NBC News/WSJ poll: Sanders opens up double-digit national lead in primary race

The Vermont senator's lead in the Democratic race comes as former Vice President Joe Biden's standing has dropped 11 points since January.
Image: US-POLITICS-VOTE-DEMOCRATS-SANDERS
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a Democratic presidential candidate, addresses supporters at a campaign rally in Denver on Sunday, Feb. 16, 2020.Jason Connolly / AFP - Getty Images

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By Mark Murray

LAS VEGAS — Sen. Bernie Sanders has jumped out to a double-digit national lead in the Democratic presidential contest after his victory in New Hampshire's primary and his second-place finish for delegates in Iowa's disorganized caucuses, while former Vice President Joe Biden has seen his support drop by 11 points since his disappointing finishes in both contests, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday.

The survey also shows former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg gaining ground in the Democratic race in the past month, confirming the findings of an earlier NPR/PBS/Marist poll that allowed him to qualify for Wednesday night's NBC News and MSNBC Democratic debate in Las Vegas.

And the poll has President Donald Trump's approval rating tied for his all-time high in the NBC News/WSJ survey, while also finding that the most unpopular candidate qualities in a general election are being a socialist, being older than 75 years of age and having a heart attack in the past year.

"There is one clear and inescapable set of results: Bernie Sanders is the definitive front-runner, and the current numbers do not represent his ceiling, but instead his base with room to grow," said Democratic pollster Peter Hart, who conducted this survey with Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies.

"His downsides are there," Hart added of Sanders. "But they've yet to be exploited by his opponents."

In the poll, Sanders gets the support of 27 percent of Democratic primary voters — unchanged from January's NBC News/WSJ survey before the Iowa and New Hampshire contests.

But so much else is different.

Biden now gets support from 15 percent of Democratic primary voters, which is down from 26 percent last month.

Bloomberg is at 14 percent (up 5 points); Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts also gets 14 percent (down 1 point); and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is at 13 percent (up 6 points).

Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota gets support from 7 percent of Democratic primary voters, which is up 2 points since last month.

No other candidate gets more than 2 percent in the poll.

Inside the Democratic horse-race numbers, Sanders, the Vermont independent, over performs among liberals and those ages 18-34.

Biden and Bloomberg, meanwhile, do the best among moderates and conservatives, as well as those who are 65 and older.

Biden continues to lead among African American Democratic primary voters, but his support has declined from 52 percent in January to 38 percent now, while Sanders' backing among these voters has remained steady in the 20s.

Bloomberg's support among African Americans has doubled from 9 percent last month to 18 percent now.

"Biden's support with African Americans is under assault," said McInturff, the GOP pollster.

When the Democratic field is reduced to just Sanders and Bloomberg, Sanders holds a 20-point national lead, 57 percent to 37 percent.

And Sanders also holds a double-digit lead over Buttigieg in a hypothetical two-person race, 54 percent to 38 percent.

Trump's job rating stands at 47 percent

Turning to the general election in November, 47 percent of all registered voters say they approve of Trump's job performance, up one percentage point from last month and tied for his all-time high in the NBC News/WSJ poll.

Fifty percent say they disapprove.

In addition, 53 percent of voters say they approve of the president's handling of the economy — up 1 point since October 2019.

In hypothetical general-election matchups, Trump trails five major Democratic candidates, but all of his deficits — except against Biden — are within the poll's margin of error.

Biden leads Trump nationally by 8 points, 52 percent to 44 percent.

Bloomberg is ahead by 7 points, 50 percent to 43 percent.

Sanders (50 percent to 46 percent) and Buttigieg (48 percent to 44 percent) hold 4-point advantages over Trump.

And Klobuchar leads the president by 3 points, 48 percent to 45 percent.

But many of these margins get smaller when the race is narrowed to voters from 11 battleground states — Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Bloomberg's lead decreases to 2 points, (48 percent to 46 percent); Sanders (49 percent to 48 percent) and Klobuchar (48 percent to 47 percent) to 1 point; and Buttigieg is tied with Trump (47 percent to 47 percent).

Only Biden maintains his same lead, 52 percent to 44 percent.

Candidate characteristics

The NBC News/WSJ poll also asked voters about seven different descriptions for presidential candidates. The most unpopular:

  • A combined 67 percent say they have reservations or are "very uncomfortable" with a candidate being a socialist.
  • Fifty-seven percent have reservations/are very uncomfortable with someone who had a heart attack in the last year.
  • Fifty-three percent have reservations/are very uncomfortable with someone who's older than 75.
  • Forty-one percent have reservations/are very uncomfortable with someone who self-funds their campaign with hundreds of millions of dollars.
  • And a combined 40 percent have reservations/are very uncomfortable with a candidate who is younger than 40.

By contrast, just 27 percent of all voters say they have reservations or are very uncomfortable with a presidential candidate who is gay or lesbian.

And only 14 percent say they're bothered by a candidate being a woman.

When identified by name, 47 percent of all voters say they are "very uncomfortable" with Trump on the ballot in 2020; 44 percent say the same about Sanders; 41 percent say that about Warren; and 39 percent say it about Biden.

Slight majority backs Trump's acquittal in impeachment trial

Finally, 51 percent of all voters in the poll say they favor the Senate's decision to acquit Trump in the impeachment trial.

That's compared with 47 percent who oppose the Senate's decision.

And 53 percent say that Trump's comments and actions after his acquittal have been inappropriate, versus just 20 percent who believe they have been appropriate.

The NBC News/WSJ poll was conducted Feb. 14-17 of 900 registered voters — more than half of whom were reached by cellphone — and its overall margin of error is plus-minus 3.3 percentage points.

The margin of error for the 426 Democratic primary voters the poll measured is plus-minus 4.8 percentage points.