According to a Pew survey released last week, fully a quarter of likely Democratic primary voters have yet to form any preference, which is striking in its own right.
But the more important part is the game theory landscape that emerges when we look at the other 75%. They are divided up primarily between Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris. But the supporters now enlisted on the Warren and Harris sides are potentially quite fluid as a collective: 80% of Warren’s supporters and 78% of Harris’s state that they are “excited by more than one candidate”.
Contrast that to the Biden and Sanders gangs — their supporters are far more single-minded, with about half of each saying that they are only “excited by this top choice”.
Even more to the point, most of the supporters in the Biden and Sanders camps have trouble even naming a second choice.
Considering that Biden remains well out in front in current polling, and that beating him may only be possible if the far left consolidates, the big question set to define the Democratic nomination may end up being about what Bernie Sanders will choose to do if he finds himself meaningfully trailing both Biden and at least one of the other left-wing progressives ahead of a Super Tuesday vote.
In other words, he may be faced with the ability to ‘sacrifice himself for the greater good’, so to speak, by dropping out of the race and endorsing either Harris or Warren as a means of spurring the nomination of a general election candidate that has already endorsed Medicare-for-All and the Green New Deal, two platform components that divide the left and define Joe Biden as the clear moderate among the current top-tier field.
Will Bernie decide to further his cause by combusting his candidacy as fuel for another candidate, or will he stay in to the bitter end?
If he takes the dive to propel someone like Elizabeth Warren, according to current polling numbers, that would be enough to easily defeat Biden. But he has not shown this type of team spirit in the past. There is unquestionably a cult of Bernie out there. He is a charismatic leader, whereas Warren is an intellectual leader. It would take a clear appeal from Sanders to push his flock in her direction.
Without such a step, Biden has the chance to cruise to the nomination because his support is unwavering. As we have noted, Biden supporters see him as an island of sanity amid a volatile sea of Trumpism and Socialism. He doesn’t need to do anything to impress them further. He just needs to be on the ballot. That represents a hurdle for the rest of the field that may only be surmountable by a merger.