Kamala Harris’s Momentum Slowing

Kamala Harris's post-debate rise in the polls appears to be losing momentum as we head into the second debate.

As we get closer to the second Democratic debate on Tuesday and Wednesday, Nate Silver notes that the post-debate bounce that California Senator Kamala Harris received from the first debate appears to be fading:

We’ve documented for years how polls tend to rise and fall — in what are often fairly predictable patterns — after events like debates and conventions. In general, what suddenly goes up in polls tends to gradually come back down after a matter of a few weeks. Conventions typically produce polling swings of 4 to 6 percentage points toward the party that just nominated its candidate, for instance — but the polls usually revert back to about where they were before after a few weeks.

We’ve also repeatedly seen this pattern after various Democrats declared for the race this year. Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and even Beto O’Rourke all got noticeable bounces when they officially declared for the presidency, only to fall back to their pre-declaration averages later on.

It looks as though something like this is happening again following the first Democratic debate last month. If you look at the RealClearPolitics average:

  • Biden has rebounded to 28.4 percentage points from a low of 26.0 percentage points just after the debate. He was at 32.1 percent before the debate, so he’s regained about two-fifths of what he lost.
  • Harris has fallen to 12.2 percentage points from a peak of 15.2 percentage points. She was at 7.0 percent before the debate, so she’s lost about a third of what she’d gained.

Harris is still in better shape than she was before the debates, but she’s currently 16 points behind Biden instead of looking like she’s on the verge of overtaking him.

I’ll be honest … as predictable as this pattern is, it’s easy even for professionals like me to get caught up in the moment, especially in the early stages of a race before we’re using any sort of model to smooth the data out.1 If a candidate rapidly goes from 7 to 15 in the polls, our unconscious, System 1 reflex is to assume the trend will continue, and that the candidate will continue gaining ground — to 20 points, 25 points and beyond. More often than not, though, the candidate loses ground after a sharp rise.

To be fair, and as Silver notes, what we’re talking about here isn’t really slippage in the polls on Harris’s part, at least not yet. Instead, it doesn’t appear that the jump she saw in the wake of last months debate sustained itself for very long. By contrast, her fellow Senator Elizabeth Warren has seen her numbers continue to rise to the point where it’s currently a race between her and Harris to determine which one of them will overtake Bernie Sanders to become the next challenger to former Vice-President Biden. The difference between the two is fairly easy to discern. Warren’s rise in the polls, which was happening before last month’s debate, is connected to more than just her debate performance. It is connected to the fact that she has been successfully connecting with Democratic voters with her policy-based campaign and has managed to keep herself shielded from many of the controversies that have diverted the attention of some of her fellow candidates. Harris, on the other hand, can attribute her rise in the polls almost entirely to what happened in the debate. If she wants it to continue, she’s going to have to change the way she’s campaigning.

Silver closes with this thought:

[I]t’s worthwhile to be at least a little bit skeptical of rapid, news-driven swings in the polls. By contrast, slow-and-steady gains or losses in the polls — say, Warren’s gradual improvement over the past few months or Sanders’s gradual decline — are often more durable.

This is why it makes more sense to look at trends in polling, both within individual polls and in poll averages, especially trends over a longer period of time. As I’ve said before, polling is basically a snapshot in time and each poll has its own idiosyncrasies that sometimes mean that the results are off-kilter from reality. Watching trend lines and poll averages, while not perfect either, are far more reliable ways to understand how a particular race is shaping up.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, Donald Trump, Politicians, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds 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. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. SKI says:

    Stop. Please just stop.

    You are fixating over specific percentages months before anyone casts a vote. It’s meaningless – particularly when they are typically within the margin of error for the poll.

    All that matters right now are tiers that are tied to the ability to build a campaign infrastructure so that voters will take you seriously.

    If you are a “major candidate” you have enough resources and name recognition to try to win the early states. Congrats, don’t blow it.

    If you are a “respected candidate” you need to make a move towards being major or you will get frozen out rapidly.

    If you are a fringe candidate, you need a minor miracle or to go home.

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  2. EddieInCA says:

    Gonna be Biden/Harris

  3. michael reynolds says:
  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    After pantsing Biden in the debate Harris preceded to undercut herself by having confused positions on Medicare for all and getting sucked down the rabbit hole of debating forced busing, an issue that is a low priority for nearly all interest groups. She got voters attention and then squandered the opportunity to keep that voters attention.

    Biden/Harris? Probably.

  5. al Ameda says:

    15 months out …. Not sure who has the staying power.
    I’m thinking it might be Elizabeth Warren.,

  6. michael reynolds says:

    Look at the Candidate X vs. Trump polls and again and again you see that for reasons which cannot be explained by policy, Biden and Bernie outperform, Warren and Harris do more poorly. There is an anti-woman feeling out there, possibly a tactical sense that a woman candidate will be a Hillary. But also just straight up sexism. Trump’s number stays stuck around 40%, regardless, but the two old white guys are stronger against him.

