Election Update: It’s Cherry-Picking Season

As of our most recent Election Update this weekend, I noted that polls since last week’s debate had been — this is a scientific term — “pretty weird.”

Well, it’s time to revise that statement. There have been a whole bunch of new polls over the past couple of days. And they’ve been not just pretty weird … but really weird. As far as I’m concerned, that means it’s exactly the sort of time when it’s helpful to take an average instead of fixating on individual polls.

On balance, national polls have been pretty good for Bernie Sanders — but there’s a lot of variation from survey to survey. On Wednesday morning, for instance, a CNN poll came out showing him leading Joe Biden nationally and having gained 7 percentage points from the previous CNN poll in December. But a couple of hours later, YouGov’s weekly tracking poll came out showing Sanders in third place — or having lost ground since last week’s debate.

If you’ve come looking for confident assertions about which poll is “right” and which one is “wrong” — well, that’s just not how we do things around here. And any such claims would be a bit ridiculous given the inherently high margin of error on primary polls. Primary and caucus polling is always a struggle, so the hope is that by accounting for a wider range of pollsters and methods, an average will prove to be a bit less wrong than any individual poll might be. At a bare minimum, averaging or aggregating polls increases the sample size, which is a relevant factor since primary polls often use considerably smaller sample sizes than general election ones.

What you don’t want to do, of course, is to cherry-pick data. There’s actually been quite a bit of post-debate polling, and if Sanders had actually gained 7 points nationally, as the CNN poll shows, we would have seen more signs of it by now.

It would be an equally big mistake, however, to “throw out” or ignore the CNN poll. CNN has not shown especially strong results for Sanders before, and CNN’s pollster, SSRS, is reasonably highly rated. It’s a sign that a pollster is doing honest work when it’s willing to publish a poll that differs a bit from the consensus. So stick the CNN poll in the average instead … and you’ll see there’s still some good signs for Sanders.

National polls show Sanders and Bloomberg gaining, others flat

In fact, at 20.4 percent, Sanders is in his strongest position in our national polling average since April. State polls have been much more of a mixed bag, with Sanders having fallen slightly in our Iowa and New Hampshire polling averages since the debate — but we’ll cover those in the next section. A bit more about those national polls first.

In addition, to CNN and YouGov, Morning Consult and Monmouth University also released national polls on Wednesday morning. These join earlier post-debate national polls from SurveyUSA and Ipsos. Here’s a table showing those polls for the top six candidates:

Biden leads, Sanders second in post-debate national polls

Where the top six candidates stand in six national polls, after the last debate

Post-debate toplines
Pollster Biden Sanders Warren Buttigieg Bloomberg Klobuchar
CNN/SSRS 24 27 14 11 5 4
Ipsos 19 20 12 6 9 2
Monmouth 30 23 14 9 6 5
Morning Consult 29 24 15 8 10 3
SurveyUSA 32 21 14 9 9 2
YouGov 28 18 21 8 6 4
Simple avg. 27.0 22.2 15.0 8.5 7.5 3.3
FiveThirtyEight avg. 26.6 20.4 15.8 7.6 7.3 3.2

Current FiveThirtyEight national polling average and most recent polls, as of Jan. 22

And here’s a companion table showing the change from the previous pre-debate poll for each pollster. Note that the pre-debate poll wasn’t necessarily that recent; the last time that SurveyUSA had polled the race nationally was in November, for instance.

National polls show gains for Sanders, Bloomberg

How the top six candidates’ standing changed from each pollster’s previous pre-debate poll

Pollster Biden Sanders Warren Buttigieg Bloomberg Klobuchar
CNN/SSRS -2.0 +7.0 -2.0 +3.0 +0.0 +1.0
Ipsos -4.0 +0.0 -3.0 +1.0 +1.0 +1.0
Monmouth +4.0 +2.0 -3.0 -2.0 +4.0 +1.0
Morning Consult +0.0 +1.0 +1.0 +0.0 +2.0 +0.0
SurveyUSA +2.0 +4.0 -1.0 -2.0 +6.0 +0.0
YouGov +1.0 -2.0 +2.0 +1.0 +1.0 +1.0
Raw avg. change +0.2 +2.0 -1.0 +0.2 +2.3 +0.7
FiveThirtyEight avg. change* -0.1 +1.7 -0.3 +0.2 +1.5 +0.1

