Biden and Sanders Lead Way-too-Early Iowa Polling

The former Vice President is seen as "just right" by likely Caucus goers.

Des Moines Register (“Iowa Poll: Not even in the race, Joe Biden leads herd of Democrats; Bernie Sanders close behind“):

Joe Biden has yet to enter the 2020 presidential race — he’s been weighing the decision in a closely watched will-he-or-won’t-he saga — but the former vice president still leads the pack in Iowa.

According to a new Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll of likely Democratic caucusgoers, 27 percent say Biden is their first choice for president. That’s down slightly from the 32 percent who said the same in December, but it tops the 19 other declared and potential candidates tested.

Biden has a 2-percentage-point advantage over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. Though that’s within the poll’s 4.9 percentage point margin of error, other numbers bode well for the former vice president and suggest a stronger advantage over Sanders. The poll of 401 likely Democratic caucusgoers was conducted March 3 through 6.

“If I’m Joe Biden sitting on the fence and I see this poll, this might make me want to jump in,” said J. Ann Selzer, president of the Des Moines-based Selzer & Co., which conducted the poll. “I just can’t find much in this poll that would be a red flag for Joe Biden.”

Seventy percent of respondents say they believe Biden’s political views are neither too liberal nor too conservative, but instead, are “about right” — the highest percentage of any candidate tested.

And 64 percent — including a majority in every demographic group — say they think Biden’s experience is an asset and he should enter the race. About a third of respondents say his time has passed and he should not run.

At this point, I’d be shocked if Biden doesn’t run. He clearly believes he’s the best man for the job, both in terms of qualifications and ability to take on Donald Trump. His family wants him to run. Really, his chief obstacle seems to be his age–he’s 76 years old and would be 78 by the time he takes the oath of office—but he’s only four years older than Trump and seems to be in better shape.

The fluctuations within the margin of error since the December poll are completely meaningless. That a whopping 70 percent says he’s “just right” ideologically is not.

Obviously, we’re still almost a year out from the Caucuses. (Which remain a really stupid, unrepresentative way of allocating delegates.) Most of the “19 other declared and potential candidates tested” are relative unknowns whose support is likely much more malleable than Biden’s. Still, I’d rather be in his position than theirs.

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kylopod says:

    “Too early” is certainly right. For example, I took a look at what the same pollster was saying in Jan. 2015 about the then-GOP field in Iowa:

    #1 – Scott Walker
    #2 – Rand Paul
    #3 – Mitt Romney
    #4 – Mike Huckabee
    #5 – Ben Carson
    #6 – Jeb Bush
    #7 – Ted Cruz
    #8 – Chris Christie and Rick Santorum
    #9 – Marco Rubio and Rick Perry
    #10 – Bobby Jindal, Carly Fiorina, and Donald Trump

    As you can see, the #1 place was given to a candidate who ended up dropping out of the race long before Iowa; third place went to someone who ended up not running (which was acknowledged by the time this article was published, though the poll didn’t change much with him removed); the eventual winner was in 7th place with just 5% of the vote; and the runner-up in Iowa and eventual nominee was way down in 10th place with less than 1%.

    My guess is that Walker was doing well in this poll because of his Midwestern connection and being governor of a neighboring state. Rand Paul had some of the cult surrounding his dad; Romney had name recognition and had been the runner-up in the caucus the previous two times; Huck had so-con credentials and was the 2008 winner; and so on.

    There’s no question Biden and Sanders are coasting on name recognition at this point. But people (including me) once dismissed Trump’s chances on those grounds, after he shot to the top in mid-2015 and stayed there thereafter. The fact is that name recognition helps a lot, especially in an over-crowded field. It doesn’t guarantee the nomination, but from the candidate’s perspective it’s a lot better than starting out at the bottom.

