Democrats fall in line
After Biden solidified his lead on Super Tuesday II, the upcoming Democratic Debate may be Sanders’ last chance to convince voters that he too has a good chance of beating Trump in the general election.
It’s official: Joe Biden is in the lead. In Wednesday’s Super Tuesday redux, Biden swept states like Michigan and Missouri where Bernie Sanders won or tied against Hillary Clinton in 2016. Biden is now on a clear trajectory to win the Democratic nomination.
The polls favor Biden to sweep almost every single state going forward. Even Andrew Yang, one of the more anti-establishment candidates to have run in 2020, stepped forward to endorse Biden. The days of wondering whether Democrats were heading for a contested convention this summer are fading into the rearview mirror.
Going forward, it is difficult to see where Sanders might reverse Biden’s winning streak and delegate lead. Up next, the primaries move to Florida, Arizona, Illinois and Ohio, which are projected to swing to Biden. Losses there would make it challenging for Sanders to slow Biden down.
In an ominous sign for his campaign, Sanders underperformed on Tuesday in states where he pulled off narrow wins or upsets in 2016 against Hillary Clinton. As the chart below shows, Sanders was not able to replicate his success in Michigan or Missouri in 2020. Beating (or at least coming closer to) Biden in Michigan would likely have helped Sanders remain a more viable candidate in 2020, with its 125 delegates.
In Washington State, where the polls leading up to March 10 had projected his victory, Sanders was statistically tied in the vote count as of March 11, as state officials continued to tabulate results.
So, what trends underly these results? First and foremost, it comes down to Democrats’ laser focus on electability.
Throughout the duration of the primaries, Democrats have consistently listed a candidate’s perceived ability to “beat Trump” in the general election as their top consideration when deciding who to vote for. In remarks on Wednesday afternoon, Sanders framed the contest between himself and Biden as one that comes down to a decision between progressive ideals and perceptions of Biden being more “electable” against Trump.
“While our campaign has won the ideological debate, we are losing the debate over electability,” Sanders said.
Now that the race is down to just two candidates, divisions across age and race are particularly apparent. Ipsos polling consistently shows that Hispanic voters tend to prefer Sanders, Black voters Biden, while white voters are divided.
Michigan is a good case study of this dynamic. According to the exit polls, 66% of Black Michiganders voted for Biden, while 55% of Hispanic residents of the state voted for Sanders. In Mississippi, Black voters’ preference for Biden was even more distinct: 87% of Black Mississippians voted for Biden. Just 10% went for Sanders.
Sanders appeals to younger voters, while Biden is nearly his mirror image with support among an older demographic.
The trouble for Sanders is that younger people are not turning out to vote in 2020 to the same extent as their elders.
In Michigan, 77% of 18–29-years-olds voted for Sanders, but they made up just 16% of those who came out to vote, according to the exit polls. By contrast, 43% of voters were age 45 to 64, and about two-thirds of them (64%) voted for Biden.
Either way you look at it, Biden is in a leading position going forward. That said, it doesn’t seem that the race will be reduced to a one-man show anytime soon. Sanders reaffirmed his commitment to stay in the race on Wednesday afternoon. And lest we should forget, Tulsi Gabbard continues her campaign, though she will not appear on the debate stage on Sunday.