It’s been many days since former vice president Joe Biden entered the 2020 Presidential race so the field has now had some time to settle. I’ve been ignoring most polls of the Democratic field over the past two weeks since upheaval happens when a new candidate joins the race which can mean the polls need time to come back to a more reliable state as voters get back to their preferred candidates versus picking the new flavor.
Well, it’s getting harder and harder to ignore several recent polls that show Joe Biden with a growing lead over Bernie Sanders, and it sure seems like the race, though early, is tipping hard in his favor.
As The Hill reports, Biden has seen a string of good numbers, with some polls giving him as much as a 30 point lead over Bernie sitting in second-place in a national poll of the 2020 Democratic primary candidates:
Former Vice President Joe Biden has a 32-point lead in the Democratic presidential race in a Hill-HarrisX poll released Monday.
Biden won 46 percent in the poll compared to 14 percent for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who came in a distant second place.
Former South Bend, Ind. mayor Pete Buttigieg was in third place with 8 percent, followed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) with 7 percent.
Since he officially entered the race in April, Biden has seen an increase in public support and become the clear frontrunner in the race.
Polls taken since the former vice president’s official declaration have shown him receiving support in the upper 30s to lower 40s, about twice as much as Sanders, his next closest rival.
The poll was taken Friday and Saturday among 440 registered voters who identified as Democrats or independents who leaned toward the party.
The question had been asked since early January whether Biden’s announcement would cause voters to jump on his bandwagon, or whether they were already baking in Biden’s eventual campaign and had already decided that he was popular with name recognition, but not a good standard-bearer for 2020.
According to the numbers, it seems that Biden’s announcement has done quite a bit to draw in new support at the expense of several other candidates.
Biden the Heir Apparent?
Other analysts have taken note of Biden’s polling trend and are starting to explain why Democratic primary voters seem instantly attracted to the former vice president. Is it a nostalgia for the Obama years, perhaps a nostalgia for Barack Obama himself? Or, perhaps, it’s a feeling on the part of Democrats that they must pick someone who, in their minds, can specifically meet Trump for who he is and attack him among the same voting blocs?
Philip Bump, writing in the Washington Post, tries to explain:
In the past two weeks, there’s been a divergence in the Democratic presidential primary field. Former vice president Joe Biden has surged in recent polling while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has seen his support slacken.
The two had been running a bit closer. But Biden’s formal announcement of his candidacy at the end of last month seems to have pulled them apart. Two polls from CNN and Quinnipiac University, both taken after Biden’s entry, show a stark divide.
Why? What is spurring Biden’s surge? One key factor appears to be the perception that he’s the candidate best positioned to beat President Trump in November 2020.
The CNN poll asked Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents exactly what traits they thought were most important in a candidate. More than 90 percent said that electability (as the phrasing goes) was at least a very important trait. Nearly half said it was extremely important.
If you’ll recall, Bump is also the same analyst we referenced last week in regard to the concept of “electability,” and how voters often misjudge candidates.
Democratic primary voters seem to believe that Biden and Biden alone has the absolute best chance of beating Donald Trump. Perhaps it’s his name recognition or the belief that Biden won’t shy away from wrestling in the mud. Whatever the case, Biden has yet to demonstrate any reason why voters should believe otherwise.
However, as Bump also points out, if voters are worried about electability, Biden isn’t the only Democrat who theoretically beats Trump head to head:
If your assumption that Biden is the most electable instead comes down to assumptions about polling, well, CNN tackled that, too. Yes, Biden beat Trump in head-to-head contests — but so did South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Sanders and former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke. Only Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) didn’t beat him easily, instead essentially tying his support nationally. Sanders and Biden beat Trump by the same margin; O’Rourke beat him by much more.
Biden’s argument for electability relies solely on voters’ perception that he is the one candidate who can break through the fog and speak directly to white, working-class voters in important rust belt states. Other candidates can try, certainly, but they would have to work at it. Biden, with his scrappy personality and pedigree from rural Scranton, Pennsylvania, already has that credibility baked in.
Is Biden’s appeal to white, working-class voters real or does it only exist in the minds of Democratic primary voters? Bump offers a word of caution to Democrats based on the numbers:
Democrats, in other words, think Biden would have been a lock to win in 2016 against Trump and therefore assume he’d be a lock to win in 2020. I’ll note only briefly here that Biden actually hit up Scranton the weekend before the 2016 election for a campaign rally, shortly before the county voted 24 points more Republican than it had in 2012. Also that, in that CNN poll, he fares about as well with non-college-educated whites as three other Democrats.
Biden is a natural fit for making campaign stops at union halls and small-town diners between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but does his appeal translate into votes? In other words, Biden stumped for Hillary in Pennsylvania during the 2016 election but it didn’t seem to help her much. Would those voters, on the other hand, pull the lever for Biden over Trump rather than Hillary over Trump? There is a lot of evidence to support the claim that Biden isn’t the only Democrat who can make an appeal to these blue-collar Democrats.
As Bump concludes his piece, noting that polling 18-months out from an election can be erratic and subject to change, we’re looking at today’s snapshot in time. A week from now, or a month from now, voters may feel differently about Biden.
My hunch tells me that this polling data will hold pretty solid until at least after the first Democratic debate in late June. Until then, without getting the candidates side by side explaining themselves, there won’t be much in the way of a breakout performance for any of the middle-tier candidates to warrant a second look from voters right now.
As it stands today, Biden’s doing great, which is bad news for the large chunk of Democratic voters who are anti-Biden.