Biden Slump? 2020 Polls Offer Contrasting Picture for Former Vice President After Debate Performance

Former Vice President Joe Biden has maintained a stark lead above his opponents in the race for the 2020 Democratic nomination despite a widely panned debate performance in late June, according to a new ABC News/Washington Post poll released on Wednesday.

Biden's support among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents looms large at 29 percent, standing in contrast with other polls which marked a discernible post-debate slump after the former vice president tussled with Senator Kamala Harris on the Miami stage. Wednesday's poll placed Senator Bernie Sanders in second place with 23 percent of the Democrats' support, with Harris and Senator Elizabeth Warren following at 11 percent each.

A Quinnipiac University poll found that Biden hit "his lowest number yet in the Democratic primary race" after the debate, leading second-place finisher Harris by only two points. But the ABC News survey attributed his apparently wide lead on Wednesday to an "advantage in perceived electability."

Forty-one percent of Democrats believed that Harris stood out on the debate stage, easily besting Warren who received this nod from 28 percent of Democrats. Biden came in third with respect to "standing out," just two points above Sanders who garnered a 19-percent share.

Joe Biden Attends Rainbow PUSH Coalition Annual International Convention
Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to guests at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition Annual International Convention on June 28, 2019 in Chicago, Illinois. Scott Olson/Getty

Despite the lackluster approval of his debate performance, an overwhelming plurality—45 percent—think Biden has the best chance of beating President Donald Trump in the 2020 general election. This faith among Democratic primary voters appears to be a lifeline for Biden's support, as the former vice president ranks lower in other critical polling indicators, such as whether voters believe he has "the most new ideas." Sanders, Harris and Warren tied for the lead under this question, standing at least eight points ahead of Biden.

When asked about which issues rated most important in 2020, the highest share of survey respondents—at 89 percent—selected healthcare, traditionally a top-ranking priority for general election voters. Gun violence ranked closely behind at 85 percent, just above women's issues which stood at 83 percent.

Democrats who identify healthcare, women's issues, immigration, global warming or the economy as top issues support Biden and Sanders in roughly equal measure, but a significant portion of Biden's support may be coming from another area: gun reform activists. Among those who identified gun violence as a top issue, Biden led Sanders, his next-highest competitor, by 10 points.

But the way the nomination fight will play out is susceptible to major changes, and the survey results indicate that shifting support could topple any of the current frontrunners. Only 26 percent of respondents said it was "extremely" important that their candidate win the nomination. This leaves open the possibility that, as other candidates with less name recognition gain more attention and competitors drop out of the race, support could shift in ways threatening to Biden's current lead.