Theoretically, Sen. Kamala Harris dropping out of the Democratic primary is great for Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former V.P. Joe Biden. This is because they’re polled as the two biggest second-choices for Harris supporters. It’s bad for Sen. Bernie Sanders and Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who lag behind in these polls.
I say theoretically because this is all based on polling. Polling is accurate within a certain range, but it is incredibly misunderstood. Polls are often treated in the media as predictions of what people are going to do. They’re not. They’re snapshots of how people respond to specific questions. These indicate how respondents say they feel about a question at that moment in time. That’s it. That can be valuable, but not when the results are misapplied.
What’s more, this form of “second choice” polling doesn’t have a lot of history for the purposes of comparison. It’s done sparingly and irregularly, and there’s not a broad historical reference to be able to assess pollsters’ different approaches for accuracy. This also means we don’t have a great record to understand how second choices evolve over time.
Most importantly, Harris had her best numbers among Black and Latinx voters. That means the best chance for a specific impact is one that will go unseen and unrecognized. Polling of Black and Latinx communities is generally not focused on despite the fact they’re core to the Democratic base.
You may read that Harris’s voters are likely to go hither and thither, but the reality is that no one really has the information or polling to determine this. Any theory someone comes up with is one they’ll never have to provide a burden of proof to support. There won’t be enough information about the voters who prefer Harris to compare it to.
A lot of claims will be made about who her voters like or don’t like. They will all be based on opinion or – at best – cherry-picked polling information without any kind of real aggregation. These claims are going to teach really bad lessons about how to read polls. They’re going to rely on speaking for Black and Latinx voters without having the snapshots recorded about what Black and Latinx voters actually want.
Many of these claims will want clicks from fans of whichever candidate they say Kamala Harris supporters really, super-secretly liked that only this or that writer knows and can tell you. These will just reinforce bias about who the readers clicking already prefer. Many of these stories will seek to drive a narrative in order to sway Kamala Harris supporters over to their candidate.
Prepare for nearly every candidate to suddenly be Kamala Harris’s best friend and the natural recipient of her supporters. The media may only start to treat Harris as an important and legitimate candidate now that she’s dropped out and her narrative can be hijacked.
That may seem like a lot of effort for someone who was only polling at 4% nationwide, but it’s about where her better polling was concentrated. Ten-percent of California primary voters alone is worth that effort, let alone her decent polling in the rest of the Southwest and the South. That includes states that are early in the primary process, such as Nevada and South Carolina.
The truth is no one will really know who Kamala Harris supporters choose now that she’s dropped out of the race. Pollsters haven’t been interested in gathering information about the communities that most preferred her.
Anyone who tells you they do know is probably going to pitch you their candidate or poll. Ask for evidence. Point out when it’s not provided. Make your choice – not one someone else tries to sell you by treating your preference for a candidate as a commodity.
The feature image is from Rep. Jahana Hayes’s endorsement of Kamala Harris published in Essence here.