Warren Rises In The Polls, Threatening Sanders

Quietly, Elizabeth Warren has been campaigning and putting out policy proposals while also appearing to gain ground on her closest rival, Bernie Sanders.

While most of the attention in the race for the Democratic nomination is being given to front runners Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, The New York Times notes that Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren seems to be slowly but seemingly surely moving forward in the race

NEWTON, Iowa — To the crowd of Iowans gathered in a school gym on Saturday night, Senator Elizabeth Warren made a request: They should pose a question to the other presidential candidates who come to Iowa seeking their vote.

“Ask them: Where do you get your money?” she said. “Are you getting it from a bunch of millionaires?”

For Ms. Warren, the question highlighted one of the sharpest contrasts she has drawn with most of her top rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination: She has sworn off holding private fund-raisers with wealthy donors. “The best president money can’t buy,” signs and T-shirts for her campaign say.

“I like that very much,” Cheryl Scherr, 63, said afterward, “because that means that she’s not beholden to anybody.”

After five months as a presidential candidate, Ms. Warren is showing signs of success at distinguishing herself in a packed field. She has inched higher in national polls and, at events within the last month, consistently overshot the campaign’s expected number of attendees.

She has been propelled in part by a number of disruptive choices, most notably the breakneck pace at which she introduces policy proposals. That has helped keep her in the news, put pressure on rivals and provided more opportunities to shore up her campaign’s once-lackluster fund-raising.

Other decisions have helped her with her party’s progressive flank. Ms. Warren was quick to call for the impeachment of President Trump, a view shared by many Democrats. She refused to participate in a town hall event on Fox News, a channel that is reviled on the left. She has also been the only major candidate to call for student debt cancellation, and about 250,000 people have used a tool on her website that allows visitors to calculate how much of their debt her plan would eliminate.

The website experienced a large surge in visitors after the billionaire Robert F. Smith made national headlines last week when he pledged to pay off all the debt for the graduating class at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

But Ms. Warren’s recent strength also highlights the volatile nature of the campaign’s early stages, and how much any candidate must do to overtake Joseph R. Biden Jr. — whose name recognition and status as a former vice president have placed him comfortably in the role of the front-runner.

Ms. Warren has become a favorite candidate among the activist left and is the subject of a viral tweet or video on a seemingly daily basis, but she still trails Mr. Biden by double digits in polls and does not seem to have broken through in New Hampshire, the critical primary state that neighbors her Massachusetts home.

Her ability to raise money over the long haul also remains a major question mark. In the first quarter of the year, before Mr. Biden entered the race, her fund-raising lagged that of four other candidates: Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Senator Kamala Harris of California, former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind.

Still, interviews with more than two dozen attendees at Ms. Warren’s campaign events in Iowa over Memorial Day weekend suggested that her steady stream of policy proposals was getting voters’ attention. Her “I have a plan for that” campaign slogan has become a rallying cry for supporters.

“That’s going to be her big selling point,” said Joel Williams, 20, a college student who went to see Ms. Warren in Oskaloosa on Sunday. “The specifics that really go to the heart of people’s frustrations with the system as it is.”

“She’s got it all laid out,” said Susan Conroy, 71, a retired lawyer. “She’s got plans, and people are hungry for knowing, ‘Well, what are you going to do about it?'”

Warren’s focus on campaigning and on putting forward specific policy proposals does seem to be some impact. In the most recent polls listed at RealClearPolitics, for example, Warren is garnering somewhere between 8% and 13% in the polls, putting herself firmly in third place behind Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders and slightly ahead of candidates such as Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, and Cory Booker. Her best performance right now is in the Quinnipiac poll, which shows Warren at 13%, just three points behind Bernie Sanders, who stands at 16% in that poll. In the polling average, she stands in third place at 9.8%, behind Biden at 34.8% and Sanders at 16.4%. Meanwhile, Warren has pulled ahead of the middle pack in the race, which Harris leads at 7.4% followed by Pete Buttigieg at 6.0%, Beto O’Rourke at 3.8%, and Cory Booker at 2.2%. All of the remaining candidates are below 2% and many are polling so low that they don’t register at all. This is a fairly significant upward move for Warren that could put her closer to the top two candidates in the race if it holds up.

Obviously, it would be to Warren’s advantage politically to get Bernie Sanders out of the way sooner rather than later. This is because she is competing for the support of the same segment of the Democratic Party that the Senator from Vermont is, although the same can be said about other candidates such as Harris, Buttigieg, and others. In the case of Warren, though, Sanders is clearly standing in her way between her current position and the point where she could credibly make the case she is the alternative to Biden rather than her colleague from Vermont.