*Calculated change in FiveThirtyEight’s national polling average since Jan. 14

In the tables, you can see how a simple average of the six most recent polls compares to the much fancier FiveThirtyEight polling average: They’re really pretty darn similar. There are some differences, though. For instance, it’s worth noting that the SurveyUSA poll had about three times (1086) as many respondents as Monmouth (372) and more than twice as many as CNN (500); our averages account for that by giving SurveyUSA more weight. House effects are also something of a factor; for instance, SurveyUSA tends to show good numbers for Biden, Morning Consult tends to show good numbers for Sanders, YouGov tends to show good numbers for Elizabeth Warren; and Ipsos tends to show poor numbers for all candidates except Sanders. Those explain some of the differences between the polls, too.1

But none of this really matters that much. As you can see, the FiveThirtyEight average and a simple average of the six post-debate polls produce highly similar results. Likewise, the average change in the polls is pretty similar regardless of which method you use. Take a simple average of the change in Sanders’s numbers since the last time these six pollsters surveyed the field, and he’s gained 2.0 percentage points since the debate. Similarly, he’s gained 1.7 percentage points in the fancy version of the FiveThirtyEight average, calculated since Jan. 14, the day of the debate. Michael Bloomberg has also gained ground regardless of what method you choose and is close to catching Pete Buttigieg in our national average.

State polls haven’t been great for Sanders, though

There have also been quite a few state polls since the debate, however, and they don’t tell a terribly consistent story with the national polls. They’re actually on the weak side for Sanders. Iowa polls from Neighborhood Research and Media and David Binder Research, both conducted since the debate, have Sanders in 5th and 4th place, respectively in the Hawkeye state. But Sanders does have some decent excuses here; the David Binder poll has generally been one of his worst ones in Iowa, and the Neighborhood Research poll has a small sample size and is from a Republican pollster that hasn’t previously released data in Iowa (as such, it receives a relatively small weight in our model).

Nonetheless, based on recent Iowa polls — both before and after the debate — Iowa would appear to be Biden’s state to lose more than Sanders’s. Biden has been ahead or tied for the lead in 4 of the 5 Iowa polls since the new year, as compared with just two for Sanders. (Although one of the polls that had Sanders ahead was the highly-rated Selzer & Co. poll.) In fact, Sanders has basically slipped into a three-way tie for second place in Iowa with Warren and Buttigieg.

Iowa and N.H. trends have been medicore for Sanders

How the top five candidates’ polling averages in Iowa and New Hampshire changed, before and after the last debate

Iowa New Hampshire
Candidate Jan. 14* Current Change Jan. 14 Current Change
Biden 20.1 21.4 +1.3 21.8 17.9 -3.9
Sanders 19.9 17.8 -2.1 20.1 19.5 -0.6
Warren 14.9 16.4 +1.5 16.0 13.8 -2.2
Buttigieg 17.4 16.6 -0.8 13.1 13.9 +0.8
Klobuchar 6.7 8.4 +1.7 4.7 7.1 +2.4

* Polling average as of the day before the debate.

In New Hampshire, true to the theme, the polling has also been weird. Two new polls conducted wholly or partially since the debate, from Emerson College and Suffolk University, each show Sanders leading there — but having lost ground relative to the previous editions of the same polls. Instead, these polls show growth for candidates outside of the top three, such as Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. And in the case of the Suffolk poll, there are also a large number of undecided voters. (Sanders, despite being the leading candidate in the Suffolk poll, has only 16 percent of the vote in the poll.) Sanders leads in our New Hampshire polling average, but no candidate should feel particularly secure in the Granite State.

Wednesday also saw the release of polling in four delegate-rich Midwestern swing states from a consortium of universities there, Baldwin Wallace University, Oakland University and Ohio Northern University. Sanders led in Wisconsin, but Biden held leads in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

How much do national polls matter?

