Ask a Joe Biden supporter why they are supporting Joe Biden. Many of them will talk about his time as Vice President, that he has the right experience, or that he really cares about the people of America. When presented with the argument that other candidates have similar experience, and also care about Americans, they will usually pivot right to the underlining factor of Biden’s campaign: electability. They will say that Joe Biden is the most electable, that he will be able to generate a turnout increase with minority voters, and be able to appeal to the Non-College Midwestern White voters that left the party to support Trump in 2016.
If you asked political observers what they thought about Biden’s electability before the Primaries started happening, almost all would have agreed with that hypothesis, that Biden looked likely to combine a coalition of minorities, especially African-American, and white voters to win the Democratic nomination, and take the Presidency back for the Democrats in 2020. However, with three states already voted in the Democratic Primary that argument is almost non-existent.
What are Biden’s supporters saying now? “Iowa and New Hampshire are not representative of the Democratic party as a whole” and “There are not many African American voters in those states, South Carolina is more representative of the party as a whole”. Of course both of those statements are spin by people paid to spin the bad news, but they are mostly correct. It is true that the Democratic party is majority minority, and that Iowa and New Hampshire are not very representative of the Democratic electorate. However, those arguments don’t matter. See how the goalposts for the Biden campaign have already moved? The argument from the beginning for Biden was that he was the most electable, not that he was the most electable Democrat for African American voters and minority voters. Additionally, Biden finished a distant second in Nevada, so he loses the argument that he has some strong electability argument with Hispanic and Asian voters. The electability argument for Biden is now just “He can win with African American voters”, a group Democrats usually win with near unanimous support.
While Biden benefits from African American voters being a massive voting block in the Democratic Primary, they still do not represent a majority of the vote (and thus a majority of the delegates). Additionally, Biden isn’t even winning African American voters by a large margin, a margin where Sanders is now in prime position to still win significant amounts of delegates, something that wasn’t true in 2016 against Hillary Clinton. As mentioned in previous articles, this is a race about winning delegates, not just placing ahead of rivals in some states. Currently Biden is not doing well at that.
No matter, Biden’s supporters will say: “Biden is still winning against Trump by a large margin in the General Election, where Bernie can’t win”. While that might feel like a true statement (polls do show Biden doing very well against Trump in the General Election) Bernie is also doing equally well as Biden in those same polls, which completely takes away that argument. In the Real Clear Politics average of hypothetical head to head match-ups, Biden beats Trump by 4.3%, Sanders by 4.4%. When comparing demographic groups in the General Election polling (such as the Quinnipiac Midwestern polls from this week) Sanders and Biden are doing statistically the same in almost all groups. If you don’t think Bernie Sanders can appeal to those Midwestern voters, but that Biden can, your argument is currently not supported by polling. At this point, Bernie Sanders has a better argument of being able to win Midwestern voters than Joe Biden in the General election from one reason: The fact that he has actually won them in the Primary.
Now, of course, a Democratic Primary in Iowa (or New Hampshire) is not the same electorate, nor will the electorate be nearly as left leaning in November, but if Biden is already struggling to win Midwestern Democrats (That have voted for Clinton, Obama, Kerry, and Gore, all mostly centrist candidates) then how can he be confident in his claim to win them in the General Election? These are actual Democrats, people who should be more favorable to him than the broader electorate, while in November he will have to appeal to Trump voters who think that building a wall on the Southern Border will stop immigration (a position he does not support). Additionally, there is still a large pool of centrist Democrats who voted for Trump in 2016 that would be eligible to vote in the 2020 Primaries. If Joe Biden was truly able to convert those voters in November, surely he must be able to get more of those Democrats out on these Primary Nights. It is not like Joe Biden is barely losing these states: He has come fourth in Iowa, and fifth in New Hampshire. At this point, it almost seems like a given than on any Primary Day, Joe Biden will underperform his polls in states that are predominantly white, almost like somehow polls are artificially showing him overperforming with white voters. The current margin Joe Biden has with White Non-College voters feels exactly like the lead he held with them at the start of the Democratic Primary: Solid, until people actually got into a voting booth (or whatever people did in Iowa), then it fell apart. If Democrats nominate Joe Biden, they risk a repeat of these Primary Nights on Election Night, a campaign with the lead most of the time, tightening at the end, followed by a soul crushing underperformance, giving Trump another four year mandate.
Robert Martin is founder and CEO of LeanTossUp.ca and a contributor to Decision Desk HQ.