The best chance for her to do that will likely come in the debates that begin at the end of June. If she does well in those debates then it could give her the momentum she needs to do that. Of course, it’s also possible that those debates could give Sanders renewed life that would at least stop the slide in the polls he’s been experiencing since former Vice-President Biden got in the race. So far, though, while she has been quiet about it Warren does seem to be doing something right. Whether it continues remains to be seen.

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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. James Joyner says:

    I find Warren considerably more appealing than Sanders. While they share goals, she’s much more thoughtful about how public policy actually works and her presentation style is much more engaging. But, then, we’re both intellectuals and academics by temperament and training. I fear that Sanders’ anger and bombast are more likely to fire up the Democratic base in this climate.

  2. @James Joyner:

    At the very least I think Warren would make a much better General Election candidate than Sanders. That being said, I don’t know that she’d be the right candidate to beat Trump.

  3. MarkedMan says:

    My main concern about Warren is the same as my main concern about all the other candidates: can they meet the table stakes of running and winning a primary campaign? If they can’t do that, it doesn’t matter which policies they support. By moving up in the polls Warren is taking the first step towards proving viability. She has a long way to go but a month ago she was trending in the other direction so kudos to her and her campaign staff.

    BTW, if she wants to step on Bernie on her way up, I’m fine with that and suggest her campaign makes sure every primary voter sees this Trevor Noah takedown of 46 year old Mayor Bernie.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I think Warren would make a much better General Election candidate than Sanders.

    I’m not absolutely sure about that. If I were the target audience, she absolutely would be. But I think Sanders is more able to take on Trump in his own terms. It would be one ugly campaign, though.

  5. EddieInCA says:

    I’m in favor of anything that takes out Bernie, a non-Democrat, for the Democratic nomination.

    Yes, I’m going to continue beating that horse, even after its dead.

  6. JohnMcC says:

    Sen Warren’s ascent has been terrific for the reasons cited — emphasis on policy and eclipsing Sen Bernie — and is particularly cool because she started with such a problematic attempt to deal with the ‘Pocahontas’ business. But I think the best early performance has been from ‘Mayor Pete’. The latest Morning Consult poll of early primary states has a third place tie for Buttigieg and Warren (at only 7%, admittedly). Also of interest is Sen Harris does not seem to be lighting any fires in South Carolina.

    Still one hopes we don’t get fascinated by the bobbing and weaving of the contenders. The most important thing is distilling the finest message to get the largest, most enthusiastic wave committed to turning out this administration and it’s congressional toadies.

  7. Hal_10000 says:

    I’ve been unimpressed with Warren. Like Al Gore before her, she has mastered the art of taking progressive talking points and repeating them back so that said progressives are stunned by her brilliance. But a Warren policy proposal has three stages: 1) she dusts off something from the progressive wishlist; 2) everyone proclaims her to be a genius; 3) people who know something about the subject point out that her proposal is a very bad idea. Examples: her proposal to have government-run pharmaceutical company, which has been tried and failed and would create a drug company with immunity from lawsuits; her proposal for a wealth tax which might be unconstitutional and which Sweden abandoned a decade ago as a disaster; her proposal for corporate governance which would not have solved the problem of the financial crisis but would crush small companies; her proposal to break up big tech companies, which solves a problem most experts aren’t sure exists. This happens constantly. Warren is the worst Nanny Stater in a host of bad options. Better than Trump? Maybe. But way worse than other Dem options.

  8. wr says:

    @James Joyner: “I fear that Sanders’ anger and bombast are more likely to fire up the Democratic base in this climate”

    I understand the thinking, but I wonder if it will be true this year. Maybe after Trump people are going to be a little tired of anger and bombast. And the way to deal with Trump in a debate is not to match him for anger, but to wait until he inflates one of his giant bullshit balloons, and then prick it with a pin. For instance, when he insists that only he is tough enough to negotiate with President Xi, just a wry smile and a mention that his aides think he’s so weak they had to move a battleship out of the way so that Trump wouldn’t see McCain’s name will do a lot more than trying to top the chest-beating.

  9. wr says:

    @James Joyner: :\”But I think Sanders is more able to take on Trump in his own terms.”

    No one can do that. All the Republicans in 16 tried, but you simply can’t out-Trump Trump.

    What astonishes me is that no one has tried the one technique that I think will destroy him — laughter. Kind of the way, I hate to say, Biden dealt with Palin in their debate, only more so. If the Democratic candidate simply laughed at Trump’s lies on stage and acted as if everyone knew they were lies — which everyone does — my guess is that Trump would self-immolate on stage.

