With his long-awaited announcement Thursday morning that he is running for president, former Vice President Joe Biden instantly became the front-runner in a crowded primary field. For weeks, polls have shown the 76-year-old Democrat holding steady as the 2020 favorite of more than a quarter of his party's voters.
According to a Monmouth University poll of Democrats nationwide, released Tuesday, Biden leads the rest of the party's field, with 27% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters saying they would support him for the Democratic nomination. In the same poll a month ago, Biden had support from 28% of respondents, and in January from 29%.
As Biden enters the race, "he starts off with a fairly stable amount of good will from Democrats," said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute. "We might even expect to see a small bump after his announcement."
"But the bigger question will be what happens when those voters start taking a closer look at him on the campaign trail. It's a long way to Iowa and a lot can happen," Murray said Tuesday in a statement announcing the poll results.
A large Reuters/Ipsos poll released Wednesday had similarly good news for Biden, with 24% of self-identified Democrats and independents saying they would back the former vice president over the other 19 declared and potential candidates Reuters included on the list.
Trailing immediately behind Biden in both the Monmouth and Reuters polls was Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the candidate who likely has the most to lose from Biden's entry into the race.
The Monmouth poll found support for Sanders at 20%. In the Reuters survey, Sanders' support fell to just 15%, nearly 10 points below Biden.
Moreover, if Biden had chosen not to run, the percentage of Democrats who told Monmouth they would back Sanders as their preferred nominee would have shot up to 27%. That would have put Sanders 16 points ahead of his nearest rival, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, whose unexpected surge in the polls has caught the national Democratic establishment by surprise.
One place where Biden's support appears to weaken slightly is in the key Democratic early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
According to Real Clear Politics, which averages polling results, Biden leads Sanders in Iowa by an average of four points, a notably smaller gap than the seven and nine points by which Biden led Sanders in the two bigger national polls released this week. In New Hampshire, next door to Sanders' home state of Vermont, Sanders has a slight advantage over Biden of 2.5 points, according to RCP's average of recent polls.
Biden is expected to release a video Thursday morning announcing his official entry into the race. He is also expected to stake out positions that are more centrist than those of his Democratic primary rivals.
A big part of Biden's pitch to Democratic primary voters is likely to be that he is uniquely positioned to win back large swaths of moderate Democrats who broke for Donald Trump in 2016. These voters helped the president to capture traditionally Democratic-leaning swing states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan.
So far, the few national polls that have pitted Biden directly against Trump appear to support the theory that Biden presents a very serious challenge to the president's reelection. A Politico/Morning Consult poll released Monday showed Biden leading Trump by eight points in a hypothetical 2020 general election matchup.
This comports with the way many of Biden's longtime supporters view the 2020 presidential race. "If we're going to be pragmatic about this as a party, there's only one person who can beat Donald Trump," Democratic South Carolina state Sen. Dick Harpootlian recently told The Washington Post. Biden, he said, "can go toe-to-toe with [Trump] in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin and take it to him on his own terms."