Overall, our forecast just hasn’t changed that much since we first released it two weeks ago. Biden has a 43 percent chance of a delegate majority, followed by Sanders at 20 percent, Warren at 14 percent and Buttigieg at 8 percent. The chance of no candidate winning a majority of delegates is 15 percent. Technically, Biden is up very slightly and Sanders is down very slightly since we first launched the forecast, but the differences are small and not worth spending a ton of time worrying about.

If you look carefully, though, you can see how the model tends to privilege state polls over national polls (or at least it does so right now, with Iowa set to vote in less than two weeks). For example, Sanders did gain ground in the model following the release of the Selzer poll of Iowa on Jan. 10, but — despite his standing in national polls improving — he’s given those gains back because of an underwhelming series of polls in Iowa and New Hampshire.

You might be wondering: How does the model even use national polls? There is no national primary, after all. But national polls have several uses in the model. To simplify, here are the three most important ones:

    1. We use national polls to calculate a trendline adjustment, which can influence states that haven’t been polled recently. For instance, if there are no recent polls of Oregon, but Sanders has gained 3 points in national polls since the last time Oregon was polled, the model will assume he’s gained ground in Oregon, too.
    2. National polls are used as a baseline to calibrate the bounce a candidate will potentially receive after winning or finishing strongly in a state. The twist is that the higher a candidate’s standing in national polls, the less her bounce after winning a state (and the more she might decline after losing a state). Empirically, the bounce that a candidate gets after winning a state depends strongly on expectations, and national polls are a good proxy for voter and media expectations. Less abstractly, the fact that Sanders is now seen as a national front-runner means that — as is also the case with Biden in Iowa — he might gain less ground following a win there, and lose more ground nationally if he finishes in anything other than first place or a strong second. Warren or Buttigieg, on the other hand, would probably be seen more as underdogs, and those sort of candidates have historically gotten bigger bounces after winning Iowa.
    3. In various implicit and explicit ways, national polls help the model to predict the outcome of states where there isn’t much polling.

So basically, factors No. 1 and No. 3 tend to help a candidate in the model when their national polls are strong, but factor No. 2 (rising expectations) actually hurts them. To be clear, our experience with the model so far — keep in mind that this is the first time we’ve run a full-fledged primary forecast — is that No. 1 and No. 3 usually outweigh No. 2. In other words, a candidate would usually prefer to gain ground in national polls, as far as the model is concerned. Still, there is some ambiguity about the influence of national polls in the model, especially when there is a lot of recent state polling and so the timeline adjustment (No. 1) doesn’t have as much impact.

Essentially, this leaves us with three plausible interpretations of the post-debate polling:

  • National polls tell the true story of the race, and the slightly quirky set of recent Iowa and New Hampshire polls since the debate are misleading. If so, Sanders should expect to do better in the next set of Iowa and New Hampshire polls. This would be good news for Sanders.
  • All of this is noise, and none of the candidates’ positions have changed much since the debate. This would be neutral news for Sanders.
  • Whether or not Sanders is gaining in national polls, Iowa and New Hampshire have their own dynamics, and Sanders does not appear to be closing strongly there. This would be bad news for Sanders.

Polling since the debate just doesn’t provide a lot of clarity on which one of these stories is correct. So we’ll have to wait and see if the picture clears up by the weekend.

Our Presidential Primary System Is An Accident

It’s going to be hard to avoid coverage of the Democratic primary in the coming months. It’ll be portrayed as a grand exercise in democracy, a way for voters to express their opinions about the future of a party, and potentially the nation. But unlike the general election, presidential primaries are not laid out in the Constitution. Instead, they’re the product of happenstance and reactionary decision-making, most notably in response to a single disastrous nominating convention in 1968. Modern presidential campaigns wouldn’t be the same without that convention, and neither would the country.

For the past few months, the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast has been reporting on exactly how our modern primary system came to be, and what effect it has had on recent American history. Over the next few weeks, in an audio documentary series we’re calling the Primaries Project, we’ll tackle three key questions: 1) how we got the system we have today, 2) what its consequences are and 3) how things could be different.

