A wide range of political analysts, operatives, and pundits agreed that Sen. Cory Booker had one of the standout performances of the second Democratic presidential debates last week.
Yet a Booker bounce has so far failed to materialize, with two new polls showing little-to-no increase in the New Jersey senator’s standing in the crowded primary.
A Morning Consult poll released Monday found Booker with 3% support among Democratic primary voters nationwide, unchanged from before the debate. A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday found Booker with 2% support. Both surveys have Booker tied for sixth place, clearly outside an upper tier of candidates who have consistently held the top five slots for months (Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, and Pete Buttigieg).
After a strong showing in the first round of debates, Harris, a California senator, saw a bump of 6 to 9 percentage points in two polls; most of it appears to have evaporated.
Asked who had the strongest debate July 31, Quinnipiac found that 28% who watched thought Warren performed best and 15% said Biden. Booker was fifth, with 7%.
The findings contradict the political class’ instant reactions to the debate, when many praised Booker as a “happy warrior” who used cutting lines to challenge Biden on his record on race and law enforcement. "There’s a saying in my community: You’re dipping into the Kool-Aid and you don’t even know the flavor,” Booker said in one moment that was heavily replayed on cable news.
As in 2016, it could be that political analysts have little feel for what the average voter is looking for. At this early stage and with such a muddled field, it could also be too soon for opinions to move very far. The polls have been stable for some time. Some critics suggested that Booker, in looking for a viral moment, may have gone too far in challenging Biden, who still has reservoirs of goodwill with many Democrats.
Booker’s campaign has argued that he is focused on a long-term campaign, not surging months before the first votes are cast. He has one of the most extensive networks of staff on the ground in Iowa, home to the first nominating contest.
Still, his aides thought he had finally scored a breakout moment in the debate and heavily promoted his debate showing — but he has still failed to move the political needle. Booker has qualified for the next round of debates in September, when the qualifying thresholds are higher and the field could be smaller. He is scheduled to hold an event in Philadelphia on Wednesday, his first public appearance in Pennsylvania as a presidential candidate.
Both polls found Biden with a solid lead overall, holding 33% support in the crowded field. Next came Warren and Sanders (though their positions were flipped in the two surveys), followed by Harris and then Buttigieg.
Harris’ polling bump from the June debate has vanished, Quinnipiac found, with her support dropping from 16% to 9% just before the second debate and 7% after.