    The schedule: February 3: Iowa. Then New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. And then, just a month after Iowa: March 3 super Tuesday with 14 states, including CA, MA, NC and VA.

    Iowa will likely be irrelevant. NH, NV and SC will tell be ACT ONE. If Warren can’t take NH, and I doubt she can, she’s done. NV will be decided by union voters, and SC will rest on African-American women. Unless Biden self-destructs, he’s likely to take NV and SC, but could well take NH as well. Show me the state Harris or Booker or Mayor Pete will take.

    If Harris can’t take CA, she’s out of the race for the top slot. Maybe give Warren MA, her home state, but what else? By the end of business on March 3 I’d guess Biden has NH, NV, SC, AL, NC, OK, TN, TX, UT and VA. Bernie will have VT. Maybe Harris has CA.. Maybe. Maybe Klobuchar carries her home state of MN. Maybe Warren has MA. But home state wins are discounted.

    A week later, March 10, it’s HI, ID, MI, MS, MO, ND and WA. Biden takes everything with the possible exceptions of HI and WA.

    A week later, March 17 it’s the closer: AZ, FL, IL and OH. Biden, Biden, Biden and Biden.

    Caveat: of course this is all speculative and based on current conditions. But right now I don’t see the place where Biden is stopped, or who stops him. Only Biden can stop Biden now.

  7. EddieInCA says:

    @michael reynolds: @al Ameda:

    I’m thinking it might be Elizabeth Warren.,

    After what happened with Hilary, I don’t see how anyone can think this country is ready to elect a woman for President, much less one with as much baggage as Warren. If Warren is the nominee, I will vote for her enthuiastically. I’ll even donate money to her campain. But Warren is Hillary with better pantsuits, and without Bill. That’s it. Policy wise, they’re very close. Age wise, very close. Mannerisms, very close. Neither can raise their voice or they’ll be “shrill”. Neither can be too confrontational or they’ll be “bitchy”. I can see Warren easily losing OH, WI, MI, PA, GA, NC, TX, AZ, NV to Trump. Can’t see Biden losing that many states, even in a worst case scenario.

  8. Gustopher says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Look at the Candidate X vs. Trump polls and again and again you see that for reasons which cannot be explained by policy, Biden and Bernie outperform, Warren and Harris do more poorly. There is an anti-woman feeling out there, possibly a tactical sense that a woman candidate will be a Hillary. But also just straight up sexism. Trump’s number stays stuck around 40%, regardless, but the two old white guys are stronger against him.

    The two old white guys are household names.

    I’m not saying that there isn’t also sexism, just that there are lots of ways to slice that data and get different, very plausible results. Most of America isn’t paying attention to the Democrats nomination process yet.

    And I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Elizabeth Warren has greater name recognition among Republican voters than Democratic voters at this point.

    Only Biden can stop Biden now.

    Well, luckily he’s good at that!

    Ok, seriously, I’m not going to look at polling numbers 6-8 months out in a 25 way race and say that they are predictive. There are too many questions, such as who will John Hickenlooper’s supporter support when Hickenlooper drops out?

    If you take the support of everyone below the top four, and have them pick again, it’s an entirely different race. Especially since everyone who supports those candidates do know about Warren and Harris and aren’t just going off name recognition.

    The one thing that they do show is what candidates are making inroads into the base, which is what they will need to then start generating broader support later.

  9. Gustopher says:

    @EddieInCA:

    But Warren is Hillary with better pantsuits, and without Bill. That’s it. Policy wise, they’re very close. Age wise, very close. Mannerisms, very close. Neither can raise their voice or they’ll be “shrill”. Neither can be too confrontational or they’ll be “bitchy”.

    Age and pantsuits aside, I think you’re wrong on almost all of this.

    But, most importantly, Warren has a passion that Hillary Clinton was never willing to show (I assume Clinton has passions, but is more reserved).

    And, what America really needs right now is someone who wanted to be a special ed teacher. Because were special.

  10. Scott F. says:

    @EddieInCA:

    After what happened with Hillary, I don’t see how anyone can think this country is ready to elect a woman for President…

    Then why, oh why, should a Democrat even want to lead this country? We might as well roll over for Trumpism and await the end times. Seriously, if the United States of America can’t bring itself to elect a woman as POTUS in 2020, how can any liberal expect better governance or policies that bring this country closer to the democracies in the rest of the first world? What would be the point of electing Biden, if the best we could hope for from him would be a return to the status quo before Trump?

