Democratic Primaries: The Race to the Top

The trajectory is becoming clearer day by day. With Hillary Clinton’s lead shrinking in Democratic polls, Bernie Sanders is inching towards a possible victory in the primaries, something the mainstream media is slowly coming to grips with. As voters become more familiar with his message, Sanders’ poll numbers surge.

How Well-Known Are the Candidates?

His ascendancy in polls is particularly remarkable because Clinton is a known quantity, but Sanders does not enjoy the same kind of national visibility. According to a poll of registered voters by Quinnipiac University released on December 22, even among Democrats, 21 percent had not heard enough about Sanders (to form an opinion about him). His growing poll numbers show that voters are beginning to better understand Sanders’ message, but he still has work todo among certain demographics of color.

National Polls

Nationally, Clinton is still ahead of Sanders, but her lead in polls has fallen to roughly half of what it was just a few weeks ago. CNN/ORC poll released on January 26 has Clinton ahead by 14 percent, but the same poll released on December 4 gave her a lead of 28 percent. Fox News poll released on January 26 gave Clinton a 12 percent lead, but on December 18, thesame poll showed her leading by 22 percent. A CBS News/NYT poll released on January 12had Clinton ahead by 7 percent, but in the same poll on December 10, she led by 20 percent.

Since whites constitute over 94 percent of population in Vermont, a state where Sanders is wildly popular, it stands to reason that he should do well among white voters nationally, both middle class and blue collar. In fact, not only is he gaining the support of white Democrats, Sanders is increasingly drawing support from Independents. Because he addresses bread-and-butter issues, Sanders is even counting on support from Republican voters. Sanders has traditionally enjoyed support of roughly one quarter of Republicans in Vermont, and if he is ableto replicate that trend in general elections, he will be a difficult candidate to beat.

Sanders has had little support among people of color until recently. Since announcing his candidacy, however, Sanders has made concerted efforts to reach out to both African-Americans and Latinos. That these efforts have to a large extent paid off is evidenced by CNN/ORC poll released on January 25 that shows that Sanders has gained the backing of 34 percent of non-white voters. Compare this to the results of CNN/ORC poll released on April 20 when Sanders’ support in this voting block stood at only 1 percent.

Early Voting States: Iowa and New Hampshire

At this time in election cycle, the national poll numbers are not as significant as those in early voting states, particularly Iowa and New Hampshire. The electorate in these states, being mostly white, does not reflect the racial mix of the rest of the country. But poll results in these states often have a domino effect, impacting how voters cast their ballots in other states.

In Iowa, where the caucuses are due to be held on February 1, polls among caucus goers are a mixed bag, with some polls suggesting a Clinton lead while others portending a Sanders victory. But all polls in the state are unanimous in highlighting a clear trend: Sanders is catching up on Clinton if he has not already.

The Des Moines Register, the gold standard for polls in Iowa, has Sanders trailing Clinton by 2 percent in poll released on January 14. Since the poll is within the margin of error, this is a virtual tie. In the same poll released on December 14, the Des Moines Register had Sanders trailing by 9 percent.

Fox News poll released on January 25 has Clinton ahead of Sanders by 6 percent, but thesame poll released on January 8 had her leading by 15 percent. CBS News/YouGov poll released on January 24 has Sanders ahead by 1 percent, but he was trailing Clinton by 5 percent in the same poll released on December 20. CNN/ORC poll released on January 25 has Sanders leading by 8 percent, but the same poll released on December 7 had Clinton ahead by 18 percent.

In New Hampshire, where the primaries are set for February 9, Sanders has not only been ahead of Clinton in every recent poll, he has been widening his lead. Fox News poll released on January 8 gave Sanders a lead of 13 percent, but in its January 25 poll, Fox News shows that he has expanded his lead to 22 percent. CBS News/YouGov poll released on January 24 gave Sanders a lead of 19 percent, but the same poll released on December 20 had Clinton trailing by 14 percent.

CNN/WMUR poll released on January 19 has Sanders ahead by 27 percent, but the same poll released on December 9 had him leading by 10 percent.

Significance of Nevada and South Carolina Primaries

The caucuses in Nevada will be held on February 20, followed by primaries in South Carolina on February 27. In both of these states, Clinton leads but Sanders is closing the gap, with Nevada almost within his grasp.

In Nevada, according to Overtime Politics poll released on January 22, Clinton has a not-so-insurmountable lead of 4 percent. The same poll on December 17 had Clinton leading by 12 percent. If Sanders wins Iowa or New Hampshire, it could boost his numbers in Nevada, erasing Clinton’s lead.

With an agenda designed to legalize out-of-status immigrants, Sanders is aggressively trying towoo Latinos, who constitute 28 percent of Nevada population. To buttress his credentials, Sanders has appointed prominent activist Arturo Carmona as his Latino outreach director.

In South Carolina, where African Americans constitute 56 percent of Democratic voters, Clinton’s lead is more formidable, but the race in the state will keep tightening. A CBS News/YouGov poll released on January 24 shows Clinton with a lead of 22 percent over Sanders. The same poll released on December 20 had Clinton leading by 36 percent. Although Sanders lags behind Clinton among people of color, things could change by the time theprimaries are held in the state. If Sanders loses by a small margin in South Carolina, it would still give his campaign a boost.