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What Happens When You Don’t Include Elizabeth Warren in Democratic Polling?

A new Quinnipiac poll of Iowa caucus goers released Thursday has all kinds of good numbers for 2016 Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, who maintains a resounding lead over any and all potential rivals for the Democratic nomination despite weeks of scrutiny over her private email server and the Clinton Foundation’s foreign donations.

But most interesting was the poll’s exclusion of Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Warren has been touted as Clinton’s most potent challenge from the left, a theory that has suffered from one problem: she swears up and down she’s not running. Her continued inclusion in the polling, including Quinnipiac’s last round, has started to feel like a draft campaign.

Quinnipiac’s poll today is a perfect test case of what happens when Warren is finally left out of Democratic poll, and might begin to give a sense of how much of Warren’s numbers were her own charismatic authority, how much was sincere support of her policies, and how much was simply a desire for a Clinton alternative.

For starters, Clinton’s numbers remain unchanged with Warren in or out; Clinton got 61% six weeks ago, 60% this week. Warren’s 19% from February don’t want Clinton, whatever their reason.

The biggest immediate beneficiary of Warren’s absence is, not surprisingly, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who occupies much of Warren’s progressive territory. Sanders tripled his support from February from 5-15%. However, the poll was conducted over the period in which he announced, so some of that reflects a boost from the added coverage. It also is not statistically higher than Sanders’ number in New Hampshire (13%), though that’s his home turf.

Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden pulled an extra 4% without Warren in the poll, while Martin O’Malley, who did not even register in Quinnipiac’s previous survey, made an appearance with 3%.

Things look better for O’Malley when the “second choice” numbers are included. Warren’s first- and second-choice percentage combined was 40%. Of that, Sanders pulled 11%, O’Malley 10%, and Biden 7%. Another 7% went into the undecided camp, with the rest dissipating among lower-tier candidates.

Biden’s gain can likely be written off to name recognition; Warren has made herself a visible presence in her short time in national politics, and the 7% who go first to her and then to Biden are perhaps looking for a Clinton alternative they’re familiar with. Ditto the extra 7% now undecided. That’s 14% (combined first- and second-choice) looking for a non-Clinton candidate but not yet sold on any one opponent. This group could still be won over by Clinton, who is tracking to the left with speeches on immigration and criminal justice reform; but they are up for grabs for any liberal candidate who goes on a sprint.

The 21% that flee to Sanders and O’Malley more likely show a genuine desire for a more liberal candidate than Clinton. If without Warren in the race your first and second choices are progressive candidates, Clinton’s centrism just isn’t appealing. But this isn’t a big enough group to seriously threaten Clinton, particularly not when they’re split among two or more candidates. Without Warren, Clinton can more successfully fend off her liberal competition while also claiming some of the ground to win over undecideds.

This is, of course, one poll in Iowa eons before anyone votes, and before some of the candidates have even declared. As more polls leave out Warren, we’ll get a better sense of how the liberal wing of the Democratic party reconfigures.

[Image via Edward Kimmel / Flickr]

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