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Where do Warren voters go? Clinton

Bad news for progressive insurgents: Fans of Elizabeth Warren seem ready to support Hillary Clinton if the senator doesn't run.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) listens during a session on Capitol Hill Jan. 8, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty)
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) listens during a session on Capitol Hill Jan. 8, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

What happens to supporters of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren if she doesn’t run for president in 2016? Do they join up with Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, or former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, both of whom are considering bids as liberal insurgents?

Unfortunately for progressives spoiling for a fight against all-but-declared frontrunner Hillary Clinton, most Warren supporters seem to be ready to support Clinton, at least at the moment.

That’s one takeaway from the new NBC News/Marist poll, which removed Warren from its survey of the three early presidential states, citing the senator’s frequent insistence that she’s not running for president.

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Warren captures about 10-15% of Democrats' support in most polls of the potential 2016 field that include her name. With Warren removed, the “lionshare” of her voting bloc appears to go to Clinton, said Lee Miringoff, the director of the Marist Institute for Public Opinion, which conducted the poll with NBC.

“There's no sense that they've gone anywhere other than to the well-known Clinton,” Miringoff said. “She’s cornered the market on liberal Democrats.”

That’s bad news for everyone not named Clinton in the primary, who desperately need Warren’s bloc of voters in their camp. With the former secretary of state capturing close to 70% of the vote in a Warren-less field, challengers will have to start stripping away big chunks of her base to be competitive. The “anybody-but-Clinton” vote is simply nowhere near big enough at the moment.

First, some caveats: A lot could change in the year between now and the Iowa Caucus. Clinton could stumble or a challenger could start to eat into her support, even just by boosting their own name ID, as voters look for choices. Polls also consistently show that Democrats want a contested primary, so anyone who challenges Clinton will likely gain some steam. 

Sanders in particular is counting on would-be Warren voters flocking to his candidacy, and Sanders adviser Tad Devine cautioned against reading too much into early polls "The polls, to me, are completely irrelevant,” he told msnbc last week. “In Iowa and New Hampshire, give us two months of TV [advertising] and we'll see where the polls are.”

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It’s also tricky to compare results from different pollsters, which use different methodologies, and especially of polls in individual states, since they tend to have smaller sample sizes.

Nonetheless, the results seem pretty clear. When NBC removed Warren from the field, they found Clinton’s support to be about 10 percentage points higher than in previous polls that included Warren, while other candidates received no major boost.

In Iowa, Clinton gets 68% in the Warren-less NBC poll, compared to 56% in a January Des Moines Register/Bloomberg poll and 48% in a January Loras College poll, both of which included Warren.

In New Hampshire, Clinton gets 69% in the NBC poll without Warren, compared to 58% from a January WMUR poll and 56% in a Bloomberg/Saint Anselm College poll, which also included Warren.

South Carolina has been polled less frequently, and the  most recent poll, from June, did not include Warren. The new NBC poll of the state found Clinton earned 69% of the vote, with Vice President Joe Biden in second place at 20% in the more conservative state.

Meanwhile, other candidates don’t seem to have gained much with the removal of Warren.

In Iowa, support for Biden, Sanders, O’Malley and former Virginia Sen. Jim Webb holds roughly steady across the polls that included Warren and the NBC poll that did not.

In New Hampshire which neighbors Sanders’ Vermont, the senator got 13% in the NBC poll versus 6% in the WMUR poll and 8% in the Bloomberg poll. That could represent a bump, but it’s smaller than Clinton’s apparent bonus. Biden’s support, meanwhile held steady at 8% and O’Malley and Webb remained in the low single digits across all three polls.

Of course, Warren might still change her mind, but she’s so far taken none of steps necessary for a run. She’s told staff privately that she’s not running, has not been working to bolster her weak foreign policy credentials, and has told donors, via her fundraisers, that she’s not interested.

So the Warren-less poll likely gives us a better picture of 2016 field heading into the spring, when several candidates may make formal announcements.

And for the moment at least, Clinton is handily beating "anybody but Clinton."