    Trump loves to be seen as tough, and trying to out-tough him just brings that out in him. Treat him like the petulant four year old he is and see what happens.

  10. wr says:

    @Hal_10000: “3) people who know something about the subject point out that her proposal is a very bad idea.”

    Well, yes. As long as by “people who know something about the subject” you mean Republicans.

  11. Hal_10000 says:


    No, I mean people are familiar with the policy specifics, many of whom are on the liberal side. Corporate attorneys who pointed out the deep problems with her governance proposals; economists who pointed out how the wealth tax has been a failure; experts on pharmaceuticals who point out that real problem is abuse of patent law.

  12. Lounsbury says:

    @James Joyner: indeed, Sanders is Corbyn.

  13. Jay L Gischer says:

    What will clinch it for me is if Warren can punch Trump the way Pelosi can. Let’s see her get under his skin. You don’t have to be angry and ragy to do it, either. For instance, “Just what does Putin have on him?” or “We think the Administration is conducting a coverup”. Also, “maybe the family should do an intervention”. This is great stuff. I want to see Warren doing it. I want to see her rattle his cage. It would be fine if Harris did it, or Mayor Pete, too. But I really want to see it from Warren.

  14. MarkedMan says:


    her proposal to have government-run pharmaceutical company, which has been tried and failed

    Assume this is correct. What is the Conservative or Libertarian or Republican alternative? We know that drug companies have all but exited from developing new antibiotics or alternatives at a time when antibiotic resistant infections are ramping up (seriously, stay out of the hospital if at all possible). We know that they invest almost no money in curing just about anything, be it cancer or diabetes or Alzheimers. For new drugs they focus almost exclusively on mitigating but not curing chronic conditions (cholesterol, incontinence, pain, impotence, etc). And for existing medications it is all about rent-seeking.

    Modern Conservatives/Libertarians/Republicans are experts at shooting down Progressive ideas. But they never offer any realistic policies of their own, other than remove regulations and lower taxes on the wealthy. And if you think that reducing regulations on drug companies will suddenly cause them to spend tens of billions on cancer or Alzheimers research rather than hyping up some marginal drug they’ve already developed, well, I’d like to introduce you to my investment manager, Mr. Bernie Madoff…

    Conservatives/Libertarians/Republicans have become our national codgers, angrily brooding on their porch so they can shout “get off my lawn” while their roof leaks and their electrical system is one toaster away from a house fire.

  15. James Joyner says:


    All the Republicans in 16 tried, but you simply can’t out-Trump Trump.

    What astonishes me is that no one has tried the one technique that I think will destroy him — laughter. Kind of the way, I hate to say, Biden dealt with Palin in their debate, only more so.

    I’m not sure anyone tried to take on Trump at his own game. They were all befuddled by him because they were playing by the normal rules, he wasn’t, and he was getting away with it.

    Rubio briefly tried the ridicule route. He sucked at it.

  16. Hal_10000 says:


    Warrens company wouldn’t develop new drugs; it would manufacture old ones. I also disagree with your assessment of the drug industry. Antibiotics may need some incentivizing, since we don’t want to overuse new ones. But they are investing tons in trying to treat diseases. The problem is that things like Alzheimer’s and cancer are complicated, so a cure isn’t just a matter of snapping your fingers. And the few drugs that have come out that are very effective are expensive as hell.

    The problem with the drug industry isn’t necessarily too much regulation. It’s many things. A big one is that drug companies have become very good at manipulating patent law. Drugs are suppose to only be exclusive for a short period of time. But by making small tweaks in the drugs, you can extend that patent endlessly. Moreover, by making small tweaks in existing drugs, you can get insurance companies (Medicare especially) to stampede to the new drug which is way more expensive but only a tiny bit more effective. And it’s hard for new ones to get started because, for good reasons, we want drug manufacturers to meet certain standards.

    (There’s also been some problems of drug companies colluding on price, but that can and is being addressed by existing law.)

    There has also developed an army of middlemen in the drug industry. There was a twitter thread the other day about how Medicare is pushing patients to use expensive tweaked drugs rather than inexpensive generics. Why? Because Medicare has pharmacy benefit managers who are supposed to negotiate drug prices down. They get paid based on the negotiation. So if they negotiate down a really expensive drug, that’s better for them than not negotiating down a cheap drug. Medicare thinks they’ve saved hundred of dollars when, in fact, they’ve cost them hundreds. (Trump is trying, in his ham-fisted way, to crack down on this, one of the few good things he’s doing).

