Elizabeth Warren Continues To Gain On Bernie Sanders

A trio of new polls shows Elizabeth Warren slipping past Bernie Sanders into second place in the race for the 2020 Democratic nomination

As I noted late last month, the race for the Democratic nomination for President has been following an interesting pattern that ought to carry some concern for supporters of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and hope for the supporters of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. Basically, the polling trends have shown that Sanders has been slipping significantly from the second-place position he’s held behind former Vice-President Joe Biden while Warren has, slowly but surely, getting closer to overtaking him. If two new state polls. and a new national poll, are any indication, that process is continuing.

First up, one of the first polls out of Nevada, one of the four February states on the Democratic calendar, shows Warren moving into second place behind Sanders:

Senator Elizabeth Warren, whose presidential campaign has gained momentum in recent weeks, is polling ahead of Senator Bernie Sanders among voters in Nevada and is trailing only former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. there, according to a poll released on Wednesday.

The poll, which was conducted by Monmouth University, showed Mr. Biden leading comfortably with the support of 36 percent of Democratic voters who are likely to attend the Nevada caucuses in February, a key early contest. Ms. Warren, of Massachusetts, garnered 19 percent support, and Mr. Sanders, of Vermont, earned 13 percent.

The Monmouth survey is the first Nevada poll that candidates can use to qualify for the party’s debates, and it is only the second qualifying poll that has shown Ms. Warren ahead of Mr. Sanders. The other was a national survey by Quinnipiac University in April that showed Ms. Warren with just a one-point edge over Mr. Sanders.

The new poll surveyed 370 Nevada Democrats and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. The poll was conducted June 6-11.

The survey showed that Mr. Biden is the best-liked candidate among Nevada voters, with a favorability rating of 78 percent, compared with 13 percent who viewed him unfavorably.

Ms. Warren trailed only Mr. Biden in that regard, and did particularly well with voters who classified themselves as “very liberal.” She has set herself apart from a field of 23 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination with a series of sweeping proposals that have made her the group’s policy pacesetter.

After Mr. Biden, Ms. Warren and Mr. Sanders came Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., with 7 percent support, and Senator Kamala Harris of California, with 6 percent. Former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and the entrepreneur Andrew Yang were each the top choice of 2 percent of respondents.

Other candidates, such as Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, got 1 percent support. Eleven candidates — about half of the field — polled even lower.

Warren also appears to be on the rise in California:

Former Vice President Joe Biden has a small lead over the field of Democratic contenders in California, but Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is hot on his heels and has edged past Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) into second place, according to a new poll.

The survey from the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies finds Biden at 22 percent support. Warren and Sanders are in a statistical tie, at 18 percent and 17 percent, respectively

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who will need a strong showing in her home state to compete, is in fourth place with 13 percent, followed by South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 10 percent.

California Democrats will cast ballots earlier than in previous cycles, making the most delegate-rich state in the contest a huge prize for the contenders. Voters will cast ballots on Super Tuesday, on March 3.

The U.C. Berkeley survey is the latest poll to find Warren rising as she seeks to overtake Sanders in the race to be the party’s progressive standard-bearer.


The new U.C. Berkeley survey of California found that Harris is the top second choice among California voters, with 21 percent, followed by Warren at 17 percent and Biden and Sanders at 12 percent.

When you combine Warren’s support among voters who called her their first or second choice, she has the most support in the entire field, followed closely by Biden, Harris and Sanders.

In addition to these polls a new national poll from The Economist and YouGov also shows Warren sliding into second place:

Elizabeth Warren leaped ahead of Bernie Sanders into second place in a pair of Democratic presidential primary polls released Wednesday.

Warren has overtaken Sanders nationally, according to a new Economist/YouGov poll, which puts the Massachusetts senator ahead of her Vermont counterpart 16 percent to 12 percent. Former Vice President Joe Biden still leads all contenders with 26 percent support.


Warren began laying out her vision of “economic patriotism” earlier this month with a plan for a $2 trillion investment of federal funds over 10 years in green research, manufacturing and exporting. She touted several other plans during an MSNBC town hall last week, including protecting access to abortion, an anti-corruption policy to rein in lobbyists and more corporate accountability for major companies.

Warren has more than 50 staffers on the ground in Iowa, and more hires are expected to be announced over the weekend. She expects to have a similarly large presence in New Hampshire and at least 30 staffers each in South Carolina and Nevada, where Warren is working on bringing on Latino interns and setting up caucus trainings in Latino communities.


In the Economist/YouGov survey, Warren’s net favorability is slighter higher than Sanders’, -6 percent to -7 percent, but Sanders is tied with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio for the candidate whom likely Democratic voters would be most disappointed to see win the nomination.

Twenty-percent of respondents said it would disappoint them if Sanders or de Blasio won the Democratic nomination for president. Nineteen percent said the same of Biden. Only 9 percent said they would be disappointed if Warren won the nomination.