Today, we’re releasing the first episode, answering the first of those questions:

Prior to the 1970s, presidential nominees were chosen by the party establishment, with little input from rank-and-file voters. The parties generally used caucuses, where party insiders would select delegates to eventually go to the national convention. The delegates were usually well-known people within the parties, not required to vote for any one candidate and often chosen before candidates even entered the race. At the national convention, delegates would wheel and deal and eventually land on a nominee.

That all changed after the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago, where the Democratic Party fractured dramatically over support for the war in Vietnam. To hear the story of how those events led to the creation of our modern primary system, click play above or subscribe to the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast. Check back throughout the month of January as we investigate the consequences of the modern system and how it could be different.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast publishes Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

How a raucous convention revolutionized our primary system

How Much Do Iowa And New Hampshire Really Matter For 2020?

Joe Biden’s campaign has claimed he doesn’t need to win Iowa and New Hampshire to become the Democratic presidential nominee. Instead, the former vice president has his eyes on states No. 3 and 4 on the primary calendar — Nevada and South Carolina — plus the 14 states that will vote on Super Tuesday, just three days after the South Carolina primary.

The logic makes a certain amount of sense, too. Biden polls better than other candidates among black and Hispanic voters, so the states after nearly-all-white Iowa and New Hampshire definitely play to his strengths, as they’re far more diverse and representative of the Democratic Party. There’s just one problem: Since 1976, when the Iowa caucuses first became an influential part of the nomination process, the eventual Democratic nominee has almost always won either Iowa or New Hampshire (or both). In fact, there’s only one time this didn’t happen — Bill Clinton in 1992, and the circumstances were unusual.9

But maybe there’s a case to be made that Iowa and New Hampshire don’t matter as much for the Democrats as they once did. The states have never offered that many delegates, and their electorates don’t look much like the modern Democratic Party. Arguably, winning South Carolina’s black voters or clinching California on Super Tuesday could matter a lot more. Of course, it’s hard to argue that losing the first two states in the primary is a good strategy — and to be clear, the Biden campaign hasn’t argued they don’t want to win Iowa and New Hampshire, just that it’s not essential. So does the Biden camp have a point? Let’s go over the case for Iowa and New Hampshire mattering as much as they always have in the Democratic primary — and the case for their declining importance.

Case 1: Iowa and New Hampshire are as important as ever

Following reforms to the primary system in the 1970s and Jimmy Carter’s surprise victory in the 1976 Iowa caucuses, both Iowa and New Hampshire have become highly influential primary states, as they are the first two to vote (although there have been several unsuccessful efforts to change that).

Democratic nominees usually get a win in the first two states

Results of the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary in competitive Democratic presidential primaries, 1976 to 2016

Candidate who Won …
Cycle Iowa New Hampshire nominee Nominee won Iowa or N.H.
1976 Jimmy Carter* Jimmy Carter Jimmy Carter
1980 Jimmy Carter Jimmy Carter Jimmy Carter
1984 Walter Mondale Gary Hart Walter Mondale
1988 Dick Gephardt Michael Dukakis Michael Dukakis
1992 Tom Harkin† Paul Tsongas Bill Clinton
2000 Al Gore Al Gore Al Gore
2004 John Kerry John Kerry John Kerry
2008 Barack Obama Hillary Clinton Barack Obama
2016 Hillary Clinton Bernie Sanders Hillary Clinton

*Technically “Uncommitted” won the 1976 Iowa caucuses, but Carter finished first among the named candidates.

†Harkin was a U.S. senator from Iowa and a heavy favorite there, so the caucuses were not seriously contested by other candidates.

Sources: News Sources

Winning Iowa or New Hampshire will likely be critical for someone in the 2020 Democratic primary, too, especially if the same candidate wins both states. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is currently in the lead in both places, according to a FiveThirtyEight average of polls in Iowa and New Hampshire since the third Democratic debate in September — although she barely leads in Iowa. She has a narrow 1-point lead over Biden in Iowa and a 4-point edge in New Hampshire, according to our analysis. (RealClearPolitics’s average puts Warren roughly 3 points ahead of Biden in New Hampshire and less than a point behind Biden in Iowa.) But in both states, we’re only talking about a few points separating the top two candidates, so to be clear, the race is still incredibly tight.