    Look, I know the history and I fully recognize that there is rampant misogyny in the broader electorate. But, you must fight for the better future you know is possible (even if difficult) rather than meekly accept the least offensive path forward. In 2oo8 – 12 years ago(!), the Democratic nomination race came down the “unelectable” Hillary Clinton and an African-American with a Muslim-sounding middle name. The Democrats won that election.

    Please, please, please don’t write off everyone but Biden more than a year before the election.

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  11. An Interested Party says:

    Because were [sic] special.

    Indeed…

  12. Scott F. says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Iowa will likely be irrelevant. NH, NV and SC will tell be ACT ONE. If Warren can’t take NH, and I doubt she can, she’s done. NV will be decided by union voters, and SC will rest on African-American women. Unless Biden self-destructs, he’s likely to take NV and SC, but could well take NH as well. Show me the state Harris or Booker or Mayor Pete will take.

    I’ll show you NV and SC for Harris.

    If Harris remains in the top tier with Biden (and there’s no reason to expect she wouldn’t as long as she polls well enough to participate in debates), then she’ll pull the African-American woman vote in SC come primary day. Biden’s support from this group doesn’t come from his strength with them on policy or personal connection, but from lingering affection for him as Obama’s VP. African-American women will flee him if they get even a hint that Harris might be the true heir to Obama.

    In NV, Biden will always be stronger with the unions, but I wouldn’t dismiss Harris’ draw being from the neighboring state of California. Harris has every reason to expect to show well in NV that Warren has for NH being from neighboring MA.

    If Harris takes any of the first 4 primaries, she’ll win California, since CA is taking great pride in being the home of the Anti-Trump Resistance. She’s wins CA and she has the upper hand.

    As I responded to EddieInCA, I am unwilling to accept that Harris or Warren won’t do as well against Trump as Biden. By the time the general election rolls around, Trump will be further weakened by the continuing investigations and his resulting inability to stop himself from lashing out in ways more racist and petulant than we can imagine him capable of being now. Harris has shown she will go for the jugular – she’ll be strong in a knife fight with The Donald.

  13. EddieInCA says:

    @Gustopher:

    There are too many questions, such as who will John Hickenlooper’s supporter support when Hickenlooper drops out?

    All four of them will be dispersed equally to Biden, Bernie, Warren, and Harris. Next question.

  14. EddieInCA says:

    @Scott F.:

    What would be the point of electing Biden, if the best we could hope for from him would be a return to the status quo before Trump?

    A Dem President AND control of the Senate is what I want. If you think Warren, or Bernie, or Harris, or Buttigeig gets you the Senate, I think you’re wrong. The reason to vote for Biden is the he has the ability to go into purple districts and win over some swing voters while not alienating the African American and Latino populations needed for a winning coalition. Do you think Warren is going to energize African Americans? Do you think Harris will bring working class Obama voters who voted for Trump back to the Dem fold? Do you think Bernie will be able to get ANY African American support?

    I live and vote in California. I have zero skin in the game because my state is going to go for whomever the GOP nominee is. But, based purely on anecdotal evidence thus far, Harris isn’t going to win the California primary. And I don’t think Bernie or Warren is going to win NH. So where does that leave them?

  15. Scott F. says:

    @EddieInCA:

    A Dem President AND control of the Senate is what I want as well. But, that will take coattails and you’ll have to make the case that Biden will inspire a groundswell of broad, energized support before I’ll buy that he’s the guy who will bring along a few more Democratic Senate seats. Joe is surely safe, but I’m convinced a vote for a 77 year white guy promising to bring back 2015 will feel like a concession not a wave. Your mileage may vary, but I just don’t understand the defensive crouch you are in.

    I won’t argue in favor of Sanders at the top of the ticket anymore than I would Biden, but I can see Harris winning back working class voters the way any Democrat would – by running on healthcare as Dem candidates did in 2018. (In her case, that’ll be Medicare for All with private insurance still an option.) Warren will energize African-American voters plenty if the alternative is another 4 years with a racist in the White House. Mayor Pete is a highly skilled politician who could easily represent a new era for voters sick and tired of where the country is now. If 2020 isn’t a change election, Trump will win any way and the country’s screwed.

    I live in California, too, and based on my own anecdotal evidence, Californians aren’t going to vote for a Biden telling them that he just knows that Republicans in Congress are better people than they’re behaving with Trump in charge. Californians are itching for a fight – they’ve made Republicans irrelevant here and they’re looking to expand. So, they’ll give their primary votes to the candidate who best shows they will fight by Super Tuesday.

  16. Gustopher says:

    @EddieInCA:

    A Dem President AND control of the Senate is what I want. If you think Warren, or Bernie, or Harris, or Buttigeig gets you the Senate, I think you’re wrong. The reason to vote for Biden is the he has the ability to go into purple districts and win over some swing voters while not alienating the African American and Latino populations needed for a winning coalition.

