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Why Bernie Sanders is Falling in the Polls

New polls released in the past two weeks show that Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders is faltering in support, with Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris both having upticks.

One of the latest polls, conducted on July 15 by St. Anselm College, has Sanders in fifth place among New Hampshire voters. Ten percent of respondents said they’d vote for him, with a 5.2% margin of error. (In other words, Sanders’s actual popularity could be anywhere from 4.8% to 15.2%). In the same poll, Biden was at 21%, Harris at 18%, Warren at 17%, and Buttigieg at 12%. Support for other lesser-known candidates, such as Cory Booker or Beto O’Rourke, has “virtually disappeared”. Two other polls in New Hampshire have Sanders in second place behind Joe Biden, polling at 19% and 20%, respectively.

Polling in Iowa on July 1 and 2 found a similar result. Though two polls again had him in second place behind Joe Biden, one by Suffolk University and USA Today had Sanders in fourth place, at 9% with a margin of error of 4.4%. In the same poll, just 6% of respondents picked Sanders as their second choice. Sanders did especially poorly among those self-categorized as “very likely” to vote: only 7% of them said that he was their first choice.

Sanders remains in a competitive position nationally — an average of national polls by the site RealClearPolitics puts Sanders at second place with 15%. However, Iowa and New Hampshire are the first states to vote in the primaries (or caucuses, in Iowa’s case). Whoever wins them will receive an outpouring of media attention, a spike in the polls, and almost certainly an influx of donations. Even though neither of these states has a relatively large amount of delegates, they still play important roles in who wins the nomination. In addition, New Hampshire is right next to Sanders’s native Vermont, so it isn’t an encouraging prediction for him that his highest polling number in New Hampshire is 20%.

National polling from May to July shows Sanders has a slight decline, with upticks for Harris and Warren. Graph is from

Notice that the above tweet, also from RealClearPolitics, does not mention Sanders.

The principal reason Sanders is falling behind seems to be that, compared to the 2016 race, he has stiffer competition. In the words of strategist Jon Reinish, “In 2016, he benefited from being the only alternative to the establishment candidate. In 2020, the entire political world has changed except for him.” Sanders, a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist, attracted a considerable base in 2016. He was the only serious challenger to Secretary Hillary Clinton, so any Democrat who didn’t support her had to turn to him. In 2020, however, he faces competition from Biden, Harris and Warren, who appear to be fulling voters away from his base. The St. Anselm College poll analysis mentioned that Harris and Warren both tended to attract younger, more liberal voters — the same demographic that preferred Sanders in 2016. He has also apparently failed to expand his base, in particular struggling to connect with older voters, more centrist Democrats, and people of color.

Sanders’ performance in the Democratic debate may also have contributed to his downward shift in the polls. His far-left ideas are gaining traction among other Democrats — a survey of self-identified Democrats by YouGov revealed that 57% of Democrats want the presidential frontrunner to be more like Sanders. His opinions about the role of government in peoples’ lives, especially with regard to health care, are now more prevalent among both the candidates and the general population. However, Sanders himself did little to stand out, both because of his aforementioned competition and because his style has remained relatively unchanged. Now that he’s not the only serious far-left candidate running, he wasn’t as unique as he was in 2016. He’s lost his outsider status somewhat, which may be costing him in the polls.

Obviously, even the most thoroughly conducted polls do not represent public opinion with 100% accuracy, and even if they did, Sanders still has until February of next year to bring his numbers up. Neverthless, his lower numbers compared to those of the other major candidates show that he will likely have a even tougher time getting the nomination in 2020 than in 2016.

Featured Image Via Wikimedia Commons.

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Hi! I'm Kat, a sixteen-year-old from Colorado. I know how to write like mad and balance chemical equations. I do not know how to drive or what college I'm going to.

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