A new CNN poll out this afternoon shows that former vice president Joe Biden has suffered a setback in his campaign for president, dropping ten points overall among registered Democratic and Democratic-leaning independent voters surveyed over the weekend.
While Biden dropped from 32 to 22 percent support, California senator Kamala Harris got a big bump, from 8 to 17 percent since voters were polled at the end of May. Harris came in second in the new CNN survey, followed closely by Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren — who rose from 7 percent to 15 percent — and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, whose support dropped from 18 to 14 percent.
The easiest way to read these numbers would be to assume that Harris’s attack on Biden at last week’s Democratic primary debate — when she criticized him for opposing busing and working with segregationists when he was in the U.S. Senate — was a success, and that she was able to pick off support from the frontrunner in the aftermath.
That theory seems to be borne out by the fact that 41 percent of registered Democratic voters who watched or followed coverage of the debates said Harris did the best job, followed by only 13 percent who said the same of Warren, and 10 percent who said the same of Biden. The California senator’s support was even stronger among those who actually watched one or both debates, 46 percent of whom said she performed best job.
But a closer look at the poll suggests it’s not quite that simple. While Harris has pulled even with the former vice president among white voters, non-white women, and young voters — especially those who call themselves “liberal” and white voters with college degrees — Biden still maintains a strong lead among black voters, with 36 percent support to Harris’s 24 percent. Older voters prefer Biden to Harris by a 20-point margin, and he leads Harris by 20 points among Democratic voters who describe themselves as either moderate or conservative.
Harris’s star seems to be rising, then, mostly with young, white liberals, but Biden continues to claim a strong advantage among non-white Democrats. The California senator’s effort to portray him as weak on race issues didn’t seem to lead to any sort of surge in her support among black voters who now view Biden as having been in league with segregationists. Her move might’ve played well with the progressives paying closest attention to the ups and downs of the contest, but it doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll be able to best the former vice president on primary voting days around the country.
Meanwhile, a little more than half of respondents to the CNN survey said they think the government should offer some form of national health-insurance program for all Americans, but only 37 percent of those respondents believe it should entirely replace private health insurance, and only 38 percent said it should be available to undocumented immigrants. During the second night of Democratic primary debates last week, every single candidate endorsed both replacing private health-care plans and offering the government health-care plan to illegal immigrants.
During a primary, candidates know they have to appeal to their base rather than the average American, so it makes sense that Democrats aren’t yet running to the center. But so far, they seem to believe they can take whatever positions their progressive base demands without eventually suffering consequences with the broader electorate.