Take it from a guy who, like, six days ago thought there was near-zero chance of Biden winning the nomination: There’s near-zero chance of Biden losing the nomination.
In fact, I think the odds at this point are greater that Bernie is out of the race on the evening of March 17th than that Bernie ends up as nominee. Not much greater, maybe, but it’s more likely that he quits than that he mounts a sustained months-long resurgence. And if that happens, it would mean Biden had pulled off arguably the greatest turnaround in American political history. Looking back at the polling in South Carolina, not until February 25 — four days before the big vote — did he get an encouraging poll, when PPP suddenly found him ahead by 15. Before then his lead had dipped to low single digits. I thought, and many others thought, that Berniementum was about to lift Sanders to a shocking upset there and end Biden’s political career. But then the next round of polling showed Biden ahead consistently by double digits, and he ended up crushing expectations on Election Day with a nearly 30-point victory. The final polling average had him winning by 15.4.
Think about that. From his first encouraging poll in ages, on February 25, to his national wipeout of Sanders on Super Tuesday was one week. One hundred and sixty-eight hours or so. If he wallops Bernie again over the next two weeks and builds an insurmountable delegate lead, he’ll have gone from embarrassing failure to runaway presumptive nominee in 21 days.
Today Morning Consult finds him 16 points ahead in a two-way national poll, comfortably in majority territory with a 54/38 lead. So much for Warren voters coming to Bernie’s rescue. It’s not the topline number that’s the real killer, though, it’s this one:
That’s Joementum in a single graph. You can’t be “the electable candidate” while you’re losing election after election. The faith of Democrats was shaken. South Carolina restored it in one fell swoop. He never looked back.
I’m interested to see if there’s a Joementum effect the next time Gallup conducts this particular poll too:
Note the results in 2012. The fact that one party is more enthusiastic about the current election over previous elections than the other party doesn’t guarantee victory. Still, Republican enthusiasm has never been higher at this stage of the race than it is right now. After looking closely at the dates there and remembering that South Carolina didn’t vote until February 29, my question is whether Democratic enthusiasm was being suppressed by the growing probability of nominating Bernie at the time and will now shoot up after Biden’s taken control of the race or if it won’t budge regardless of who’s leading. I’d expect a Biden effect, if not necessarily one large enough to erase the GOP’s lead. Either way, it’s interesting that Democratic enthusiasm is now a shade lower than it was at this stage in 2004, when opposition to Bush and the Iraq war had galvanized the left. Clearly, they really want to beat Trump — but their fervor isn’t at some historic level.
I’m also curious to see if there’s a Biden effect downballot. This new PPP poll isn’t encouraging for the GOP:
New PPP polls find Sara Gideon leading Susan Collins 47-43 in the Maine Senate race and Mark Kelly leading Martha McSally 47-42 in the Arizona Senate race. Additionally a PPP poll for a private client last week found Cal Cunningham leading Thom Tillis 46-41 in the North Carolina Senate race, and when PPP last polled the Colorado Senate race John Hickenlooper led Cory Gardner 51-38. This makes four Republican held US Senate seats where PPP has found Democratic challengers with at least a 4 point lead.
The Maine result is most interesting. When PPP first polled the Gideon-Collins match up for a private client last spring, Collins led by 18 points at 51-33. The reason for the 22 point shift since then is that in the wake of opposing impeachment, Collins has lost most of the crossover Democratic support she’s relied on for her success over the years. Last April Collins had a 32% approval rating with Hillary Clinton voters, and trailed Gideon only 59-28 with them head to head. Now she has just a 9% approval rating with Clinton voters, and trails Gideon 81-10 with them head to head.
Democrats will need to flip five seats to gain a majority in the Senate this fall. They’ve got a solid shot at four, per this data, and they just added a top-flight challenger in Steve Bullock in Montana. I wonder if Biden’s surge will encourage some swing voters to tilt Democratic in the belief that Dems suddenly stand a much better chance of reclaiming total control of government than they did a few weeks ago.
As for Bernie, it would be very, very hard for him to quit the race early when he was so close to achieving escape velocity after the first few primaries. He didn’t quit in 2016 once Hillary had become uncatchable; his fans will want him to press on with his “revolution” in defiance of the establishment’s Biden coronation, and because this is also surely Sanders’s last run for president. But there are differences between this year and 2016. Democrats aren’t favored in this election, as they were then. They’re facing an incumbent who’ll be tough to beat, especially if the economy recovers from a coronavirus slowdown before November. They also view Trump as a special threat to basic principles of American government, not just some Republican who needs to be defeated in order to protect Medicare. The pressure on them to unite quickly will be tremendous. Bernie has also spoken kindly of Biden recently, describing him as a decent guy. And, importantly, there were no major establishment thumbs on the scale on Tuesday night to help explain Biden’s explosive surge. He hasn’t outraised Bernie; he didn’t benefit from any Bloomberg attack-ad campaign against Sanders; Obama hasn’t endorsed anyone; there are no superdelegate shenanigans complicating the equation right now. Black voters launched Joe, not the superdelegates. The closest thing to an embittering “they stole the election!” narrative for progressives was Buttigieg and Klobuchar swinging behind Biden at the last moment, but strategic endorsements by failed candidate are par for the course in primaries.
There is, in other words, no obvious reason for lefties to resent the Biden comeback as some sort of dirty trick. They resent Biden himself, of course, for his record and for being an old-guard establishmentarian but nothing’s happened lately to feed the sense that Sanders has been cheated somehow that might impel him and his fans to resist bowing to political reality. That’s why I think another week or two of dominating Biden victories might convince Bernie to either suspend his campaign or to quasi-suspend by announcing that he won’t “actively contest” the nomination anymore or whatever beyond March 17.
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