Betting on Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren’s rise has encouraged feminists and college educated white Democratic women to envision a women in the White House for the first time.  And they certainly have reason to believe.

A spate of new polls in Iowa and New Hampshire show Warren either pulling ahead or running neck and neck.  Most notably, Warren jumped into a wide lead in the massive California primary.

But, Warren’s rise is not complete.  Amid a spate of these polls, Joe Biden still had a commanding lead in the majority-black Democratic electorate in South Carolina.  In Nevada, Joe Biden still maintains a narrow lead followed by Bernie Sanders and than Warren.

Beyond the polls, there are reasons for Democrats to be wary of betting on Warren.  First-off, short of her initial Senate bid in 2012, Warren has not faced a competitive race and, no, America is not a microcosm of Massachusetts.  As in, it is not heavily Democratic AND white.

Warren’s rise has not come among all segments of the Democratic electorate (unlike John Kerry’s and Barack Obama’s rise).  Linking back to the Joe Biden maintaining leads in South Carolina and Nevada, Warren has struggled to appeal to groups outside of college educated white women and affluent elites.  Warren’s rise in New Hampshire, a majority-white neighbor to Massachusetts, is not a sign her appeals to minorities is working.  Rather, it is ironically a sign, she is still struggling with other necessary elements of the party’s coalition.  Even Bernie Sanders is outpacing her among younger minority voters.

Warren’s rise also does not obscure the fact she is out of step with parts of the party she needs to court.  On healthcare, older voters prefer building on the ACA’s reforms.  On economic reform, younger voters prefer Sander’s transformational platform.  Despite her strong performances in the debates, questions about her electability persist in the same way they have about Sander’s.  Of course, the easiest way to put these concerns to rest would be to actually win.  In Iowa, and New Hampshire, she has those opportunities.  If anything, 2008 showed the electability argument goes out the window if the front-runner  (Hillary Clinton) cannot win.

Case in point about the bind Warren finds herself even as she surges, per a CNN survey from August, Warren gained 9 points among those over 45-years-old, while both Biden and Sanders lost ground (Biden lost four points, Sanders lost three). But, among non-white voters (Biden’s core), Warren slipped two points and among 18-49-year-olds (Sanders voters), she gained just one point.  Warren is obviously pulling from both Biden and Sanders but that has limits if you cannot appeal to non-white voters.

Warren will also have to handle increased scrutiny over the coming months and not just from the media.  Her Democratic opponents have noted her rise and are starting to direct their fire toward her.  Many of their arguments echo the attacks against Bernie.  Warren was able to hide behind Bernie Sanders when she was not the alternative to Biden but with increased viability comes increased visibility.   Biden, Klobuchar, and Buttigieg all have raised questions about her healthcare plan for threatening to raise taxes on the middle class and yanking healthcare from 160 million Americans.

Since the beginning of her campaign, Warren has been able to hide behind Bernie’s defense of Medicare for All and stick to generic arguments against corruption and the consolidation of power among an elite few.  But, her rise means she cannot use this shtick forever, especially as more candidates put out their specific plans.  Another case in point:  last week Buttigieg released an op-ed touting his plan and attacking Warren directly for her plan.  The attack was predictable and argued kicking 160 million Americans, including 20 million seniors off Medicare, is disastrous.  Short of Sanders and Warren, most candidates have plans allowing Medicare buy-ins or at least allowing Americans to supplement Medicare with a private plan.

As referenced above, the best way for Warren to bat away questions about her candidacy is to win.  If she can, expect to see the flood-gates open and her candidacy to become more possible by next year.  Until that time, Warren will continue to have those questions plague her candidacy.

It does not help in most national and state level surveys Warren polls no better than Harris, Buttigieg or Klobuchar against Trump while Sanders and Bernie poll the best.  While some of this might be due to name recognition odds are Warren simply does not have the same built-in support among the general electorate as Bernie and Biden do.

Showcasing this dynamic is a brand new poll from Quinnipiac (full disclosure: this author has had serious issues with their polls volatility and their less than stellar track record).  The survey found Warren’s rise among Democrats is real.  Compared to her favorable ratings among “potential” Democratic primary voters in May, Warren’s favorables have climbed from 61 percent to 74 percent while her unfavorable rating has dropped from 16 percent to 10 percent (apologizing for Pocohauntus gate seems to have worked).

Yet, among the rest of the electorate of Republicans, True Independents and Independent Leaning Republicans, Warren’s favorable ratings among this group have actually worsened from a May CNN survey of 11 percent favorable to 66 percent unfavorable to a now 11/70 split.

Compare this with her now chief rival Joe Biden.  His numbers have dropped among “potential” Democratic primary voters from 79 percent to 72 percent favorable and 14 to 19 percent unfavorable.  Yet, among the rest of the electorate he scores a favorable score of 22 percent while his unfavorables have climbed from 63 to 70 percent.  Hmm, maybe Republicans are right to be salivating at the soundbites they will have from the primary.

The data backs up assertions Warren simply is not as electable as Biden.  Biden’s moderation is more appealing to general election voters while simultaneously turning away more Democratic primary voters.

Perhaps worse, the every elements of the one percent which have fueled the party’s coffers, are scared of her.  Silicon Valley, loathing Trump is extremely fearful of her candidacy.  Mark Zuckerberg, who has already endured the worst impulses of Congressional oversight, was caught on open mike saying, ” You have someone like Elizabeth Warren thinks that the right answer is to break up the companies … I mean, if she gets elected president then I would bet that we will have a legal challenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge. And does that still suck for us? Yeah. I mean, I don’t want to have a major lawsuit against our own government. I mean, that’s not the position that you want to be in when you’re, you know, I mean … It’s like, we care about our country, and want to work with our government and do good things. But look, at the end of the day, if someone’s going to try to threaten something that existential, you go to the mat and fight.”

Still, Warren’s rise has come in spite of, not because, of the above.  Thus, it makes sense to assume as the primary progresses Democrats will need to decide between their minds and hearts.  In the past, minds have won out.  But, with Trump unleashing the worst impulses of the Democratic base, the race now seems hers to lose.  She still has a lot to prove, but wins in Iowa and New Hampshire would get her a long ways there.   Then, expect Trump to have a field day with her.

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