Poll: Biden holds significant lead over Warren, Sanders in Nevada; top issue is electing someone who can beat Trump

Former Vice President Joe Biden holds a 10 point lead over Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders among likely Democratic presidential caucusgoers in Nevada, buoyed by an intense focus on electing a candidate who can beat President Donald Trump, according to a new poll by The Nevada Independent released Monday.

But the poll found that the former vice president’s lead narrows to between 3 and 4 points among respondents who described themselves as being strongly committed to their first choice candidate and identified either Warren or Sanders as top second choice picks for the presidency, indicating that the race is far from settled in the Silver State.

The survey results come as Biden has been struggling in Iowa — surpassed in recent polls by Warren and Buttigieg — and New Hampshire is increasingly looking like a contest between Warren and Sanders. A win in Nevada, which is the first ethnically diverse state to vote in the presidential selection process, followed by a win in South Carolina, where Biden is polling well ahead of his competitors, could boost the former vice president heading into Super Tuesday even if he loses the first two states, where roughly nine in 10 people are white.

It also reveals the pragmatic approach that voters here may be taking when deciding which Democratic presidential nominee to support. The top issue for respondents was electing a candidate who can beat Trump — which was roughly twice to three times as popular as the second top choice issue, supporting someone who can work with both parties.

Biden was backed by 29 percent of likely caucusgoers in the poll, while Warren and Sanders were each favored by 19 percent of respondents. No other candidates received double-digit support in the poll with South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 7 percent, billionaire Tom Steyer at 4 percent and California Sen. Kamala Harris, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang at 3 percent each.

Four candidates each received 1 percent support: New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and self-help author Marianne Williamson. Nine percent of respondents said they were undecided in the race.

The poll, conducted by the Mellman Group for The Nevada Independent, sampled 600 potential Democratic caucusgoers between Oct. 28 and Nov. 2 over landline, cell phone and text and has a margin of error of 4 percent. Forty percent of interviews were conducted with those who have participated in a past caucus, according to data provided by the Nevada State Democratic Party.

The Democratic National Committee has determined that The Nevada Independent poll will be a qualifying poll for the November and December debates. Two candidates on the cusp — Gabbard for the October debate and Klobuchar for the December debate — did not net the 3 percent and 4 percent support, respectively, each needed in the poll.

The poll will give Steyer a second qualifying poll for the December debate. Candidates need four polls at 4 percent or more in early nominating states or national surveys and to reach a donor threshold, which Steyer has not yet met.

Looking only at those who identify themselves as “strong” supporters, Biden received 19 percent support, compared to 16 percent for Warren and 15 percent for Sanders. Seven percent of respondents identified themselves as “not strong” supporters of Biden, compared to only 3 percent for Sanders and 2 percent for Warren.

In line with other polls, the Massachusetts senator was respondents’ second choice pick for the Democratic nomination, with 21 percent support, followed by Sanders at 19 percent, and Buttigieg and Biden each at 11 percent. 

Overall, only 44 percent of respondents said they were certain about their first choice pick for the Democratic nomination, with another 55 percent reporting that they might consider another candidate before Nevada’s Feb. 22 first-in-the-West nominating contest, which is 110 days away.

The survey also found Warren had the highest net favorability rating among the Democratic presidential field, with 72 percent viewing her favorability compared to only 15 percent who viewed her unfavorably, for a net 57 percent positive rating. Biden and Sanders had net favorability ratings of 49 and 48 percent, respectively, while Buttigieg came in at 39 percent, Harris and Booker each at 32 percent, Steyer at 28 percent and Yang at 27 percent. 

Several candidates had net negative favorability ratings, with Williamson at 18 percent, Gabbard at 15 percent and former Maryland Rep. John Delaney at 8 percent.

Biden tended to have higher favorability ratings among those who identified themselves as somewhat liberal, moderate, or conservative, women and those above the age of 40, with relatively even perceptions between non-college and college educated individuals. He also was viewed slightly more positively among those who identified as white or non-white than Hispanic and those who have caucused in the past.

Warren was viewed most favorably by liberals, women, those 40 and up, college educated individuals and those who identified themselves as white. (However, the responses also reflect that a significant number of young people and respondents of color didn’t know who she is.) Those in Washoe County also tended to have a significantly more favorable view of Warren than those in Clark County, as did those who have caucused before, compared to those who hadn’t.

Sanders had the highest favorability ratings among self-described liberals and with people between the ages of 18 and 39. He also was viewed more positively by non-college educated individuals and voters who identify themselves as Hispanic or non-white. Those who have never caucused before also intended to favor Sanders more than those who have caucused.

Despite being the only millennial in the race at 37 years old, Buttigieg was viewed more favorably by the 65 and up demographic than he was by respondents between the ages of 18 and 39. The South Bend mayor had higher favorability ratings with college educated individuals and white voters, with a significant gap in favorability between white and Hispanic voters. (A high number of non-white and Hispanic respondents reported not knowing or having never heard of Buttigieg.)

The survey found that Biden was still the top pick among respondents as far as who would make the best president, with 27 percent support, compared to 18 percent for Warren, 17 percent for Sanders and 8 percent for Buttigieg.

Some of that may have to do with the priorities of likely democratic caucusgoers. An overwhelming plurality of respondents, between 31 and 33 percent, said that the most important issue for them when choosing a Democratic presidential nominee is who has the best chance to beat President Donald Trump. A smaller number of respondents, between 12 and 17 percent, identified their top priority as selecting someone who is willing to work with both parties to get things done.

That question included a split sample that tested support for “addressing climate change” versus support for a “Green New Deal.” Six percent of respondents named responding to climate change as their top priority, compared to 4 percent support for a Green New Deal.

Prior polls of the state, including one released on Sunday, have been criticized for not reaching out to more Latinos, who make up 29 percent of the state’s population and represented about 19 percent of all participants in Nevada’s 2016 Democratic caucus, according to an NBC News entrance poll. Twenty-one percent of respondents to The Nevada Independent poll identified themselves as Latino, Hispanic or of Spanish descent.

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