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Election Update: The First Polls Since New Hampshire Show No Big Bounces

Three days after the New Hampshire primary, we are finally getting some polls that reflect the new state of the race — including a poll in Nevada, the next state in the voting sequence, for the first time in a full month! And overall, they’re not showing that any candidate has grabbed a ton of momentum out of Iowa or New Hampshire. That’s probably good news for former Vice President Joe Biden, whose firewall in Southern states appears weakened but still standing. But mostly it’s a recipe for a long, drawn-out nominating contest. In fact, our national primary forecast currently says that the single most likely outcome of the primary season is that no candidate gets a majority of pledged delegates.

[Our Latest Forecast: Who Will Win The 2020 Democratic Primary?]

Let’s start with that Nevada poll, which was conducted Feb. 11-13 (which means some interviews were probably conducted before the results from New Hampshire were known) by WPA Intelligence for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and AARP Nevada. It showed Sen. Bernie Sanders with 25 percent, Biden with 18 percent, Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 13 percent, businessman Tom Steyer with 11 percent, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 10 percent and Sen. Amy Klobuchar with 10 percent.

Although Biden has topped most Nevada polls we have, this poll didn’t affect the toplines in our Nevada forecast too much because it was right around where it expected the race to have settled post-New Hampshire. Our model currently gives Sanders a 2 in 3 (64 percent) chance of winning the Nevada caucuses, while Biden is given a 1 in 6 (16 percent) chance. Buttigieg (1 in 10, or 10 percent) and Warren (1 in 15, or 7 percent) are also outside shots to win the state.

On Friday, we also got our first South Carolina poll in more than a week, courtesy of East Carolina University. The Feb. 12-13 survey gave Biden 28 percent, Sanders 20 percent, Steyer 14 percent, Buttigieg 8 percent and Klobuchar and Warren 7 percent each. (Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg got 6 percent in the poll, but he is not on the ballot in South Carolina.) Compared with ECU’s previous South Carolina poll, which was conducted shortly before the Iowa caucuses, Biden fell 9 percentage points, and Steyer fell 5 points. Sanders rose 6 points, Klobuchar rose 5 points and Buttigieg rose 4 points.

Ever since he finished fourth in Iowa, Biden has no longer been the favorite in South Carolina, according to our model. Sanders currently has a 1 in 2 (47 percent) chance of winning South Carolina, while Biden has a 2 in 5 (37 percent) shot. However, part of the reason our model has Sanders as the favorite is that it thinks Biden could drop out before South Carolina even votes. In the scenarios where Biden is still in the race come Feb. 29, though, he is probably still favored in the Palmetto State.

The ECU poll in particular offered both good news and bad news for Biden: On one hand, he’s still leading in an important state after two disappointing finishes in Iowa and New Hampshire. And according to the poll’s crosstabs, Biden also still has a strong lead (16 points over Sanders) among African American voters, a crucial voting bloc that has sided with the eventual nominee in every Democratic primary since 1992. But on the other hand, the poll shows that Biden has dropped a meaningful amount in South Carolina since late January — and it wouldn’t take much more of a drop to put Sanders in the lead in our polling average (there are still two weeks until South Carolina votes, remember).

We also got a poll of Georgia, which will vote on March 24. That survey put Biden in the lead with 32 percent, followed by Sanders and Bloomberg at 14 percent each. Landmark Communications and WSB-TV’s last Georgia poll was from September of last year, but the numbers didn’t change all that much, although Biden was down 9 points, while Sanders was up 6. (Bloomberg wasn’t tested in September, since he only became a candidate in November.) The state is demographically similar to South Carolina (for instance, the Democratic primary electorate in both states in 2016 was majority African American), so Biden’s durability in Georgia was another good sign for him, even though he did fall nearly 10 points.

Finally, a St. Pete Polls survey of Florida, conducted Feb. 12-13, put Bloomberg at 27 percent, Biden at 26 percent, Buttigieg at 11 percent, Sanders at 10 percent and Klobuchar at 9 percent. However, St. Pete has historically featured unusually high numbers for Bloomberg and fairly low numbers for Sanders, relative to other pollsters. Adjusted for these house effects, our model interprets this poll as saying Biden has 25 percent support, Bloomberg has 21 percent, Sanders has 13 percent, Buttigieg has 10 percent and Klobuchar has 7 percent.

This was still a bad poll for Biden, who lost 15 points since St. Pete’s previous survey in late January, and a good one for Bloomberg, who gained 10 points. But it also wasn’t a great one for Sanders or Buttigieg. It showed virtually no change for Sanders, and Buttigieg ticked up by a middling 5 points. Biden surely would have preferred not to have lost so much ground, but it’s definitely a silver lining for him that the new Democratic front-runner (Sanders) did not surpass him.

Taken together, these four state polls show Biden trending in the wrong direction, but paradoxically they are actually good news for his overall chances of winning a majority of pledged delegates, which have ticked up from 1 in 9 (11 percent) on Thursday afternoon to 1 in 8 (13 percent) now. That’s because the four polls also show that states like South Carolina are still very much open for the taking and that Sanders, Biden’s main competition for the nomination, is not riding a huge wave of momentum. As a consequence, Sanders’s chances of winning a majority of pledged delegates have dipped slightly from 2 in 5 (39 percent) to 1 in 3 (36 percent). And there’s now a 2 in 5 (37 percent) chance that no one will achieve a pledged-delegate majority, which could lead to a contested convention.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.