Biden, Harris in virtual tie after dramatic shift in black support, poll shows

The latest Quinnipiac survey comes just days after the racial confrontation at last week's Democratic debate.
Image: Kamala Harris and Joe Biden
Getty Images;Reuters

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By Adam Edelman

Sen. Kamala Harris of California has catapulted into a virtual tie with former Vice President Joe Biden in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination — and she'smade significant inroads with black voters following her widely praised debate performance last week, a new national poll released Tuesday showed.

The latest Quinnipiac University poll of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters showed Biden with 22 percent support and Harris with 20 percent — a double-digit jump for her since the university's previous poll last month.

Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont were in third and fourth place in the poll, with 14 percent and 13 percent, respectively. Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, was in fifth, with 4 percent support.

No other candidate got more than 3 percent in the poll.

Biden's 2 percentage point lead over Harris was within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

"Round 1 of the Democratic debates puts Senator Kamala Harris and former Vice President Joe Biden on two different trajectories, as support for Harris surges but continues to slip for Biden," Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Mary Snow said in a statement. "Biden's once-commanding lead has evaporated," she added.

The poll, conducted June 28 to July 1, also showed that Harris had caught up with Biden in receiving support from black Democratic voters — a bloc with which Biden has done well.

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In the latest poll, Biden's support among black Democratic voters shrunk to 31 percent from 48 percent in the June poll. Harris, on the other hand, saw her support among black Democratic voters grow to 27 percent, from 11 percent in the June poll. The June poll numbers on African American voters were provided to NBC by Quinnipiac.

The poll suggests a substantial upswing for Harris and a notable decline for the former vice president. In the Quinnipiac's poll of Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters last month, Biden received the support of 30 percent of the respondents, while Sanders had 19 percent, Warren had 15 percent and Buttigieg had 8 percent.

Harris had 7 percent support.

Respondents, however, still overwhelmingly said they felt that Biden was the candidate in the crowded field who had the best chance of beating President Donald Trumpalthough Biden's support in that category, shrunk, too. According to the poll, 42 percent said Biden had the best chance to win the 2020 general election versus Trump — a substantial decline from the 56 percent of respondents who said so in Quinnipiac's poll in April, that last time that particular question was asked.

Harris came in a distant second in the latest pollwith 14 percent — an increase from the 2 percent who said in the April poll that she had the best chance to beat Trump.

Sanders came in third in the latest poll with 13 percent, and no other candidate reached double digits.

Quinnipiac's latest poll is one of several released since last week's first Democratic presidential debate — an event in which Biden faced an intense grilling from Harris over his record on race — that shows a boost for Harris, while Biden's lead over the field was found to be shrinking.

The Quinnipiac poll found that respondents paid attention to the debates, with 40 percent saying they watched most of the debates, and another 40 percent saying they paid close attention to news stories about the debates.

A CNN poll released Monday showed Biden with 22 percent support and Harris with 17 percent — a 10 percentage point drop for Biden, and a nine percentage point increase for Harris, since CNN's last poll in May. Its latest poll showed Warren with 15 percent support, Sanders with 14 percent support and Buttigieg with 4 percent.

During the second night of the debate, Biden was forced to defend his record on desegregation in the 1970s during a tense exchange with Harris, the only black candidate on the stage that night.

"It was hurtful," Harris said about hearing Biden speak of his work with segregationist senators decades ago. She told the story of a little girl who was in an early wave of children bused to integrate schools in California, ending the anecdote with these words: "That little girl was me."

She went on to press Biden to apologize for his past opposition to busing to integrate schools, which he declined to do — before awkwardly cutting himself off when he exhausted his allotted time by saying: "My time's up. I'm sorry."

Ahead of the debate, Biden had come under harsh criticism for boasting about his ability to form working relationships in past decades with segregationist Democratic Sens. James Eastland and Herman Talmadge.