And that’s important, because the margin by which a candidate wins Iowa or New Hampshire can have big consequences for the primary. A narrow defeat, for instance, wouldn’t necessarily spell doom for Biden’s campaign. Instead, it could give them an opportunity to spin the loss and talk about the relative lack of diversity in the first two states, said Josh Putnam, a political scientist and FiveThirtyEight contributor who tracks the nomination process. Putnam argued that a defeat by a wide margin would be harder to sell, and Caitlin Jewitt, a political scientist at Virginia Tech who studies presidential primaries, agreed. Jewitt stressed, however, that even a loss could be considered a good showing if the candidate lost by less than predicted. “It’s important to win in Iowa and New Hampshire,” said Jewitt. “But it’s almost more important to do better than you were expected to do.”

Winning or exceeding expectations in Iowa or New Hampshire seems to have a real effect on Democratic primaries, too — especially as it pertains to a candidate’s ability to attract national support. Take John Kerry in 2004. He was polling at about 8 percent nationally before Iowa, but after he won both Iowa and New Hampshire, his numbers went through the roof — a 37-point gain in the polls in a couple weeks — as he steamrolled to victory at the expense of opponents like Howard Dean. Similarly, in 2008, Barack Obama trailed the favorite, Hillary Clinton, by double digits in national polls, but after he won Iowa, he gained nearly 10 points in national support, even though Clinton recovered to win New Hampshire. Eventually, Obama won the lengthy nomination battle. And while Bernie Sanders didn’t win the Democratic nomination in 2016, his strong start in Iowa and New Hampshire helped force Clinton, once again the favorite, into a drawn-out race.

Good early results can boost a campaign

Results in Iowa and New Hampshire and change in national polls for competitive Democratic contests, 2004-16

primary/caucus results Average* in national polls
Year Candidate Iowa margin N.H. Margin Before Iowa After N.H. Change
2004 John Kerry +4.5 +12.1 8.4% 45.3% +36.9
2004 John Edwards -4.5 -26.3 5.4 11.3 +5.9
2004 Howard Dean -19.7 -12.1 23.9 13.0 -10.9
2004 Wesley Clark -37.0 -26.0 14.9 8.0 -6.9
2008 Barack Obama +3.7 -2.6 24.4 33.5 +9.0
2008 John Edwards -3.7 -22.2 14.9 12.8 -2.1
2008 Hillary Clinton -4.5 +2.6 42.0 41.8 -0.2
2016 Hillary Clinton +0.3 -22.5 57.4 52.9 -4.5
2016 Bernie Sanders -0.3 +22.5 34.1 38.7 +4.6

*An average of the national polls in the three weeks before the Iowa caucus and an average of the national polls in the week after the New Hampshire primary in a given election year. There were at least three polls during each period for each cycle.

The eventual nominee in each election cycle is bolded.

Sources: Polls, Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S. Elections

The bottom line is: Winning or at least outperforming expectations in Iowa and New Hampshire will likely still matter a lot in the Democratic race this year. As Jewitt told me, “If you do well [in Iowa or New Hampshire] … you get more media attention,” and this often means “a rise in the polls, and you get more fundraising.” And as we’ve seen in recent primaries, strong performances in these states can set a candidate up for success.

Case 2: Iowa and New Hampshire matter less and less

There is an argument to be made, however, that while they’re still pivotal for winnowing the field, neither Iowa nor New Hampshire is as critical as they have been historically for securing the Democratic nomination. The main reason being that Iowa and New Hampshire don’t look like the national Democratic Party and, therefore, might not be the best indicators of what the party wants. In 2016, the primary electorate in those two states was 91 percent white and 3 percent black while the national Democratic primary electorate was 66 percent white and 20 percent black.10 Whereas the 14 states that vote on Super Tuesday (March 3) look much more like the Democratic Party — 62 percent of these voters were white in 2016 while 18 percent were black.11 Many of these states also offer far more delegates than either Iowa or New Hampshire — California has the most Democratic delegates and will be voting on Super Tuesday next year, as will Texas, which has the second-most delegates.