This is particularly interesting because, prior to the past several weeks, most national and state polls have shown Warren stuck in the middle of the pack with candidates like Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, and Beto O’Rourke. Since then, though, Warren has been singularly focused on rolling out a series of policy proposals and appearing at large town halls in states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. That strategy appears to be benefiting her for the time being, but it will ultimately be put to the test as we get closer to the first two debates at the end of June and July respectively. Potentially, those debates could give Warren an opportunity to continue her focus on policy and overtake Sanders among the Democratic Party’s progressive wing.

As for Sanders, these numbers are confirmation of something that many political pundits have been saying since before the 2020 race started. Four years ago, Sanders benefited from the fact that, starting early in the race, he was seen as the only real alternative to Hillary Clinton. The other candidates in the race during that cycle — former Senators Jim Webb and Lincoln Chafee and former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley — had largely failed in any effort to make an impact with voters. This means that any Democrats looking for an alternative to Clinton, either as a serious candidate or to “send a message” to the party, ended up backing Sanders in large numbers. This time, though, voters have an embarrassment of riches in terms of the number of credible candidates in the race. This is particularly true of the progressive wing of the party, which rallied behind Sanders because, well, there wasn’t anyone else to support. This time, those voters have as many as a half-dozen candidates to choose from, and arguably more if they’re willing to look at some of the candidates getting less than two percent of the vote.

None of this means that Sanders is done for, of course. We’re still far too early in the race to be making statements like that. For one thing, with the exception of Biden, Sanders is the only other candidate in the field who has run for President before. That experience will come in handy when it comes to preparing for the upcoming debates and in reaching out to voters. For another, Sanders still has a dedicated core of supporters that are likely to keep him relevant in the race for the rest of this year and going forward. At some point, though, he’s going to have to deal with not only Warren but also the other candidates coming up in his rearview window. Whether he can withstand the challenge is something only time will tell.

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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. Stormy Dragon says:

    Hooray, Warren would be a much better President than either Sanders or Biden.

  2. Modulo Myself says:

    Going to be amusing watching people who were like no big deal about Joe Biden and his hands have a bit of the old trouble with an opinionated woman and how she–you know–comes across.

  3. SenyorDave says:

    @Stormy Dragon: Warren understands policy in general, and being an expert in bankruptcy law I would assume she will understand fiscal policy at a level much higher than most candidates. Biden’s campaign is almost 100% on his Veep experience and his general personality, and Sanders’ is based largely on the cult of Bernie. There is no doubt in mind that Bernie will look pretty terrible in a general election, and I thought he looked like a tired old man in some parts of the debates back in 2016. And does Biden seriously believe he can work with Mitch McConnell and that the GOP will return to “normal” if Trump is gone? That Biden says and or believes is almost disqualifying for me. Trump is the normal for the GOP. Of course in the GE I would vote for, to quote the Simpsons, an inanimate carbon steel rod over Trump.

  4. KM says:

    Sanders is going to quickly find his one-trick pony isn’t getting far out of the gate this time. Pretty much everything he has to offer is available elsewhere with better perks and less baggage. He’s not the underdog running against the “system” aka Hillary – he *is* the system this time around. Like Biden, he’s coasting on name recognition and nostalgia, hoping the being the charming older white patriarchal male will be enough to compensate for the fact that they’ve got nothing new. As for his dedicated base, Berniebros will still love him but the college students’ eyes are gonna wander PDQ.

    Seriously, what’s Sanders gonna talk about that everyone else hasn’t? What does he bring to the table other then he’s Bernie? Warren can do what he does and has the bonus of actually trying to do stuff while in office, something Bernie’s not that great at.

  5. Teve says:

    Liberal Wonks, or at Least Elizabeth Warren, Have a Plan for That

    If I tried to excerpt it, I’d have to excerpt the whole thing.

  6. Gustopher says:

    She has been pretty great at her recent town halls. I’d encourage anyone who hasn’t heard her in a while to check one out.

    She’s smart, communicates well, cares about people… she’s great.

    I don’t love her wealth tax idea, as I think it would be tied up in court for decades. I also wish she was 10-15 years younger.

  7. Neil J Hudelson says:

    A lot of the analyses on her rise are citing her never ending stream of policy proposals. I think that helps, yes, but I don’t think that explains her sudden rise. She’s been putting out policy proposals left and right for (I think) about 2.5 months now, yet her rise only started a few weeks ago. Two things changed.

    1. She was the, or among the first to call for impeachment in light of the Mueller report. Whether first or not, her call got the most media attention, it drew eyeballs to her that were previously tuned out.

    2. More importantly, she’s doing what Buttigieg got criticized for early in his campaign: talking about her values with voters instead of policies. Of course she still discusses her policies, but couched in values. Her stump speeches for the past month or so have been heavy on her life experiences that motivate her public service, her beliefs and values. Voters respond to that more than policy proposals. As @Gustopher: recommended, check out one of her town halls. She’s not a wonky professor on stage, she’s a mother, community member, and public servant.

    Hell, I love policy and I’ve read maybe 10% of what she’s put out. The average voter, even a very tuned-in one, is not being swayed by white papers.

  8. Teve says:

    She’s a very good teacher, she’s knowledgeable, she’s authentic, and she’s kind, which means she is close to the mathematical inverse of Donald Trump.