Reason Roundup

Is Biden's 2020 Lead Over? A New Poll Says Yes…Until You Read the Fine Print

Plus: The root of Twitter toxicity, the truth about the DOJ's attack on Backpage, and more...


A new national poll about the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates could be a bad sign for heretofore frontrunner Joe Biden. The poll, from Monmouth University, showed Sens. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) now in a two-way tie for first place, with both being the top candidate for 20 percent of poll respondents.

Biden, who was previously polling in the low 30s, was the top choice for just 19 percent of voters in the latest Monmouth poll. This represents a 13 percentage point drop for Biden, and a modest jump for both Warren and Sanders.

Other Democratic candidates polling at one percent or above include:

  • Sen. Kamala Harris at 8 percent
  • Sen. Cory Booker and Pete Buttigieg at 4 percent
  • Andrew Yang at 3 percent
  • Julián Castro, Beto O'Rourke, and Marianne Williamson tied at 2 percent
  • Bill de Blasio, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar at 1 percent

Yet, as folks were quick to point out, these poll results are based on a relatively small sample size of voters—just 298 people—and they come with a large margin of error:

The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone from August 16 to 20, 2019 with 800 adults in the United States. Results in this release are based on 298 registered voters who identify as Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party, which has a +/- 5.7 percentage point sampling margin of error. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, NJ.

For more on the current state of the Biden/Bernie/Warren divide, see the latest from Nate Silver, who is skeptical about the Monmouth poll results.


A new study on social media hostility suggests that while "people at large do indeed perceive online environments as more hostile than offline," as scholar Michael Bang Petersen put it, it's not the "impersonal online environment" that causes this.


Sealed memos show how the feds manufactured a case against online classifieds site, despite knowing that Backpage was doing much more than other platforms to prevent underage posters and help law enforcement.

"Unlike virtually every other website that is used for prostitution and sex trafficking, Backpage is remarkably responsive to law enforcement requests and often takes proactive steps to assist in investigations," wrote Catherine Crisham and Aravind Swaminathan, both assistant U.S. attorneys for the Western District of Washington, in an April 2012 memo to their boss.

"At the outset of this investigation, it was anticipated that we would find evidence of candid discussions among [Backpage] principals about the use of the site for juvenile prostitution which could be used as admissions of criminal conduct," wrote Swaminathan and another federal prosecutor in a 2013 update, following an extensive investigation into Backpage practices that included grand jury testimony from employees and review of internal documents. "It was also anticipated that we would find numerous instances where Backpage learned that a site user was a juvenile prostitute and Backpage callously continued to post advertisements for her. To date, the investigation has revealed neither."

The prosecutors recommended against criminal charges. Nonetheless, federal and state authorities kept targeting Backpage and, last year, the FBI arrested former executives for alleged conspiracy, facilitating prostitution, and money laundering. "For far too long, existed as…a place where sex traffickers frequently advertised children and adults alike," then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said after the arrest, while U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Strange accused Backpage leaders of "placing profits over the well-being and safety" of women and children.

Such claims have long been bogus. Now, thanks to memos obtained by Reason, we know that the Department of Justice understood this all along.


  • New York Times columnist Bret Stephens—who likes to complain about how millennial snowflakes and their thin skin will be the death of free speech—tattled to a man's employer and sent the man a snippy email in response to a tweet (which no one had shared, and in which Stephens himself had not been tagged) where the man called him a bedbug. The internet is responding with appropriately mocking glee.