And as we saw in the 2016 Democratic primary, Clinton was able to fight on despite underwhelming results in Iowa (where she narrowly won) and New Hampshire (where she lost). Granted, she had overwhelming support from the party establishment that Biden can’t currently match, but her position as the likely nominee was never really in doubt despite a poor showing in Iowa and New Hampshire. What 2016 suggests, then, is that as long as expectations aren’t set too high, somewhat underwhelming results in Iowa and New Hampshire are survivable. Putnam described the Biden campaign’s efforts to discount the importance of Iowa and New Hampshire as “a gamble,” but “one that might pay off” if the results are relatively close and South Carolina still looks favorable for him.

The media might also be more receptive to the idea that Iowa and New Hampshire aren’t representative of the Democratic Party, which may make them less important this year. Already there have been a number of stories about how the primary calendar — especially the Super Tuesday states — may shake up which states matter most to candidates. And as CNN analyst Ronald Brownstein wrote in February, the 14 states voting on March 3 “could advantage the candidates best positioned to appeal to minority voters, particularly African Americans.” So if Biden retains his solid support among African American voters and his campaign’s effort to lower expectations in Iowa and New Hampshire works, Biden might get what he wants — South Carolina and Super Tuesday as his real campaign tests.

Having now looked at the cases for and against Iowa and New Hampshire’s continued importance in the Democratic presidential primary, I do think it’s possible that these two states won’t matter as much. But I can’t help but suspect they’ll be as influential as ever. And that’s because even if the media is warier of the unrepresentative demographics of the first two states, it would still be tough for Biden to recover from dual losses at the beginning of the primary calendar. Remember, Bill Clinton is the only Democratic nominee since 1976 who lost both Iowa and New Hampshire. The winner(s) would likely get glowing coverage, too, while Biden would face more scrutiny. Defeat could also raise doubts among his supporters, given that “electability” is a central selling point of his campaign. And donors, with whom Biden is already struggling, might lose faith in him as well. So as long as Iowa and New Hampshire still get to go first, they’ll probably continue to have an outsized influence on the nomination process.

The Democratic Primary Looks Pretty Different In Each Of The Early States

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

Earlier this week, I looked at national surveys to see what’s behind Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s rise in the polls, but now let’s zoom in on the early primary states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — to see what’s happening there.

This week we have a new Fox News poll of South Carolina that shows former Vice President Joe Biden still retains a formidable lead there at 41 percent (Warren was in second at 12 percent) despite Warren’s gains at the national level. In Iowa and New Hampshire, recent surveys more closely mirror the overall national picture — Warren has gained while Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders have slipped. But there’s also evidence that someone like South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg may be underestimated in national polls.

To see what’s happened in the early states since August, I averaged all state-level polls taken between the second debate (July 30-31) and the third debate (Sept. 12) and compared that to an average of all state polls fielded since the third debate for the five candidates currently sitting at the top of the polls: Biden, Warren, Sanders, Buttigieg and Sen. Kamala Harris.

And in some states, there weren’t a ton of polls during these two time periods, but we did have at least two polls for each state before and after the third debate.

First up, in Iowa, you can see a real change in the nature of the race — Biden previously led by about 3 percentage points, but now Warren has moved ahead. Sanders also slipped about 5 points, so instead of rivaling Warren for second place as he did before the third debate, he’s now in a race for third. He’s about on par with Buttigieg, who now has double-digit support in the state, although the mayor enjoyed a pretty strong standing there before the debate, too. Harris slipped in Iowa, dropping 3 points, which is similar to her performance in the three other early states.

Warren has edged ahead of Biden in Iowa

Average of Iowa polls for the five leading Democratic presidential candidates, before and after the third debate

Poll Average
Candidate Before Third Debate After Third Debate Change
Elizabeth Warren 21.3 23.0 +1.7
Joe Biden 24.7 20.3 -4.3
Bernie Sanders 17.3 12.0 -5.3
Pete Buttigieg 9.3 11.3 +2.0
Kamala Harris 8.3 5.3 -3.0

Our “before third debate” average includes three polls taken from Aug. 1 to Sept. 11; the “after third debate” average also includes three polls. We excluded head-to-head and open-ended polling questions.

