Could Elizabeth Warren Be the 2020 Nominee?

6 Reasons Warren Might Make it All the Way to the White House

Since 1952, every candidate for President of the United States has been selected before the party convention. And yet this year, I think we have a decent shot at a real contested convention. At the very least, I think the race to be the democratic nominee won’t end until the summer of 2020.

I know this level of disagreement seems unlikely, but our media has fractured so much in the last 3 years. Why shouldn’t our politics follow suit? In the era of Twitter and Facebook, smaller candidates will be able to maintain media coverage on social media. They’ll be able to fund their campaigns from small donors. All of this will enable campaigns to go on for longer than they would otherwise. Besides, news is big business. There will be strong incentives to keep the drama going.

If this contest does drag on for a long time, then I think frontrunner Joe Biden will have trouble. In fact, I think his opponent, Elizabeth Warren, has the best shot at ultimately getting the nod in such a scenario. Here are a few reasons why.

1 — Biden Backlash

The most common reason Biden supporters cite for choosing their candidate is that he could actually beat Trump. In prior years, this idea of “electability” was paramount. Now, in the age of social media, it is passion that wins the most votes. Passionate supporters can now organize, raise money, and drive awareness better than even professional campaigners. The election of Trump and the rise of Bernie Sanders are testaments to this.

If Biden’s supporters aren’t passionate enough, they may eventually dump him. It could be reminders of his handling of Anita Hill and related controversies that cause his supporters to lose interest. Or else it might be his lack of support from Democratic stars like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Or it could be that he makes one of his infamous gaffes and his image becomes irreparably damaged. As time goes by, more stories from his long political career will come out, and many will hurt him. Eventually, his chances of beating President Trump may not look quite as good as they do on paper.

2 — Identity Politics

Like it or not, the Democratic Party of the 21st century is one built largely around issues of identity. As such, it seems unlikely to me that party voters will ensure that a 70-something white man is the next President. This means that both Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are disqualified.

Elizabeth Warren on the other hand, can still excite women voters. As with Hillary Clinton, the promise of electing a woman president will be a significant tailwind to her campaign. Her support among other minority interests seems strong as well.

3 — Warren Could Pick up Bernie’s Voters

It’s common knowledge that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders share many policy positions and that their supporters overlap. If Bernie were to drop out of the race, it’s likely Warren who would gain his supporters.

In fact, it’s possible that Bernie fans might jump ship to a Warren campaign even if he stays in the race. Sure Sanders has owned the anti-Wall-Street narrative since the 2008 financial crash. However, Elizabeth Warren has smartly made enemies with the new juggernaut of American capitalism — the tech industry. Warren was the first candidate to call for the breakup of Amazon, Facebook and other big tech companies. We now see the other candidates following suit. As awareness of tech power grows in 2020, Warren’s control of this anti-tech narrative should help her in the polls.

4 — Warren Has Support From the Media

Despite consistently lagging in the polls, Elizabeth Warren has never wanted for media coverage. Since her campaign announcement, she has remained in the news, getting a steady flow of articles written about her. The graph below shows the number of news stories written about Warren in every week of this year.

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number of news articles about Elizabeth Warren every week in 2019

The trend shows that she has consistently stayed in the news cycle.

In addition, her coverage has generally been positive. Unlike Biden, she isn’t wracked by scandal. Unlike Bernie, she is strongly supported by mainstream outlets. A sampling of the most recent CNN articles covering Warren shows that they are uniformly favorable.

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CNN Headlines from Stories about Elizabeth Warren since March 2019

If the media loves Warren, then they will be less likely to try to take her down. I expect to see many more hit pieces as the campaign progresses. I think most will not be directed at her.

5 — Warren Has Support from Average Voters

The media class may be on Twitter, but the average voter is on Facebook. If we look at the number of Facebook followers each candidate has, the leaders by far are Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

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Facebook Followers of the Democratic Candidates

Some have called Elizabeth Warren “unlikeable”. Her support among facebook users and the general public belies this claim. If anything, Warren seems to be getting better at connecting with the average American as the campaign goes on.

6 — The Other Candidates are Too Boring

If we look at candidates that aren’t in the top three — ie. not Biden, Bernie, or Warren — we see that they all have serious flaws.

Pete Buttigieg seems to be exiting the honeymoon phase in his media coverage. After an initial spike of interest, his media attention has been falling for the last 3 weeks.

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plot of the number of articles about Pete Buttigieg in 2019 (per week)

The other top contender, Kamala Harris has also failed to gain significant traction. In fact, she’s been falling in the polls ever since she announced her candidacy in January.

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Kamala Harris polling among Democratic Voters over time

It seems to me that besides her problematic track record as a District Attorney, Harris is too boring to succeed in this media landscape. She has failed to create interesting stories or any new narratives. For now, she may attract large donors, but that funding will dry up if her numbers don’t improve.

Closing Thoughts

The nomination field is quite crowded, but it’s still likely that one candidate will emerge victorious well before the July 2020 Democratic convention. Still, I think the emergence of a major frontrunner — especially one as flawed as Joe Biden — is unlikely for some time. With the internet and news media ready to exploit every political controversy, it seems to me that a consensus forming around any one candidate will take time. It is this time that I think will give Elizabeth Warren the best shot at the nomination. She has support from the public, the media, and the party. In this Battle Royale, the winner might be the one who doesn’t attract the wrong kind of attention.

Written by

Engineer in San Francisco. Interested in words, networks, and human abstractions. Opinions expressed are solely my own.

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