Former Vice President Joe Biden returned to the top of the media heap last week.
For the first time this cycle, there was just one debate night, and only 10 candidates made the cut — so now we’re trying to make sense of what happened when the front-runners shared the stage. In recent weeks, the polls have shown a top tier of three to five candidates, with former Vice President Joe Biden leading, Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren tied for second, and Sen. Kamala Harris and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, a distant fourth and fifth — but did that change last night?
Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.
A much-discussed poll last month showing an effective three-way tie between Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders at the top of the Democratic primary field has since proven to be something of an outlier. But the narrative that the Democratic primary has collapsed down into a three-way race between Biden, Warren and Sanders is still going strong.
Yesterday, I wrote about the middle and upper echelons of the Democratic field: those candidates who are polling in the mid-single-digits or higher. You can certainly posit a rough order of which of these candidates are more likely to win the nomination. I’d much rather wager a few shekels on Joe Biden than Pete Buttigieg, for instance. But I don’t think there’s any hard-and-fast distinction between the top tier and the next-runners-up.
If you thought all the remaining primary debates were going to be one-night affairs, think again. On Sunday, billionaire activist Tom Steyer got his fourth qualifying poll thanks to an early-state survey from Nevada, which means 11 candidates have now met the polling and donor thresholds for the Democrats’ fourth debate. And Tulsi Gabbard has announced that, based on one subset of respondents, she got a third qualifying poll this weekend, but the Democratic National Committee has confirmed that it is looking at different set of respondents and the poll will not count for her.
So far, Elizabeth Warren’s Democratic primary strategy seems to be working pretty well. She’s been steadily gaining support since the spring, when she was polling around fifth place, and is now neck-and-neck with Bernie Sanders, according to RealClearPolitics’ polling average. Early-state activists think she’s gaining momentum, the most plugged-in subset of Democrats seems to be coalescing behind her, and she’s well-liked among primary voters. But she’s still not within striking distance of Joe Biden, who continues to hold a double-digit lead over the rest of the field.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign has said she has drawn crowds of up to 15,000. Meanwhile, former Vice President Joe Biden has not exactly been packing them in, even as he continues to lead by a healthy margin in most polls of the Democratic presidential primary. So could Warren’s big crowds be picking up on something that the polls are missing?