Major NYT poll of six battleground states: Trump leads Warren, within just a few points of Biden

A useful corrective to the national head-to-head polls that show him routinely trailing every member of the Democratic top tier, sometimes by garish margins. Fox News, of all outlets, dropped one on him this weekend showing him 12 points behind Biden(!) and five points behind Warren, a margin that’s still considerably wider than Hillary’s edge over Trump on Election Day 2016.

But national polls, which reflect the popular vote, ultimately don’t matter, of course. If they did, we’d be in year three of the Clinton presidency. The NYT’s Upshot site drilled down on the polling that does matter — swing states, where the balance of the electoral college will be decided. Result: Biden’s alleged 12-point lead is more like a *two-point lead* among likely voters in those states. And Warren’s alleged lead isn’t a lead at all.

You really should read all of this. Polls rarely influence voter preferences but the Times has a longer reach than most media does, and this one seems to confirm all the worst suspicions of Warren skeptics in the party that she’d fall short against Trump just as Clinton did. It’s practically a Joe Biden campaign commercial…

…but not a great Joe Biden campaign commercial. Even Mr. Electable is only a point or two ahead of Trump where it counts. Biden’s special advantage over the rest of the field, allegedly, is that he can draw some of the white working-class votes that broke for Trump three years ago and ultimately decided the election. And he does outperform Warren among that group here, but only slightly: He and Bernie Sanders trail Trump by 24 points among them whereas Warren trails by 26, exactly as Hillary did. Meanwhile, Biden, Warren, and Sanders all fall short of Clinton’s advantage with black and Latino voters, with Warren more than 10 points behind Hillary’s pace in both groups. There’s no evidence in this poll that she’d be any stronger a candidate against Trump than Clinton was and some reason to believe that she’d be a weaker one. She even trails Trump in Iowa by the widest margin of any top-tier Democratic candidate (six points) even though she leads the Democratic primary there in other NYT polling.

Bear in mind that this poll was conducted over the last two weeks of October, before she rolled out a preposterous Medicare for All plan that’s taking hits from all sides.

There’s another interesting result buried in the second half of the story. A lot has been written about how progressives might balk at voting for another centrist-y establishmentarian dinosaur like Biden as nominee, but the NYT found that it goes both ways. There’s a group of centrist Biden supporters who’d prefer Joe over Trump but will take Trump — or a third-party candidate — over Warren if that’s the choice next fall. The party writ large may prefer any Democrat to Trump as president but voters at the margins in swing states do not. And that’s where the entire election will be decided.

An analysis of the 205 respondents from the six core battleground states who support Mr. Biden but not Ms. Warren suggests that she might struggle to win many of them over…

The Biden voters who say Ms. Warren is too far to the left are relatively well educated and disproportionately reside in precincts that flipped from Mitt Romney in 2012 to Mrs. Clinton four years later. They oppose single-payer health care or free college, and they support the Republicans’ 2017 tax law. They are not natural Democratic voters: 41 percent consider themselves conservative; 20 percent say they’re Republican; 33 percent supported Mr. Trump or Mr. Johnson in 2016.

The Biden-but-not-Warren voters are Trump-skeptics, in other words, the sort of people who gravitate towards centrists. They’ll take Romney over Obama and Clinton over Trump and Biden over Trump, but force them to choose between Trump and Warren and, well, which of those two is closer to being a “centrist”? Worse yet for Warren, the Times found that a sizable chunk of the Biden-but-not-Warren contingent believes that the women candidates running this year “just aren’t that likable.” If you’re of the mind that a woman nominee would have special problems winning tight races against Trump in the Rust Belt, this won’t disabuse you of that belief.

What do Democratic primary voters do with this information that Warren may have a real electability problem? Maybe they’ve already begun to act on those suspicions: I can’t help noticing that Warren’s momentum in *national* primary polling has not only slowed lately but actually reversed:

That brown line climbs up, up, up, until October 9 … and then begins to descend, with Biden building on his lead in the very latest polls. In fact, after Warren’s big summer surge, he’s suddenly led the last 10 national surveys taken, some by double digits. It may be that national Democrats, having finally taken a hard look at Warren, have concluded that they’re not as keen on her as they were at first blush or, a la the Times’s numbers, that she’s just not electable enough to get the job done against Trump.

Problem is, national polling ultimately doesn’t matter any more in the primary than it does in the general election. Biden trails (narrowly) in most recent polls of Iowa and hasn’t led in a poll of New Hampshire since early September. If early-state voters decide to vote based on who gets them excited rather than who stands the best chance against Trump, the party may find itself saddled with Warren as nominee despite the evidence that she’s shaping up for another Clintonesque performance in the general election.

This isn’t the only poll out today testing head-to-head match-ups in 2020 swing states, by the way. Nevada, a rare battleground that went blue in 2016, currently has Trump tied with Sanders and narrowly ahead of Biden and Warren, per Emerson. And in Texas, where Democrats are allegedly threatening a real race for the first time in decades, Trump leads Biden and Warren by seven points. If this is how he’s polling in the middle of an impeachment inquiry, imagine how he might do once it’s a distant memory, as it will be by spring. Having been given four years to study Trump’s many weaknesses and correct their mistakes from the 2016 election, Democrats might not do any better in the electoral college this time.