The fourth Democratic debate is coming up in just a few short days, a one-night affair on CNN happening Oct. 15. However, for some campaigns, the night could be a turning point for the good, or the worse, depending on how it shakes out. For the campaign of former vice president Joe Biden, the stakes literally couldn’t be higher. Biden is hurting right now, teetering on the edge of being knocked off the “front runner” mantle by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
There are several stories out on Biden’s situation in recent days and none of them are good.
First, there are reports that Biden’s online advertising has completely dried up. His presence on Facebook and other platforms has diminished to a puny $32,000 in September:
In the month leading up to the September Democratic debate, Biden spent just $32,000 on Facebook ads, per the Times. That’s less than five candidates who didn’t make the stage spent, and less than two candidates who dropped out during that time. It’s also a huge plunge from the $1.2 million Biden spent on Facebook and Google ads in the first two weeks after his April campaign launch. Instead, Biden has shifted his ad spending to TV ads — a move that Zac Moffatt, who ran Mitt Romney’s digital operations, said “reeks of desperation.” “You are spending at least a third to half your life on your mobile phone, and they’re deciding they don’t need to have a message for you there,” Moffatt told the Times.
It’s a change of strategy, as noted, that Biden’s campaign has started ads on television instead of targeting users more directly on social media. It’s debatable how “desperate” the move is rather than deliberate. It’s possible that with the Trump-Ukraine story breaking, which does have ties to Biden, his campaign decided that they’d prefer his face not appear in a picture next to every story that mentions him, possibly in a negative way. At least television provides some control over context depending on what channels they’re spending money on. Either way, it’s a noteworthy shift given that the past few election cycles have proven that the campaign using social media most effectively tends to have a better shot of winning. President Obama and President Trump proved that out.
In a related story, perhaps dovetailing nicely with the change in advertising, Business Insider ran down a litany of reasons why Biden is no longer the arguable front runner:
But in both Insider polling and other polls, Biden is experiencing the same, huge problem: the more voters see of him, the less they like him. And the more they see of his main rival, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the more they like her.
In addition to Biden’s poor performance in Insider polling, other recent polls have showed him losing ground to Warren both nationally and in two key early primary states.
A Des Moines Register/CNN poll released on September 21 placed Warren at 22% and Biden at 20% in the state, with Sen. Bernie Sanders in a distant third at 11%.
A few days later, a Monmouth University poll of New Hampshire also found Warren leading Biden with 27% support compared to 25% for Biden and 12% for Sanders. And a national Quinnipiac University poll conducted from September 19 to 23 also placed Warren at 27% and Biden at 25%.
The silver lining, if there is one, is that Warren and Biden remain within the margin of error in each of the polls mentioned. That gives at least some room to point out that Biden could easily be leading, but polling provides for some inaccuracy of estimating what the turnout models will look like. Maybe Biden will motivate more of his voters who are less enthused right now. There are ways like that to put a gloss on these numbers.
The other issue BI notes is that voters have become less satisfied with the thought of Biden as the Democratic nominee:
In our most recent poll released on September 25, 55.7% of Democratic voters who would be satisfied with him as the nominee, a 14 percentage point drop since December 2018 and a five percentage point decrease since April 26 when Biden formally jumped into the race.
In that same timeframe, the percentage of Democratic primary voters who would be satisfied with Warren as the nominee has increased by 20 percentage points from 45.3% in December of 2018, when she announced her presidential exploratory committee, to 65.3% on September 25, 2019.
That’s great news for Warren, she’s heading in the right direction. It’s terrible news for Biden since you never want to be on a slow downward trend. It’s the type of trend that’s hard to detect and hard to account for.
To make matters worse, some “Biden voters” are becoming very open to exploring the menu, so to speak:
Another troubling data point for Biden is that over time, his supporters have become more open to other candidates — especially his biggest competitor, Warren.
Interestingly, the percentage of Biden supporters who like Sanders hasn’t changed very much over the past few months, suggesting that Warren is peeling off more of Biden’s base than any other candidate.
That scenario would back up the polling data showing Bernie basically stagnant or losing support. If Biden’s losing support, it’s going to Warren, not Bernie, which would make sense on paper. If you’re a Democrat supporting Biden because he’s a little more moderate than most of the field, you’re probably not going to spend much time considering Bernie Sanders. Warren, on the other hand, has tried to dial-in Bernie’s message to a more palatable delivery for mainstream Democrats.
The final straw for Biden is related to electability. His main argument has been, up to this point, that whether you like him or not, Biden can beat Trump, so you have to support him if you’re a Democratic primary voter. His wife recently made the same point. Once again, BI points out the warning signs:
While Biden is still perceived as the most likely to beat Trump, he’s currently on track to lose his status as the candidate with the highest perceived electability to Warren — which could seriously jeopardize the support he maintains from being believed to be Democrats’ best chance to beat Trump.
In Insider polling, the percentage of Democrats who think Biden could beat Trump has slightly decreased from 70% in February to 65% in late September while the proportion who think he would lose to Trump has jumped from 13% in February to 22% in September.
In the same amount of time, the percentage of Democrats who think Warren could beat Trump has increased by a stunning 29 percentage points from 30% in February to 59% in September.
It’s Warren eating up the slack as Biden’s numbers erode. Warren’s over 50% of Democratic primary voters who think she can beat President Trump which is nipping close to Biden’s 65% on the same question.
If Biden becomes further implicated in the Trump/Ukraine impeachment issue, those numbers could take a serious nosedive at Warren’s benefit.
We’re at an impasse in the Democratic primary. The upcoming debate two weeks from today may be a turning point in the campaign, so pay close attention.