With the latest Democratic debate in the books, the favorites remain the same. Depending on the polling, either Joe Biden, Elisabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders are likely to obtain the party’s nominee and run for President in 2020. However, is being in the lead at this early stage truly indicative of a successful bid?
There is a common misconception when it comes to observing early polling. While people with serious interest may or may not follow the race continuously, the common voter does not. Therefore, opinions on a candidate can fluctuate and will hardly ever be completely formed. Candidates drop out of the race based on low polls or insufficient campaign funds or show up out of nowhere (e.g. Tom Steyer).
Thus, the dynamics of an early race change constantly and not seldom leading dark horses winning big down the stretch. Only one rule remains the same: the race only starts with the first primary.
In modern electoral history, this has been witnessed on countless occasions. In seven open Republican contests since 1960, the early front-runners held on to win the party nod six times. By contrast, early Democratic poll leaders won four out of eight open contests between 1960 and 2004.
The latter was Senator John Kerry. In early 2003, Kerry was tied with Senator. Lieberman, but fell behind the candidates Wesley Clark and Vermont’s Governor Howard Dean at different times later in the year before eventually getting the final nod from Democrats.
Lieberman himself had been polling at 23%, making him the party’s early front runner. Once the primaries began, however, his campaign did not manage to win one single one of them, forcing the Senator to drop out of the race.
In 1999 Vice President Al Gore was the heavy favorite amongst Democrats, polling at 61%, only to lose against George W. Bush in the general election. Governor Bush himself had been polling at 54% in the GOP.
In September 2007, Rudy Giuliani was leading the Republican field decisively at 33% and was said to be bound to enter the Oval Office. A few months later he dropped out after a lackluster result in the Florida primary.
On the Democrat’s side in 2007, Hillary Clinton was polling at 48% for the Democratic Party, nine months later she conceded the nomination to then-Senator Obama who went on to run for President.
In 2011 Rick Perry 15 months before the election was the Republican frontrunner, polling at 26% at the time. Five months later, he decided to exit the race, after disastrous debate appearances during which he famously forgot about an agency he sought to abandon in his plans.
All these individuals are were household names, arguably more so than some of the current front runners. However, the name recognition that can carry a candidate as a favorite to the first primary, can just as quickly be exposed, if the candidate continues to struggle in debates or with raising money.
All in all, early general election presidential trial heat polls have a subpar track record and history suggests the political climate is almost certain to change between now and November 2020. Only today (28 November), news broke that Elizabeth Warren’s polls are in a free fall. The addition of Mayor Bloomberg once again adds another element to the equation.
With that being said, Joe Biden, at this point, remains the most conceivable result. His debate appearances have been shaky, his fundraising has been suboptimal. However, his moderate stance and his amicable persona and experience, as well as an Obama endorsement down the road, make him the candidate, who could carry his polling number all the way to the Democratic National Convention.