    In other words, it’s a mess. The solutions, when they are clear at all, are complicated. Having a monopsony single payer won’t solve it, as we’ve seen with Medicare Part D. Having the govt “negotiate drug prices” may help slightly but the Feds are not going to do what NHS does and refuse to pay for a drug if it’s too expensive. And having a govt pharmaceutical company certainly won’t solve it.

    My policy approach would probably be a massive overhaul of patent/copyright/IP law, combined with an overhaul of Medicare Part D’s payment system. That’s not terrifically sexy, but it would help a lot.

  17. Kylopod says:

    @James Joyner: There is actually one candidate who took on Trump quite effectively during the debates: Hillary Clinton.

    Before people laugh at what I just said, consider the facts: Just prior to the first debate, Hillary was at probably the worst point in her campaign. It was shortly after the “pneumonia” flap, and Trump was nearly dead-even with her in the polls. (In fact he was polling better than just before the election.) Then the first debate happened, where millions of viewers got the chance to see Trump lay into Hillary on live TV. The result? Her poll numbers soared, and his collapsed. Obviously he recovered later, after the turnover of the news cycle and the release of the Comey Letter which drew new attention to Hillary’s vulnerabilities. But I’d say she handled Trump just fine when they were on stage together. As Matt Yglesias noted at the time, she laid a clever trap for Trump by bringing up his past harassment of a beauty contestant, provoking him into a sexist rage (which ended up dovetailing neatly with the release of the Access Hollywood tape two weeks later).

    When people bring up the “Who can take on Trump?” question, sometimes I think they’re looking at it too narrowly. Whatever Hillary’s mistakes during 2016, she did not exactly treat Trump with kid gloves. Indeed, she made Trump’s awfulness practically the centerpiece of her entire campaign. According to a recent study, 90% of her anti-Trump ads concerned his personality rather than his policies. She called him a liar, a fraud, and a con artist, not to mention a racist and sexist. She brought up his failed businesses and the numerous people he stiffed. She went after his failure to disclose his tax returns. She called him a Russian puppet. She called him temperamentally unfit for the office. And so on.

    In any close election you can always come up with endless scenarios about what the losing candidate could have done differently. But Hillary was already damaged before any of this: if you look at the trajectory of her favorability ratings, they had pretty much collapsed by Nov. 2015, a full year before the election, at a time when Trump was virtually ignoring her and focusing his attention on his GOP rivals. Contrary to popular belief, there’s very little evidence that Trump’s bullying tactics are what destroyed her–he was just taking advantage of what had already happened. And meanwhile, his antics helped make him the most unpopular nominee on record. I continue to believe that Trump was mostly the beneficiary of Hillary’s demise, not the cause.

    By now, of course, Trump has advantages he didn’t have last time: he’s now the incumbent presiding over a strong economy (for the time being, anyway). Just about any other president in this situation would be a runaway favorite for reelection; the fact that he seems vulnerable at all is almost entirely due to his incompetence and repugnance. What I disagree with is the constant assumption that his bullying tactics are what makes him formidable, the major weapon that Democrats are going to have to learn to confront or be destroyed. Any Democrat is going to have to withstand the Republican slime machine. That was true long before Trump came along. But that doesn’t mean the best candidate is necessarily the one who’s the best at “handling” Trump’s schoolyard antics, or that the one who figures out how to do that will necessarily win.

  18. MarkedMan says:

    @Hal_10000: You make some good points and there are several places where I agree wholeheartedly with you. You are dead on about patent law. And we could probably have some really good debates on the other problems you mentioned. But my point was that Conservatives/Libertarians/Republicans are not trying to address these issues, only progressives and Democrats. Obamacare wasn’t just about the insurance, there were hundreds, thousands of other things addressed. Would these pieces have benefited from input from C/L/Rs? Theoretically, yes, but practically, no. It’s been so long since folks on that side of the aisle even accepted reality that they are too ignorant to meaningfully contribute. It would be like GM asking the writers for the Fast and Furious franchise to help design their new engine.

  19. wr says:

    @James Joyner: “Rubio briefly tried the ridicule route. He sucked at it.”

    I’m pretty sure you could replace the phrase “ridicule route” in those sentences with just about any other word and it would still be just as correct.

  20. wr says:

    @Hal_10000: “My policy approach would probably be a massive overhaul of patent/copyright/IP law, combined with an overhaul of Medicare Part D’s payment system.”