    The danger a top-tier candidate faces is in raising the expectations too high. That’s what happened to Romney in 2008. After he won the Ames Iowa Straw poll in mid-2007, this created an expectation that he’d win the caucus. When he ended up “only” coming in 2nd place, this was considered damaging to his candidacy. Even though the eventual nominee, John McCain, came in 4th place, McCain had managed to keep the expectations low enough that he wasn’t hurt by this result. In fact McCain’s entire goal in Iowa was simply to keep Romney out of 1st place. It’s been reported that when he called Huck to congratulate him, Huck told him, “Now it’s your turn to kick his butt.” (This was the reason Romney chose not to participate in the Ames poll in the next cycle, which contributed to the poll’s eventual disbanding.)

  2. Guarneri says:

    It will be Biden, and if K Harris can control herself, as VP.

    Bernie and Lizzie have no chance, just no chance. And sorry Spartacus.

  3. mattbernius says:

    Dave Weigel has smartly pointed out that we should all wait until footage of Biden today starts really circulating. To some degree, when people are currently thinking of Biden, they are thinking of a man from more or less a decade ago.

    I’m not saying Biden is too old to run. However, I think Weigel is right that people may find that 2019/20 Biden isn’t what they remember him to be. And that could become a real issue for him.

  4. Michael Reynolds says:

    It won’t be Biden. He may or may not take Iowa, it’s a caucus state and given to enthusiasms. Bernie or Warren will take NH. Nevada could go to Biden if Harry Reid’s machine is still functioning, but a dark horse like Beto could sneak in. Booker or Kamala will take SC.

    Then comes Super Tuesday: Alabama, California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia. Kamala takes CA, Beto takes TX, Warren loses MA to Biden and she’s done. North Carolina goes Kamala or Booker.

    That scenario (and God knows, it can change 100 different ways) leaves Biden and Bernie with no really big prizes, and the front runners will be Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke.

    Louisiana no one cares. Then Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio. This is where it gets interesting. They may warm to Beto’s aspirational, moderate message. Or the unions may deliver for Biden, keeping him alive.

    By this point it’s a grind, just a case of racking up numbers. Klobuchar’s out, Gillibrand was never in, Warren’s probably broke and out. Castro and Booker never got started. Bernie’s still in but no one thinks he’s the front runner.

    Which brings us to Arizona, Florida, and Illinois. I suspect this is end of the road, March 17. Kamala will lead in the count, Biden and Beto vying for second.

    My bet – and it’s a bit like trying to pick the World Series winner a year before spring training – is Kamala and Beto.

  5. Eric Florack says:

    It’s an amusing measure of how bad the Democrats field is that Joe Biden is the best of the lot.

  6. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Eric Florack:
    Says the man dancing around a fly-specked pig’s head on a stick.

  7. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I think the effect of the South is underrated in Democratic primaries. Bill Clinton is the only nominee in either party ever to lose both Iowa and NH, and his recovery depended heavily on his scoring big wins in the early Southern contests. Hillary, also, came close to losing both Iowa and NH, but then showed massive strength in the South. In fact the only Democratic nominee in the modern era (1972 onward) who didn’t completely dominate the South was Dukakis, who won most of the Upper South but lost the Deep South to Jackson.

  8. Tece says:

    @Michael Reynolds: he’s just sore because the best of his bunch is a congenital liar so corrupt that he repeatedly stole from his own charity, when he wasn’t busy committing bank, tax, and insurance fraud.
    😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

  9. de stijl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Okay, who gave Florack the conch? And, Jack, give Piggy his glasses back. We have rules.

    And eventually they were rescued by … oh… let’s say Moe.

  10. Kylopod says:

    @Kylopod: Correction to my previous post. Dukakis didn’t dominate “the Upper South” in 1988. I misread the map on Wikipedia. Most of the Upper South states were won by Al Gore.

  11. Jax says:

    You guys are always cracking me up with your literary references. I don’t have much opinion on the thumbs up or down on comments, but damn, I’d really like a laugh emoji just so I can indicate I got the joke and appreciate it, without having to take the thread off track just to say I’m LMAO!!!