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Friday, May 7, 2021

The Contest Is Tight — We’re Five Days from Primary Day

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MICHIGAN TIME/AP Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., speaks during a campaign stop at an auto factory on Tuesday in Romulus, Mich.

It’s crunch time for the presidential primary.

On Friday, we collected 1,011 surveys from registered voters in the five early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada and Florida. We are now approaching the final 48 hours before the primaries on Tuesday.

As of now, there is no clear frontrunner. Even the last poll released before the last primary, from New Hampshire, had former Vice President Joe Biden within 2 points of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. The bottom of the pack stretches out to former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Washington Post columnist and ex-mayor of Boston.

Both Sanders and Bloomberg are likely to be forced into a situation like Iowa’s caucuses in 2008, when they got a major boost from an unexpected candidate, then-Sen. Barack Obama. (Before that, it was Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.) But Sanders appears to have the edge right now: A new NBC/Wall Street Journal/Marist poll released this morning gave him 34 percent of the Democratic vote in New Hampshire.

Sanders is well ahead of Biden, in a game of expectations games. In 2008, the Clinton campaign saw plenty of opportunities to show what they could do when it held a primary against Obama, but to no avail. From 2008 until their victory in New Hampshire, Clinton had maintained a strong lead in most surveys in Iowa. Now she has an interesting back story in New Hampshire, where she never won a primary, and she’s often telling voters to vote for her for reasons other than just putting a stop to Obama’s movement. The question is: Does Iowa feel more like 2008 or like 1984?

More and more, those of us who’ve been covering political campaigns for decades have the feeling that Democratic voters have to choose between Sanders and “anybody but Bernie.” That’s the imponderable equation.

No one knows who the voters will choose, and just as they have in the past two presidential cycles, the pollsters are trying to figure it out.

Perhaps the best evidence that the complicated elements of the presidential nominating process are in flux is the recent finding that Democratic candidates were handling the question of “stronger general election candidate” much better than they have in the past. The vote among that question has gotten closer to an even split. Bernie Sanders was at 39 percent in a CNN/ORC poll in July, and 45 percent in the Marist poll that was released this morning. She was at 30 percent in the CNN/ORC poll, and 33 percent in the Marist poll. Biden was at 16 percent in the CNN/ORC poll, and 14 percent in the Marist poll.

This means that more Democrats aren’t saying, “I’m voting for Hillary to stop Bernie from winning.” It could be that some Democratic voters are swinging into the Bernie column because he’s appealing on a variety of issues, rather than as an interloper on the Democratic side of the ticket.

When it comes to pulling this off, there are many details. We still have lots of early votes — and a national jolt in the polls on Sunday — before any of this can be determined.

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