    If your solution requires a massive overhaul of an entire branch of law, it’s never going to get off the ground. You know that. If Elizabeth Warren proposed it, you’d be laughing at her. But it works great as a cudgel to fight off any other ideas…

  21. Hal_10000 says:


    I don’t think it’s any more ridiculous of a massive overhaul of 1/6 of our economy (e.g., Medicare For All). And it’s critically necessary on many many fronts. But I agree that will almost certainly never happen. Too many special interests and not even public interest in something so dry.

  22. JohnMcC says:

    @Lounsbury: Corbyn is secretly a Jew?

  23. Jen says:


    What astonishes me is that no one has tried the one technique that I think will destroy him — laughter

    I think this is part of why Pete Buttigieg is doing well here in NH. I had the opportunity to see him not too long ago, and he is quite good at dealing out one-liners that are funny and yet would go directly at Trump’s insecurities. And he delivers the lines without sounding mean, or rehearsed. It’s actually a rather impressive skill.

  24. Gromitt Gunn says:

    I think the main advantage that Warren has specifically in terms of taking on Trump is that she’s already sparred with him, and she’s spent decades dealing professionally with bullies and blowhards. With all of the abortion laws happening, and with his history with women, every time they are on a stage together, he is only going to reinforce the existing view of him and of the GOP as being utterly unable to deal with women in a positive way.

  25. steve says:

    “There was a twitter thread the other day about how Medicare is pushing patients to use expensive tweaked drugs rather than inexpensive generics. ”

    That is incorrect. Medicare uses private sector intermediaries to run its programs. Medicare does not directly run Medicare part D, it uses private sector groups, like the PBM Express Scripts and others, to run the program. So this is not Medicare pushing expensive drugs, it is the private sector company hired to control costs, because the private sector is better at controlling costs.

    Congress could change this. They could also intercede and set up a formulary like many private companies do that would save a lot of money. Again, this would mean upsetting a lot of special interests and provoke a lot more WSJ editorials about limiting choice. Everyone should have the opportunity to buy drugs that are ten times more expensive and work only half as well.


  26. DrDaveT says:

    @Hal_10000: Upvoted not because I agree with you*, but because you laid out your reasons so clearly and articulately. Anything that improves the quality of the discourse is a win.

    *Not sayin’ I disagree, either — I haven’t made up my mind on Warren yet.

  27. Rick Zhang says:

    The topic of health care prices is near and dear to my heart.

    Contrary to what people think, libertarians at least have recognized high costs as an issue in health care and are thinking about market based solutions to solve it. (see: https://slatestarcodex.com/2017/02/09/considerations-on-cost-disease/)

    There are many ways to tackle this, and various other authors have compared systems in UK (total socialized gov’t ownership of providers and hospitals), French/Canadian system (public option, private providers), German/Swiss option (mandatory universal coverage with well regulated private insurers similar to ACA), or Singapore (mix of the above with high forced savings). They all do better than the US.

    The US’s main reasons for failure:
    1. A lot of corruption. Providers are incentivized to do more, order more test/procedures, and steer you in the direction of expensive new medicines. There used to be nice kickbacks from pharma but now most states have banned them.

    2. People themselves. The HMO where I work does a lot on cost control especially in the pharma arena. Our patients sometimes complain about “Why can’t I get xxx medicine which is newer and undoubted better? I used to be able to get it at my previous insurance.” We have to explain why it’s not better and if it’s only incrementally better with 10x the cost we chose not to cover it. But hey, Americans want the latest and greatest right now and for someone else to pay for it.
    Furthermore, our customer service focused approach instead of a paternalistic approach of the doctor knows best makes patients comfortable with demanding certain things, like XRs or MRIs “just in case”. If you don’t do what I say, I’ll blow up your online reviews and complain to the medical board, and fire you until I get someone who does what I want.

    3. Bloat and regulation. Again, our HMO achieves great cost saving and efficiency metrics compared to our competitors, only for it to be eaten up by… high labour costs! Our nurses make 2x the pay of our competitors with better working conditions because they’re strongly unionized.

    4. Artificial supply restrictions on providers, introduced by the AMA and compounded by a restrictive immigration policy, at least for educated professionals.

    5. Strong alternatives for the educated who would otherwise go into health care. Canada had to raise pay to retain their providers to compete. In the US, someone who could go into medicine has choices – tech, i-banking, management consulting all offer similar risk/reward. In Europe, overall salaries are more compressed making fewer attractive alternatives and preventing an escalating wage/price cycle.

  28. Matt says:

    @wr: I agree the old saying “Never argue with an idiot. They will only bring you down to their level and beat you with experience” comes to mind.

    @Jen: Yeah dude is really good at the roast.

  29. Hal_10000 says:


    Thanks for the compliment!