Source: Polls

Next up, in New Hampshire, the story is pretty similar to what we saw in Iowa: Warren’s numbers improved, giving her a narrow lead. In fact, she’s gone up nearly 10 points, far more than in Iowa. However, unlike in Iowa, Biden’s numbers have gone up, too. They didn’t rise as dramatically as Warren’s, but the jump has helped him stay close to Warren in the nation’s first primary state. Meanwhile, Sanders’s slide in New Hampshire has been particularly large, going from a near-tie for first with Biden to 15 points behind Warren. And as in Iowa, Buttigieg is now closer to Sanders than Sanders is to Warren or Biden, while Harris has fallen to the low single digits.

Warren surged in New Hampshire, but Biden gained too

Average of New Hampshire polls for the five leading Democratic presidential candidates, before and after the third debate

Poll Average
Candidate Before Third Debate After Third Debate Change
Elizabeth Warren 17.6 27.0 +9.5
Joe Biden 21.6 24.3 +2.7
Bernie Sanders 20.9 12.0 -8.9
Pete Buttigieg 7.0 9.7 +2.7
Kamala Harris 6.9 4.0 -2.9

Our “before third debate” average includes six polls taken from Aug. 1 to Sept. 11; the “after third debate” average includes three polls. We excluded head-to-head and open-ended polling questions.

Source: Polls

To some extent, Warren’s uptick in Iowa and New Hampshire isn’t that surprising given her strength with white college-educated voters and, as I wrote on Monday, her increasing support from whites without a college degree. After all, 85 to 90 percent of Iowans and New Hampshirites are white. A lot of this can explain why Buttigieg is doing so well there, too, as he also mainly attracts support from white voters, particularly college-educated ones. That said, his performance in these two early states still stands out in comparison to his mid-single-digit standing in the national polls. And this could be a promising sign for Buttigieg given the influence these two states can have on the presidential primary process — once voting begins, he could be positioned for a strong start that could take his campaign to the next level, especially in light of his prodigious fundraising.

But in our next two early-voting states — Nevada and South Carolina — the picture gets a little fuzzier because we don’t have as many polls. Biden continues to lead the pack in both states (although in Nevada, the race looks more like a three-way tie), but there just hasn’t been as much consistent polling in either state. And that’s a problem, because even though both states come later in the calendar, they are much more racially and ethnically diverse than either Iowa or New Hampshire. So these states could offer important insight as to how other more-diverse states may be leaning, as New Hampshire and Iowa look less and less like the Democratic Party.

For Nevada, we had three surveys prior to the third debate and two after, and they showed a tight three-way race among Biden, Warren and Sanders that got even closer after the third debate. Both Biden and Sanders lost some support, but Warren didn’t emerge as the beneficiary.

It’s a three-way race in Nevada

Average of Nevada polls for the five leading Democratic presidential candidates, before and after the third debate

Poll Average
Candidate Before Third Debate After Third Debate Change
Joe Biden 26.0 22.6 -3.4
Elizabeth Warren 18.7 18.7 0.0
Bernie Sanders 20.3 18.1 -2.2
Kamala Harris 8.3 4.4 -3.9
Pete Buttigieg 5.3 3.7 -1.6

Our “before third debate” average includes three polls taken from Aug. 1 to Sept. 11; the “after third debate” average includes two polls. We excluded head-to-head and open-ended polling questions.

Source: Polls

And in South Carolina, where we had two polls before the third debate and four polls after, it seems as if no one has been able to make a serious dent into Biden’s support, although he did see a slight dip in his numbers. Biden’s continued strength among black voters in the state has made South Carolina a crucial firewall for his campaign, especially if things go poorly for him in the earlier contests. Sanders’s decline in South Carolina has also helped make Warren a clear second-place contender (even though she, like Biden, saw a slight dip in her numbers after the third debate).

