Joe Biden's early state polling looks more like those of past winners than losers

CNN/ Newswire | 5/14/2019, 10:36 a.m.

Originally Published: 14 MAY 19 11:00 ET

Analysis by Harry Enten, CNN

(CNN) -- Former vice president Joe Biden is enjoying a large lead in national primary polls. Primaries, of course, aren't all conducted at once, but rather are held in a sequential fashion, with the early contests of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina being pivotal. Indeed, many national primary polling frontrunners first started showing weakness in early state polling.

Unlike those frontrunners -- and importantly for his election chances -- Biden's early state numbers currently are mostly like his his national numbers -- which was the case for previous frontrunners who went on to win their party's nomination.

Biden has led the average in all four early states over his nearest competitor, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, since the beginning of the year. The lead has been smaller in Iowa (Biden's 27% vs. Sanders' 18%) and New Hampshire (26% vs. 21%) than South Carolina (39% vs. 15%). (Just one poll has been conducted in Nevada and none meeting CNN's standards.) When you average together the polls from Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Biden's edge of 13 points looks remarkably similar to his 14-point edge in an average of national polls.

Further, limited post-Biden announcement data suggests the lead in these early states seems to have increased alongside Biden's national bump. He's up around 20 points in Iowa, 10 points in New Hampshire (a Monmouth University poll last week put it at 18 points) and more than 30 points in South Carolina. Again, the average from these early states largely matches the 24-point advantage Biden has had in polling after he officially came into the race.

Leading in all the early states at this point has historically been a fairly good sign. Dating back to 1980 (the year in which we start getting solid state polling data), nine candidates in competitive primaries have led in polling around this point in the cycle in both Iowa and New Hampshire.

All but one candidate (Ted Kennedy in 1980) who led in Iowa and New Hampshire would go on to win their party's nomination. The eight eventual nominees were Ronald Reagan in 1980, Walter Mondale in 1984, George H.W. Bush in 1988, Bob Dole in 1996, Al Gore in 2000, George W. Bush in 2000, Mitt Romney in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016. All these candidates also held advantages in Nevada and South Carolina in years in which early polling was available and those states held early contests.

A number of national polling leaders who would go on to lose the nomination are not listed above. Joe Lieberman led in neither Iowa or New Hampshire in 2004. Rudy Giuliani trailed in Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina at this point in the 2008 cycle. Hillary Clinton was behind John Edwards in Iowa and was neck-in-neck with Barack Obama in South Carolina in May 2007. Scott Walker, who was briefly leading nationally with much less support than Biden, followed Jeb Bush in May 2015 New Hampshire polling.