According to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has dramatically improved his standing in the 2020 Democratic primary race, as for the first time in CNN’s history of polling this race he has eclipsed Joe Biden. According to the poll, 27% of registered Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents support Sanders, whereas 24% prefer Biden. Though Sanders’ support is impressive, particularly considering his radically progressive policy agenda, the difference between Sanders and Biden is within the margin of error, meaning that this poll shows no clear frontrunner at the moment. That being said, Sanders and Biden are clearly in the lead compared to the other candidates; Warren ranked in 3rd place at 14% whereas Buttigieg is at 11%, with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg receiving 5% support. Andrew Yang and Amy Klobuchar each received 4% support among those included in the poll.
It’s important to note that while Sanders has made significant progress in the race so far, it’s still early in the primary season, as the first votes have not yet been cast. While Biden has consistently remained among the most popular choices for the Democratic candidate, last year he was briefly overtaken by Elizabeth Warren, though Warren has since fallen behind in the polls amid criticism of her Medicare-for-All plan and a personal dispute with Sanders over whether he told her a woman could not be elected president in a meeting between the two in 2018.
As the primary process continues, the Democratic candidates have intensified their criticisms of one another; a recent Sanders ad questions Biden’s record on protecting Social Security, and Biden rebuked these claims with an attack ad of his own, accusing the Sanders campaign of lying about his record. These attacks have led Democrats to fear that the political damage that the candidates are inflicting on one another will hurt whoever ends up as the Democratic nominee, and these fears are magnified by the intense focus Democrats have on defeating Donald Trump in 2020.
One of the key factors that influences voter turnout is enthusiasm, and fortunately for Sanders, 38% of Democratic voters say they would be enthusiastic about voting for Sanders in the general election if he wins the nomination, even though enthusiasm towards all of the other candidates has decreased in recent months. Sanders is also seen as the candidate who most often agrees with voters on the issues they consider to be the most important, and he also is considered to be the candidate who best understands the issues facing the American voter.
The current election cycle is a unique one in American history, as it represents an opportunity for Democrats to radically shift the direction of the country
However, at the forefront of most voters’ minds is the issue of electability, as Democrats across the board are most interested in nominating the candidate who stands the best chance of defeating Donald Trump in the general election. According to the poll, Joe Biden is still considered to be the most electable candidate by a significant margin; 45% of Democrats say that Biden has the best chance of defeating Trump, whereas just 24% say the same of Sanders. That being said, Sanders has made progress in this field as well, as increasing numbers of Democrats feel that he can defeat Trump, and indeed Sanders consistently ranks more favorably than Trump by several percentage points among voters generally, as do several of the other Democratic candidates. Unfortunately for the Democrats, Republican voters report being more enthusiastic about voting in the general election than Democratic voters do, a likely result of political fatigue after Democrats witness headline after headline of what they consider to be profoundly negative news generated by the White House and Congress.
When it comes to the issue of which candidate has the best chance of uniting the Democratic party, though, Biden substantially outperforms Sanders; 41% of voters name Biden as having the best shot of uniting the party whereas just 16% say the same of Sanders. This is unsurprising considering Sanders’ record as an independent senator and a self-proclaimed “democratic socialist,” and considering his ambitious policy proposals, Sanders will have to get Democrats on his side one way or another in order to pass promised legislation such as Medicare-for-All, which is sure to be an uphill battle for him if he wins the presidency.
That being said, the current election cycle is a unique one in American history, as it represents an opportunity for Democrats to radically shift the direction of the country, as the party is likely to embrace a radical set of policies in order to energize voters to defeat Trump in November. At this stage in the process, no one can say with certainty what will happen several months from now; however, recent polls give renewed enthusiasm to Sanders supporters, many of whom are still bitter about how the Democratic primary unfolded in 2016 amid accusations that the DNC was biased towards Hillary Clinton.