The Three Polling Numbers That Look Really Good for Elizabeth Warren

When Elizabeth Warren officially kicked off her presidential campaign in February, the Massachusetts Senator was far from a front-runner; although many believed she could have emerged as a top-tier contender for the Democratic nomination, she had trouble registering above 6% in most polls.

Seven months later, her campaign is singing a different tune — the current RealClearPolitics average places Warren at just under 20%. On top of that, a Selzer Poll released on Saturday pins her at 22% in Iowa, good enough for first place. A slow and steady rise has lifted her to the near-top.

But as positive as these toplines may be, the super good numbers lie a bit deeper, buried in the crosstabs. Here are three in particular.

First, Warren wins over high-information voters

It’s no secret the demographic turnout of primary electorates is…incongruous to that of the US population. Indeed, primary voters tend to be older, whiter, richer, better-educated, and more politically engaged than the average American.

Luckily for Warren, she does well with that last category. Quinnipiac breaks down respondent subgroups by how much attention they’re paying to the campaign: a lot, some, or little/none. Here’s what they found in late August:

  • 25% of Democratic voters who are paying a lot of attention to the campaign have Elizabeth Warren as their first choice
  • 17% of Democratic voters who are paying some attention to the campaign have Elizabeth Warren as their first choice
  • 6% of Democratic voters who are paying little/no attention to the campaign have Elizabeth Warren as their first choice.

Although Joe Biden has higher numbers in all three regards, his support is more evenly spread out, with 32%, 33%, and 31%, respectively. Every other candidate is left in the dust.

What’s this mean for Warren? Most of her supporters know a thing or two about the Democratic primary, and after weighing all their options, they’ve decided on her — a phenomenon probably emboldened by her reputation as a policy wonk. Once more voters start to tune in, this number very well could rise.

Second, Warren has enthusiastic supporters

Alongside winning over high-information Democrats, Warren’s backers have another encouraging characteristic: they’re really excited about her candidacy. A mid-September NBC/WSJ poll found the following:

Thirty-five percent of Democratic primary voters say they’re “enthusiastic” about Warren (which is up 9 points since June), another 35 percent are “comfortable” with her and just 6 percent are “very uncomfortable.”

That’s compared with 23 percent who are enthusiastic about Biden, another 41 percent who are comfortable and 13 percent who are very uncomfortable — essentially unchanged since June.

Bernie Sanders’ numbers are 25 percent enthusiastic, 37 percent comfortable and 12 percent very uncomfortable.

Let’s spin those numbers in two different ways:

Enthusiastic + Comfortable:

Warren: 70%

Biden: 64%

Sanders: 62%

Enthusiastic – Very Uncomfortable:

Warren: 29%

Sanders: 13%

Biden: 10%

Based on the 2018 midterms, it wouldn’t be hard to argue politicians should prioritize mobilizing new voters over swaying existing ones. After all, the only votes that count are the ones actually cast.

The fact that Warren’s supporters are this energized this early (and, based on trendlines, becoming more enthusiastic over time) should put a little more pep in the Massachusetts Senator’s step. A growing “comfortable” number doesn’t hurt, either.

Third, even if she isn’t polling consistently in first, most Democratic primary voters like Warren 

This is, in my opinion, the biggest one. As the Democratic field begins shrinking (or, as politicos like to say, “winnowing“), an important thing to watch will be where withdrawn candidates’ supporters go. And for that, we turn to second-choice and “considering” questions. Let’s look at three surveys, all of different scopes.

First, in Iowa. The aforementioned Selzer poll asked respondents their first-choice candidate, second-choice candidate, and which candidates — outside of their first- and second-choices — they were also considering:

First-Choice + Second-Choice:

Warren: 42%

Biden: 30%

Sanders: 21%

First-Choice + Second-Choice + Considering:

Warren: 71%

Biden: 60%

Sanders: 50%

Next, the four early states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina). Here are the results of an early-September CBS/YouGov poll. Note that the “considering” question here just asks generally which candidates are being considered, regardless of first- and second-choices:

First-Choice + Second-Choice:

Warren: 51%

Biden: 38%

Sanders: 36%


Warren: 60%

Biden: 50%

Sanders: 48%

Finally, nationally. The aforementioned NBC/WSJ poll found the following, not asking a “considering” question of any sort:

First-Choice + Second-Choice:

Warren: 46%

Biden: 42%

Sanders: 30%

The takeaway is simple — in all three polls, factoring in second-choice and “considering” responses puts Warren ahead of Biden. Even though she doesn’t have the highest first-choice support right now, these numbers suggest she does have the highest ceiling.


To be clear, I’m in no way saying that Warren will certainly win the nomination, or if she does pull ahead, it’s solely for these reasons. After all, she is ten points behind Biden nationally, possesses noticeable weak points among moderate and nonwhite voters, and has become the target of increasing attacks as she’s risen in the polls. A Warren victory is far from a done deal; she is not in first place.

Nevertheless, it’s still important to go beyond the topline numbers and assess the variables that create them. And doing that with these three factors paints a story Warren probably wants to hear.

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