Biden continues to dominate in South Carolina

Average of South Carolina polls for the five leading Democratic presidential candidates, before and after the third debate

Poll Average
Candidate Before Third Debate After Third Debate Change
Joe Biden 39.5 37.8 -1.8
Elizabeth Warren 15.5 14.8 -0.8
Bernie Sanders 17.0 9.0 -8.0
Kamala Harris 9.5 4.5 -5.0
Pete Buttigieg 4.5 3.3 -1.3

Our “before third debate” average includes two polls taken from Aug. 1 to Sept. 11; the “after third debate” average includes four polls. We excluded head-to-head and open-ended polling questions.

Source: Polls

As always, though, things could shift in the coming weeks. After all, we’ve got the fourth debate coming up on Oct. 15, which could help Sanders or Harris recover to some extent, though we don’t know yet what the polling fallout may be from Sanders’s recent heart attack. But for the moment, what we do know is that the early-state polls in New Hampshire and Iowa look favorable for Warren, while Biden still holds the lead in South Carolina and Nevada. We shouldn’t sleep on Buttigieg, either — although both he and Warren have a lot of work to do to win over more voters of color.

Other polling bites

  • It’s still too soon to know whether Sanders’s heart attack has affected his standing in the polls, but a YouGov poll found that 69 percent of Americans think his health is “a legitimate issue.” Additionally, views were mixed about whether his campaign had been transparent about the event, with 33 percent saying it was transparent and 27 percent saying it wasn’t, while a plurality (39 percent) weren’t sure one way or the other.
  • The share of Americans who identify as either a Republican or a Democrat remained relatively stable during the third quarter of 2019, according to a new Gallup report, with Democrats maintaining a slight edge. Forty-seven percent of adult Americans identified as a Democrat or a Democratic-leaning independent, whereas 42 percent identified as a Republican or a Republican-leaning independent.
  • Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders make up about 6 percent of all Americans, and AAPI Data and the Public Religion Research Institute have released a new survey of AAPI voters in California, which is both the country’s most populous state and home to the largest number of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the U.S. The survey found that 56 percent of respondents had an unfavorable view of President Trump, while 33 percent had a favorable view of him. And among the leading Democratic presidential contenders, Biden, Sanders and Harris (who is from California) had the highest favorability ratings.
  • New polling from Ipsos and C-SPAN found that Americans are skeptical the 2020 election will be “open and fair.” Just 53 percent said they had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of confidence that the presidential election will be “open and fair,” while 46 percent said they did not have much confidence or “no confidence at all.” There were notable differences between Republicans and Democrats, however, with 72 percent of Republicans expressing some degree of confidence contrasted with just 39 percent of Democrats.
  • Of the four states holding state legislative elections in 2019, Virginia is the only one where there’s a real chance that party control of a chamber could flip. (Republicans have solid majorities in Louisiana and Mississippi while Democrats have overwhelming majorities in New Jersey.) And two new generic ballot polls suggest that Democrats are currently favored to capture both chambers in the Virginia General Assembly, which the GOP currently controls. A late-September survey from the Washington Post and the Schar School at George Mason University found Democrats 7 points ahead of Republicans among registered voters and up 52 percent to 41 percent among registered voters who said they were “certain to vote.” A September poll from the Wason Center at Christopher Newport University was even more bullish for Democrats, finding them ahead of the GOP by 13 points among likely voters, 49 percent to 36 percent.
  • Canada will vote for a new parliament on Oct. 21, and the race is unusually tight. CBC News’s poll tracker shows the Liberals (the governing party) and the Conservatives (the main opposition) running neck-and-neck at 33 percent nationally.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.0 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53.7 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -11.7 points). At this time last week, 41.2 percent approved and 53.9 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -12.7 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 41.0 percent and a disapproval rating of 54.1 percent, for a net approval rating of -13.1 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 6.1 percentage points (46.2 percent to 40.1 percent). At this time last week, Democrats led by 6.9 percentage points (46.9 percent to 40.0 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 6.5 points (46.3 percent to 39.8 percent).