Harris And Warren Rise, Sanders Falls, In Post-Debate Iowa Poll

Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris are up, and Bernie Sanders is down, in the first state-level poll since the debates.

In what appears to be the first poll at the state level since the debates last Wednesday and Thursday, a new Suffolk University poll conducted for USA Today finds Vice-President Biden still on top while Kamala Harris surges and Bernie Sanders falls behind:

The first Democratic debate reshaped the presidential field in Iowa as support surged for California Sen. Kamala Harris, undercutting the standing of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and raising questions about the solidity of former Vice President Joe Biden’s front-runner status.

In a new Suffolk University/USA TODAY Poll, Biden continues to lead the field, backed by 24% of those who say they are likely to attend the Democratic caucuses in Iowa that will open the presidential contests next year. Harris jumped to second place, at 16%, leapfrogging over Sanders, whose support sagged to single digits. At 9%, he finished fourth, behind Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 13%.

The new standings are hardly set in stone. Twenty-one percent are undecided. Six of 10 who have decided say they might change their mind before the caucuses. One in four say their minds are firmly made up. The second set of debates, scheduled for the end of the month in Detroit, could upend the horse race again.

The survey has some sobering findings for Biden, a familiar figure in the state. His level of support didn’t change from the Des Moines Register/Mediacom/CNN Iowa Poll taken last month, but among those who watched him debate, more than four in 10 say he did worse than they expected. Among all of those surveyed, he is the second choice of 11%.

Harris saw her support more than double compared with the poll in June, to 16% from 7%. She is the second choice of 17% – a telling measure of the potential breadth of a candidate’s support. When first and second choices are combined, Biden only narrowly edges Harris, 35% to 33%.

The poll of 500 likely Democratic caucusgoers in Iowa, taken Friday through Monday, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points. The opening back-to-back debates, featuring 10 contenders each night, were held last Wednesday and Thursday in Miami.

“To win in Iowa, you have to be able to woo the supporters of other candidates who drop out or that don’t reach the 15% threshold at the caucus,” says David Paleologos, director of Suffolk University’s Political Research Center. “The poll tells us that candidates like Harris, Warren and (Pete) Buttigieg poll better than Biden and Sanders in this regard, and that sets the stage for a new face exceeding expectations in Iowa.

For Sanders, who lost the 2016 Iowa caucuses to Hillary Clinton by less than a point, the new poll has warning flags. His support is 7 points lower than in the Iowa Poll taken in June, when he finished second to Biden. When first and second choices are combined, Sanders finishes fifth – trailing Biden, Harris and Warren by double digits and Buttigieg by single digits.  

Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, shows lower support than in June. Down 8 points from the Iowa Poll, he finishes fifth, at 6%.

Here are the complete poll standings:

  • Joe Biden — 24%
  • Kamala Harris — 16%
  • Elizabeth Warren — 13%
  • Bernie Sanders — 15.7%
  • Pete Buttigieg — 6%
  • Amy Klobuchar — 2%
  • Cory Booker — 2%
  • All other candidates are under 2%

As noted above, the Democratic caucus process is unique in that it requires at least a two-step process on Caucus Night. In the first round, caucus goes are allowed to vote for any candidate they choose to support, and the numbers set forth above set forth that first choice among the candidates. In the second round, any candidate that doesn’t hit the 15% mark is taken out of contention and the supporters of the remaining candidates try to get supporters of those eliminated to boost their candidate’s numbers. Based on the numbers above, that would mean that Biden, Harris, Warren, and Sanders would advance and the other candidates would be left out. Therefore, it’s important to look at the second choice question in the poll, which shows the following:

  • Kamala Harris — 17.35%
  • Elizabeth Warren — 15.82%
  • Pete Buttigieg — 13.52%
  • Joe Biden — 11.48%
  • Bernie Sanders — 6.12%
  • All other candidates below 5%

This is obviously good news for Harris and Warren, and potentially concerning news for both Biden and Sanders since it shows that there appears at least for now to be momentum on the side of Harris and Warren to the point that either one of them could end up winning on the second ballot, albeit by a narrow margin.

All that being said, we are still 220 days before the Iowa Caucuses themselves, and this poll is likely not going to be relevant by the time that voting begins. Nonetheless, it’s clear that Harris and Warren have clearly benefited from the debates. What they do with the new attention those performances are giving them and how far that success can go is another question.

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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. Terrye Cravens says:

    ABC just released a poll. Biden is on top with 29%. Sanders is at 23%. Harris and Warren are tied at third place with 11%. Lots of interesting internals. In fact, some of those internals seemed contradictory.

    All over the place.