This poll tells a story of Elizabeth Warren rising. But not Joe Biden falling.
The former vice president now clings to a narrow lead over Warren in our CBS News/YouGov Tracker estimate of convention delegates — the only count that ultimately matters — with an estimated 600 delegates of all delegates available through Super Tuesday, to Warren’s 545.
Warren has gained delegate share as supporters of other, lower-tier candidates have been switching their preferences toward her.
Bernie Sanders rounds out the top tier of candidates with 286 delegates in a race that has tightened substantially over the summer. Biden’s position is helped by amassing enough delegates from South Carolina and other Southern states, as well as consistently strong showings elsewhere to keep him up in the overall delegate standings — albeit not by much.
State by state in vote preference, New Hampshire now sees Warren just slightly up over Biden and Sanders in first-choice preference there, effectively making the primary there a three-way contest. Biden holds onto a small edge over Sanders in first-choice preference in Iowa to go with that still-sizable advantage in South Carolina. Meanwhile, Sanders has a narrow edge over Biden in Nevada.
More broadly, in aggregate vote preference across the early-state contests through Super Tuesday 2020 — the most important contests up front — Warren has risen and holds a one-point edge over Biden. These figures capture the impact of campaigns that are focusing on the earliest states, in contrast to other national polls that include states that won’t vote until late spring.
Biden’s support has largely held and even risen in some places like in Iowa, so the movement toward Warren is not attrition from Biden, but of lower-tier candidates losing supporters who have gone to Warren or, in lesser numbers, to Sanders.
For instance, Warren has benefited most from former Kamala Harris supporters switching their allegiance. Twenty-nine percent who were backing Harris in July, whom we re-interviewed for this study, have switched to Warren. Biden picked up 15% of former Harris backers. Partly as a result, Harris has fallen behind in the delegate estimate from her position earlier this summer, when she was closer to the upper tier of contenders.
Warren is also under consideration by more Democrats (60%) than Biden is (50%) — suggesting her campaign could have even more room to gain.
Biden does better than Warren in being named the first choice among those currently considering him.
For Warren, among those voters not currently picking her as their first choice now, almost half (47%) are nonetheless considering her, so she may have potential room to increase her standing if she can convert those voters. And the Democratic field has consolidated a bit, not just on the debate stage, but in the minds of voters.
Biden’s strong suit continues to be perceived electability. About three in four of those considering Biden think he probably would beat President Trump, similar to last month, but still a higher number for Biden than for the other top three candidates.
But Warren has made strong gains on electability. Among those considering supporting her, the percentage who think she would probably beat Mr. Trump has jumped 16 points since June, from 39% then to 55% now.
Sanders has also made some gains on electability. More of his potential supporters now think he would probably beat Mr. Trump (58%) than said that in June (51%) or July (50%).
Overall, most Democrats in these early states are at least somewhat confident the party will nominate someone who will defeat Mr. Trump, but only about a quarter are very confident. And a third are very or somewhat uneasy.