate. Even if they are an accurate measure of the state of the race, these are just a snapshot taken in the immediate aftermath of the debate at a time when there has been significant attention paid to Harris’s success and Biden’s stumbles, it is just a snapshot of the race that may or may not portend something for the future. Second, as I said above, the start of voting in this race is still so far away that this poll doesn’t really tell us much of anything other than the rather obvious fact that Harris and Warren did well in last week’s debate. Third, the real measure of the state of the race will come with the state-level polling in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Finally, it’s possible that these polls are overstating Biden’s fall and overstating Harris’s rise. We’ll have to see where things are as we head later into the summer, and especially after a second debate during which there will be much pressure on Biden to regroup and, no doubt, more of a focus on Harris and Warren by their respective opponents.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Jay L Gischer says:

    I’d much rather have Warren’s trendline than Harris’ which shows a long, slow decline since announcement and now a sharp spike upward, which makes me wonder if that can be sustained.

    Warren, on the other hand shows steady gains over several weeks. That means what she’s doing day-to-day is working.

  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Given that most Dems first want someone who can beat Tiny and they’re willing to suffuse their ideological and policy preferences to do that, Harris’ jump in the poll isn’t surprising. She eviscerated Biden and many Dems are dreaming about her doing that to Trump.

    Yes, it is too early to take these polls too seriously, but they will show a trend line.

  3. Teve says:

    @Jay L Gischer: if Joe was a stock I’d be selling. Not shorting, but selling.

  4. Terrye Cravens says:

    The polls are all over the place. I don’t know what to think. It is early…we have a long time ago before people vote. Who knows how many people will even still be in it in 6 months?

    I will vote for whoever the Democrats nominate. But I still think that Harris’s stunt might come back and bite her. We shall see.

    I am not sure bussing will be what people care about once the voting starts. But I can certainly understand how she got so many people locked up. She is good at telling a story.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Way too early for polls to mean much and obviously Biden is still top dog but,

    Biden called Harris’s criticism a “mischaracterization” of his views. He later tried to clarify his position, saying he believed that the issue should be resolved at a state level,

    I just don’t see being in favor of “state’s rights” as a winning position in the DEM party.

  6. Matt says:

    To me those polls show that Biden has been coasting off name recognition so far (along with Sanders). Now that voters have gotten a chance to see that there are other options and what those options are offering we’re going to see Biden and Sander’s support continue to fall.

    I agree that right now Warren has the best looking trend line.

  7. Teve says:

    Regardless of how you intend to vote in the Democratic primary for president, which candidate do you think has the best policy ideas?
    [top responses]

    Warren 31%
    Sanders 18%
    Biden 11%
    Harris 8%
    Buttigieg 3%
    Booker 2%
    (Quinnipiac U. Poll, Democrats/leaners, 6/28 – 7/1/19)

  8. Bill says:

    This registered Democrat will pay a little attention to polls next year. 1

  9. An Interested Party says:

    She eviscerated Biden and many Dems are dreaming about her doing that to Trump.

    This is the key…he needs to be shown for the weak fraud that he is and what better way to do that than to have a political opponent slice him up into shreds…which Democratic candidates do you think are best equipped to do that…

  10. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Really? Eviscerated? She basically asked the guy to say he was sorry for his analogy. Her scripted racial “moment” would have no effect on Trump. Her Biden mostly was mostly enabled by Joe’s sensitivity to his Anita Hill history and he couldn’t risk bullying another black women in from of a national audience. He let her have the upper hand. Did you hear how he responded to Booker through the media? With a curt eff you and your feelings?

    Harris used up all her powder for a dramatic moment…she can’t go back to that well again with a similar effect..and I’d expect Biden to not be as coy if she did.

    Seriously, pump your breaks on Harris. This is a marathon not a Sprint. Biden knows that. No one is make their mind up over an attack about busing. Hell, I was bused, it wasnt all unicorns and lollipops. White people didn’t want you at their schools anyway.