WASHINGTON -- Democratic primary voters nationwide see former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren as relatively close to their own political views but regard Sen. Bernie Sanders as significantly further to their left, a new University of Southern California Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll shows.
The Democrats see Biden as slightly more conservative than themselves and Warren as slightly more liberal, the poll found.
As with other recent surveys, the latest USC/L.A. Times poll shows Biden, Sanders and Warren as the top choices for Democrats nationwide, with Warren having moved into a rough tie with Sanders for second place behind Biden. Sen. Kamala Harris has faded, having lost many of her supporters after a spike earlier in the summer.
Among the lead trio, Sanders has a couple of significant disadvantages, the poll indicates.
Ideology is one factor that goes into how voters choose whom to support -- though not necessarily the deciding one. In the past, candidates seen as on the ideological extremes have often faced problems; Sanders' status as the outlier in the Democratic field could limit his ability to expand his support.
Another problem for the senator from Vermont is engagement: Sanders does best among people who did not watch or listen to the last Democratic debate, the only candidate for whom that's true.
Warren's backing shows the opposite pattern. The Massachusetts senator does best among voters who watched or heard about the July debate. Her steady growth in support since the spring has come through consolidating the backing of college-educated white liberals. She has managed to match many of Sanders' positions without being perceived by voters as being as far to the left, the poll finds.
The Biden-Warren matchup, which many Democratic insiders think could be the final bracket of the primary contest, has begun to resemble a familiar pattern.
Democratic primaries have often featured an insurgent with strong backing from white, college-educated voters challenging an establishment-backed candidate with significant blue-collar and African American backing: Gary Hart versus Walter Mondale in 1984 and Paul Tsongas against Bill Clinton in 1992 are two examples of such "wine track" versus "beer track" races.
While this year's contest differs from those in many ways, it has one big similarity: Warren, like the "wine track" candidates of previous years, needs to find a way to broaden her support, especially among African American and Latino Democrats.