While much of the media coverage following the first Democratic presidential debate last week focused on the confrontation between California Senator Kamala Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden, the performance of the candidate standing between them on the stage in Miami, Florida, — “democratic socialist” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders — received far less attention. But now, the leading polling analyst for CNN says that the aftermath of the debate for Sanders has been “quite weak,” and that the Sanders 2020 campaign now finds itself “in major, major trouble.”
Sanders ran in the 2016 Democratic primary, staging a surprisingly strong challenge to frontrunner and eventual nominee Hillary Clinton. In the end, however, Sanders decisively lost to Clinton by 359 convention delegates and more than 12 percentage points in the total popular vote, according to the political data site The Green Papers.
As a result, Sanders entered the 2020 race already enjoying near-total name recognition — 96 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight.com — and has trailed only Biden for the frontrunner spot in the race.
But despite his continued high name recognition, Sanders has suffered in polls and needs to do something to revive his campaign, according to polling expert Harry Enten, who points to a CNN poll taken in the days following last Thursday’s debate, showing Sanders now falling to fourth place, behind both Harris and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Sanders, who is now at 14 percent — down from 18 percent in the previous CNN poll — trails Harris by three points and Warren by one, even though Warren was consigned to the Wednesday night debate, barring her from directly matching up with any of the other top-five candidates, who all appeared in Thursday’s second installment of the debate.
But Sanders fared even worse in a Quinnipiac University poll released on Tuesday. That poll showed Sanders with just 13 percent of Democratic primary voters behind him, one point behind Warren and a gaping seven points behind Harris, who moved into second place — nearly tied with Biden — at 20 percent to Biden’s 22.
But both Harris and Warren have “lower name recognition than (Sanders) does,” Enten wrote, indicating that those two candidates have room to grow their popularity as voters previously unfamiliar with them discover who they are, while Sanders faces a much more difficult road, having all but maxed out his name recognition already.
“History has not been kind to primary runner-ups of previous primaries polling this low of a position,” Enten wrote.
In his research, Enten found that of 13 candidates who were runners-up in a previous primary, only six went on to win their party’s nomination — and all six were polling above the 14 percent support registered by Sanders in the CNN poll.
Sanders has also failed to “heal the wounds” of the 2016 primary, Enten wrote. Sanders — with his often bitter campaign against Clinton — was widely perceived by Democrats as contributing to Donald Trump’s general election victory, as Newsweek reported. While most previous primary runners-up “do a good job of capturing endorsements from members of Congress and governors,” according to Enten, Sanders has so far garnered only one such endorsement in the 2020 campaign.
“We’ve obviously got a long way to go,” Enten wrote. “But Sanders 2020 looks to be in major, major trouble.”