    Biden is a safe, establishment choice, but how often does the safe choice win?

    2016: Clinton (safe) vs. Trump
    2012: Obama (inclumbant) vs. Romney (safe)
    2008: Obama vs. McCain — were either safe choices? McCain maybe
    2004: Bush (incumbent) vs. Kerry (safe)
    2000: Bush (safe) vs. Gore (safe)
    1996: Clinton (incumbent) vs. Dole (safe)
    1992: Bush (incumbent) vs. Clinton (safer than Jerry Brown)
    1988: Bush (safe) vs. Dukakis (safe)
    1984: Reagan (incumbent) vs. Mondale (safe)
    1980: Carter (incumbent) vs. Reagan

    The safe, establishment candidate tends to not flip the party in control of the White House (2000 is a possible counterpoint). You need an energized and enthusiastic base. You might also need to appeal to people who want to burn everything down.

    I don’t think that means we should find the craziest person to run (I think Vermin Supreme is an independent now), but I also don’t think that Biden has a huge electability advantage in the general over the other possible candidates.

    Maybe this year will be different, as Trump is batshit insane, but I suspect not.

    If you are excited about Biden — great, good for you, could you explain why you’re excited? a lot of people don’t get that — but if you’re settling for Biden because of electability, maybe think twice.

    (Note: this does not mean that I think Bernie would have won in 2016 — the candidate needs to excite the base AND keep the establishment happy enough)

  17. Gustopher says:

    Harris’ new student loan forgiveness policy proposal seems … complicated.

    I don’t have the expertise to judge it on the merits, and understand all of the consequences intended and unintended, but it seems too complicated. It sounds like the type of thing you settle for, rather than something you work for.

    I hope there is more coming, and that this was a mislabeled distressed communities reinvestment program. Or that she relabels it, and just blows off student debt as a priority.

    You get one or two big priorities, I’m ok if student debt isn’t one of them, since it’s going to end up being health care and the environment. But, if you’re goig to be getting all excited about the lesser priorities, shoot for the moon.

  18. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Why is it so hard for dems to accept that none of their candidates have any real it factor? The United States will absolutely have a woman President, when a woman with the requisite swag, looks, voice, and wit runs for President. Hillary Clinton, Warren, Harris, and the rest of the females in the race are great backup singers…not lead singers. Harris has the look and feel…but hasn’t shown she can do improv.

    Likewise, the Democratic men, sans Bernie Sanders are also caddies. Bernie’s window has passed and he’s eccentric…but he is the only virtuoso in the field…and can’t win.

    One day the white liberal will appreciate the once in 20 year talent that was Obama and put some respect on his name. They think they can trot any minority/female candidate out; appeal to history, and win Obama’s coalition. Not gonna happen with any Dem candidate in the field EXCEPT for maybe Biden. The Obama coalition could conceivably vote for Joe out of a combination of disgust for Trump and respect for Obama. The rest of them…forget it.

    Warren reminds me of every white women that’s called the police on me or locked her car door as I walked by.

    Buttigeg is a gay city mayor of a town whose police harrass black people.

    Sanders is a socialist and has a 40-year record of not giving a flying flip about anyone not white.

    Sure the politically motivated usuals will vote…but the Obama coalition featured a large percentage of first-time voters and first-time-in-a-long-time voters. These people are causal voters. Trump might be a racist but the economy is good so his racism won’t be enough for these people to inconvenience themselves to vote for someone that doesn’t strike an emotional chord with them.

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  19. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: It’s interesting because the only feature of her bio that makes me want to question her qualifications vis a vis my willingness to support her is that she wanted to be a special ed teacher. Maybe I’ve known too many mediocre ones, but that fact triggers my alarms more than anything else.

  20. Kylopod says:

    @Scott F.: Yeah, I don’t buy this “2016 proved America wasn’t ready for a woman president.” Let’s remember that many other countries have been electing female heads of government for decades. You think Israel or the UK were less sexist nearly a half-century ago than America is today, just because Hillary won only 3 million more votes than the Pussy-grabber and would have become president if not for other factors (e.g. Russian interference, Comey interference, a handful of Democrats not taking the election seriously enough to get off their asses, etc.).

    I mean, if Obama or some other black Democrat had happened to be the nominee in a year that was less favorable to our party than 2008 and had lost, we’d probably be having the same conversation about race, about how America’s too racist to elect a black man so we might as well just continue nominating whites. Racism and sexism are real factors in our political system, but it’s possible for them to become a crutch.

  21. Matt says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    Warren reminds me of every white women that’s called the police on me or locked her car door as I walked by.

    I’ve had that happen countless times and I’m usually pale white (sometimes I get a bit of a tan from working outside)…