(CN) – A new national poll released Thursday shows Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren as Democratic front-runners, but state polling tells a deeper and somewhat conflicting story.
While national polls on the Democratic presidential candidates seem to tell a clear-cut story on who’s ahead, a fuller story can be told by polling of early primary states that can make or break a campaign.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday shows two leaders among the Democrats, former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. According to the survey, Biden maintains his lead at 26% while Warren follows closely behind at 19%. Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are tied for third at 13%.
The fight among the Democratic Party is whether to move the party to the left, with candidates such as Sanders and Warren, or more centrist with front-runner Biden.
National polling has value in the 2020 race, but only when coupled with state polling as well. Among Real Clear Politics’ average of national polls, Biden leads at 27%, followed by Sanders at 15%, Harris at 14.8% and Warren at 14.4%.
Prior to the 2004 Democratic primaries, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean was the clear front-runner. He maintained a lead in the polling until just a few days before the first primary in Iowa, where a state poll found him in third place.
Despite leading in national polling for so long, Dean was defeated in Iowa by Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry. Following his loss, Dean delivered a memorable voice-cracking speech where he promised his supporters he would win in other states. He went on to lose a string of contests before dropping out of the race.
Even as the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll results were released showing Warren in second place, one of the pollsters who conducted it cautioned people in the NBC article that it was “only July 2019.” While a lot of time exists between now and the first primaries, it’s also important to look at how state polls are trending.
Fox News released its South Carolina poll on the same day, finding support for Biden at 35%, a 21-point lead over Sanders at 14%. Sen. Warren came in fourth place in the state at just 5% support.
In Iowa, a USA Today poll released last week showed Biden leading the pack in that state, followed by Harris, Warren and Sanders.
State polling clearly gives a better view of Biden’s popularity and his chances of ultimately becoming the Democratic presidential nominee. Although national polls can give us an inkling of where support for the candidates may be, looking at state data can help cement a more accurate view.
But just as Biden is enjoying his front-runner status among national and state polling, it’s a long way to go between now and Feb. 3 when the Iowa caucuses will be held. Just ask Howard Dean.