Two Weeks Post-Debate:
How the Field Presently Stands

By Luke Basham
October 3, 2019

On September 12th, the ten leading Democratic candidates— Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris, Buttigieg, Yang, O’Rourke, Booker, Castro, and Klobuchar— took the stage in Houston, Texas for the third Democratic debate. Once again, the pressure was on for the race’s front-runner, former Vice President Joe Biden, who has maintained a modest lead in polling since the campaign’s commencement. In my initial post-debate analysis, I contended that, despite this, a handful of awkward moments, and a fumbled question on race relations, Biden’s position atop the Democratic field was somewhat safe. Indeed, in the two weeks since the debate, Biden’s polling average has stayed roughly the same, rising from 26.8% the day of the debate to 28.4% today,[1] according to RealClearPolitics.

However, the harrowing trend for the Biden campaign is not his own, but Warren’s. At the time of the debate, Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were neck and neck for second place. Both stayed on message and gave their supporters little reason to jump ship. In the weeks since, however, Warren has begun to gradually overtake Sanders, cementing herself in second place. Prior to the debate, she trailed Sanders by around 0.5%, but now leads him by a four-point margin. Warren’s rise has been steady over the duration of the campaign. Just five months ago, she was in sixth place with around 6% support. Unlike most candidates, Warren has stumbled little, gradually accruing more supporters with each passing debate; of all the candidates, she is the only one whose polling over time has had an upward linear trajectory.

Senator Kamala Harris’ polling has trending linearly as well— albeit downwardly. Harris briefly jumped to second place after attacking Biden in the first debate, but fell back down to fourth by the third debate. In the two weeks since, she has dropped to fifth, and now trails Pete Buttigieg by about a 0.5% margin. Harris’ polling numbers are a third of what they were a mere two months ago. She presumably still has time to salvage her campaign, but the clock is ticking.

Buttigieg, aided by his moving story of his decision to come out five years prior, rose modestly in the polls since the September debate, but his momentum wanes. Since Mayor Pete’s explosion from near-anonymity in March to the top of the presidential race, he has struggled to gain new supporters. Despite his stellar debate performances, he is polling a few points lower now than he did in April.

Some of the peripheral candidates made headlines during the third debate with memorable moments, such as Andrew Yang’s pledge to give $1,000 a month to ten American families over the course of a year and Beto O’Rourke’s emphatic one-liner “hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15.” Senator Amy Klobuchar had no such moments, but nonetheless her position in ninth place remains unchanged. Besides perhaps Yang, whose loyal gang of supporters will presumably keep him afloat, the other campaigns appear to be in jeopardy. Despite several compelling debate performances, Senator Cory Booker’s polling numbers have continued to fall, recently dropping below 2%. Both he and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro have recently informed supporters that if they do not attract more funding by the end of the third financial quarter on September 30th, they may have to bow out. This is, in part, due to the steeper donation requirements for the fifth debate in November.

Both Castro and Booker have, however, qualified for the next debate, hosted by CNN and The New York Times on October 15th. Two new faces absent from the September debate will join them— Representative Tulsi Gabbard and billionaire Tom Steyer—who met the Democratic National Committee’s fundraising and polling thresholds in time to qualify for the fourth debate, but not the third. The two are both presently polling below 1% and the fourth debate may offer them each their only chance to establish themselves as formidable candidates.


[1] Referring to the date the article was published, October 3, 2019.

Source: Real Clear Politics