Normally at this stage of a primary, national polling means nothing, and this new poll from Quinnipiac isn’t exactly determinative. It does, however, portend a very bad outcome for Hillary Clinton in what has been her biggest argument in the Democratic primary — her inevitability. Sure, Bernie Sanders might steal a march in Iowa and New Hampshire, where populism and nimble organization can produce outliers, but Hillary’s dominance in the rest of the country would eventually prevail.

Or … not:

In the Democratic race nationwide, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has 44 percent, with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont at 42 percent, and 11 percent undecided. This compares to a 61 – 30 percent Clinton lead in a December 22 survey by the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University Poll. …

“Democrats nationwide are feeling the Bern as Sen. Bernie Sanders closes a 31-point gap to tie Secretary Hillary Clinton,” said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

That’s a highly dramatic fall from dominance in just six weeks — twenty-seven points in the gap, in fact. Sanders’ support appears to be at least as solid as Hillary’s, 63% and 67% respectively, although both still seem a little low for this stage of the race. The gender gap is completely neutral, with Sanders up ten among men (48/38) and Hillary getting the same exact numbers among women.

The fact that Hillary can’t get a majority of Democratic women to back her in a primary against Sanders should have eyes popping at the DNC. Hillary has made explicit appeals to gender for months — including in last night’s debates, where she claimed her gender exempted her from the “establishment” label despite having spent the last quarter-century in Washington. So far, those appeals have done nothing, and arguably have made the situation worse in the short run; Obama won women by a fairly wide margin in both of his successful presidential general elections.

On top of that, the Q-poll shows Sanders slightly more electable than Hillary in general-election match-ups:

  • Clinton tops Trump 46 – 41 percent;
  • Clinton ties Cruz 45 – 45 percent;
  • Clinton trails Rubio 48 – 41 percent;
  • Sanders thumps Trump 49 – 39 percent;
  • Sanders edges Cruz 46 – 42 percent;
  • Sanders and Rubio are tied 43 – 43 percent.

One reason for this is that Sanders has a +9 favorability rating, while Hillary’s is -17, only beating Donald Trump’s -25 in the current field. Marco Rubio actually has the best rating at +14, while Ted Cruz has a -6.

Assuming that other national polling shows this same shift in the Democratic race, it matters because it undermines Hillary’s arguments for inevitability and electability. That could have voters in other states, especially South Carolina, wonder whether it’s worth it to revert back to a corrupt, scandal-plagued clan for yet another round of failure, or better to redefine the party as an activist, progressive movement with a cleaner figurehead at the forefront. This poll means nothing in predictive terms of a specific primary vote, but it might mean plenty in voter psychology.