Suffolk University/USA Today Poll: Warren Running 2nd to Biden, Who Continues to Dominate

81 percent say fundamental values being tested in 2020 election

Former Vice President Joe Biden continues to lead by more than a 2-to-1 margin over his closest rivals for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, according to a Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll of registered voters, but Sen. Elizabeth Warren has overtaken Sen. Bernie Sanders for second place in the still-crowded Democratic presidential field.

With the slow winnowing of the Democratic primary field, Biden (32 percent) led Warren (14 percent), Sanders (12 percent), Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Kamala Harris (6 percent each), businessman Andrew Yang (3 percent), and former Congressman Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Cory Booker (2 percent each). Five other Democratic hopefuls combined for 2 percent, while 18 percent of voters were undecided. In June, Biden led Sanders 30 percent to 15 percent, with Warren at 10 percent.

“The top three candidates appear to have staying power, and we’re not seeing much movement from the likes of Harris and Buttigieg despite their short-lived bumps from debate or media appearances,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. “However, Iowa and New Hampshire are months away, and a misstep from Biden, Warren or Sanders could open the door to a second-tier challenger.”

Biden's strongest support comes from older voters and from the South and Midwest.

Democratic voters age 65 and older preferred Biden (48 percent) over Warren (9 percent) and Sanders (6 percent). Among 18-to-34-year-old voters, Biden is tied with Sanders at 22 percent, with Warren at 17 percent.

In the South, Biden led Warren 45 percent to 17 percent, with Sanders at 7 percent, while Midwest voters preferred Biden over Sanders 40 percent to 12 percent, with Warren at 6 percent. Biden led by a smaller percentage in the Northeast—his principal challengers’ home area—25 percent to Sanders’ 15 percent and Warren’s 12 percent. In the West it was Biden, 20 percent; Warren, 19 percent; and Sanders 15 percent.

Warren’s strongest numbers came from those who consider themselves liberal, where 24 percent chose her over Biden (21 percent) and Sanders (18 percent).

Republican challenge

The poll shows an uphill fight for potential GOP primary challengers to President Trump, given results for the first declared candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld. Trump (90 percent) led Weld (5 percent), with 5 percent undecided. The survey was conducted before Joe Walsh, a former Tea Party congressman and conservative radio host, declared he would challenge Trump.

Generic 2020 ballot test

The poll shows an unnamed Democrat prevailing over Trump 41 percent to 39 in a three-way race, with 10 percent of voters saying they would vote for a third-party candidate and 10 percent undecided. This result is within the margin of error.

A June Suffolk/USA TODAY poll showed Trump leading a generic Democrat by 3 points in a three-way race, 40 percent to 37 percent, with 9 percent of voters saying they would vote for a third-party candidate and 14 percent undecided. Again, the 3-point divide was within the margin of error.

In 2016, third-party votes tilted at least a dozen states, many of which were key to winning the Electoral College, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, Nevada, and New Hampshire. These states and others recorded more total votes cast for third-party candidates than the margin of victory for either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton.

Stakes seen as high in 2020

Eighty-one percent of registered voters said that the fundamental values of the United States are being tested in the 2020 election, including 87 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of Republicans, and 78 percent of independents. A majority (58 percent) said that the 2020 election will be the most important of their lifetimes, while 33 percent said they felt that the election is important, but not to that level of significance, and 6 percent said it is not at all important compared to other elections.

Forthcoming: Gun issues

The survey also collected information about voters’ attitudes toward firearms issues. Poll results on that issue will be released later this week.


The nationwide survey of 1,000 voters was conducted Aug. 20 through Aug. 25 using live telephone interviews of households where respondents indicated they were registered to vote. The margin of error is +/-3 percentage points at a 95 percent level of confidence. The margin of error for the subset of 424 voters who plan to vote in their state’s Democratic primary or caucus is +/- 4.76 percentage points. The margin of error for the subset of the 289 Republican and independent voters who plan to vote in their state’s Republican primary or caucus is +/- 5.76 percentage points. Results are posted on the Suffolk University Political Research Center website. For more information, contact David Paleologos at 781-290-9310, [email protected].

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