2020 Reality Check – The Democratic race entering the 2nd debate

2020 Reality Check – The state of the Democratic race entering the 2nd debate

Bottom Line: As we get ready for round two of two nights of Democratic Debates, let’s recap what’s happened since the first two in Miami. 

  1. Democrats lost a candidate, Eric Swalwell, and gained a candidate, Tom Steyer
  2. There’s only one change regarding who made the debate stage – Montana Governor Steve Bullock replaces Eric Swalwell’s place on stage (the self-funded Steyer hasn’t qualified as DNC debate rules mandate cross-country donor support to qualify)
  3. The top-tier candidates. Coming into the first debate there were two clear top tier candidates, Biden and Sanders, and a slew of 2nd tier candidates below them that included Buttigieg, Harris, Warren and Booker. Now there are four top tier candidates – Biden, Warren, Sanders and Harris.

With the 2nd round on us here are the winners and losers based on average polling compared to the polls prior to the first debate:


  • Warren:+2%
  • Harris: +4%


  • Biden: -1%
  • Sanders: -3%
  • Buttigieg: -1%
  • O’Rourke: -1%

While there was movement by a few of the lower tier candidates immediately after the debates, the initial pop has given way to a resumption of where they were before. That’s generally in the 1% to 2% range and a desperate need by those candidates to have a big debate performance this time or risk having their campaigns essentially ended by the DNC’s more restrictive policy for the third debate which will essentially cut the field in half. It’s clear that Kamala Harris was the biggest winner of the first debate. She had the biggest initial pop after it and a month later maintained the biggest gain from prior to the first debate. Notably for Joe Biden, after initially tanking about ten points in the polls, though never losing front-runner status, he recovered most of what he lost over the past month. He’s promising a more aggressive debate performance. We’ll see how that translates. One might imagine an approach similar to the VP debate in the 2012 cycle against Paul Ryan should he use the aggressive approach. To be continued...

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