Here’s the weird thing about Bernie Sanders coverage in mainstream media—while it’s true that almost every story about a positive poll for his campaign completely covers it up in the headline (a phenomenon brilliantly skewered by The Onion), there was a strange lack of coverage about his heart attack—a reality you would have thought they’d hit as hard as possible, painting it as disqualifying for such an old candidate. Maybe they thought the electorate would arrive at that conclusion on their own without being led there in a way that might look unseemly, or maybe it’s a bullet they’re keeping chambered for closer to the first caucuses and primaries, but this kind of reserve was certainly not expected.
And here we are, two months later, and Bernie remains in second place by national poll averages behind Joe Biden. In fact, his support has actually gone up two or three points since the initial news of the heart attack, and has rebounded to where it was just before. Meanwhile, the Warren surge has tapered off in a big way, and Pete Buttigieg’s recent surge has showed signs of plateauing around 11 percent (with the same critical lack of black support).
By mid-summer, Biden’s support had leveled off around 27 percent, and it remains there now despite a handful of debate performances that were, charitably, awful. In three of the last five most recent national polls, Sanders leads Warren (after trailing her in most polls a month ago), but still trails Biden by anywhere from eight to 16 points. The polls in Iowa specifically are all over the place, with Buttigieg actually leading as he throws all resources into the state, and there too Sanders seems to be ensconced in second, leading Warren and Biden by slim margins while trailing Buttigieg by five to seven points.
The same is true in New Hampshire, where Sanders has led the field in the two most recent polls, but where Buttigieg still holds the average lead. In the third early primary state, Nevada, Biden holds a ten point lead over Sanders and Warren, while he’s predictably crushing the competition in South Carolina.
We’re almost exactly two months away from the Iowa caucuses, which means that the polls actually mean something now. There’s one major debate left, for which six candidates have currently qualified, and beyond that it will be race by the campaigns to aim for the big symbolic wins in Iowa and New Hampshire (even though their actual candidate lead could be marginal). If Biden wins one or both of those states, the campaign may be effectively over as he moves into his strongholds, which makes the next two months all the more critical for everyone else.