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Zirpoli: For Democrats, electability is key

For now, former Vice President Joe Biden holds the lead over a large field of contenders for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president by about 9 points in the most recent average of polls by realclearpolitics.com. He also holds a large lead against President Donald Trump. Realclearpolitics.com has Biden over Trump by an average of about 11 points nationally, and ahead of Trump in most swing states.

No one knows who will win the Democratic primary at this early point. But I have my suspicions as to why Biden is receiving the support of many Democrats and independents at this time.

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First, a recent survey by fivethirtyeight.com found that the “Ability to beat Donald Trump” was selected by 40 percent of Democrats as the primary factor in determining who they will support in 2020. Health care was second with 11 percent and the economy was third with 9 percent. Simply put, at this point in time, Democrats view Biden as the candidate most capable of beating Trump in 2020. They think this way because no other Democratic candidate does as well in a head-to-head contest against Trump.

In addition to national polls, state polls are also showing that Biden has the best chance of beating Trump in 2020. Biden is even doing well in red states, such as Texas. According to realclearpolitics.com, Biden’s average polling lead over Trump in Texas is 3 points. In Florida, Biden leads Trump by an average of 3 points and in North Carolina by an average of 7 points. In several battleground states, such as Michigan and Pennsylvania, Biden is ahead of Trump by an average of 10 points.

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Interestingly, Sen. Elizabeth Warren is currently running slightly ahead of Biden in Iowa and seems to have taken second place among Democrats from Sen. Bernie Sanders. If anyone does pass Biden, Warren seems to be the one to do it. She has been closing the gap, if ever so slowly, as more Democrats give her a second look.

Also, consider that Sanders and Warren are together winning about 35 percent of Democratic voters. If Sanders or a group of other progressive candidates were to drop out of the race, and if most of those supporters moved to Warren’s camp, she would likely overtake Biden in the polls. Indeed, Biden benefits from the fact that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is spread among multiple candidates. Expect the polling data to change as the number of candidates dwindles from the 20 choices we have today.

Currently, Biden attracts more moderate and independent voters than other Democratic candidates. A recent poll showed that only one-third of independent voters approved Trump’s job performance. That does not mean, however, that they will automatically vote for any Democrat.

They are independent for a reason, moderate in their politics, and Biden seems to be the moderate candidate they can get behind at this point.

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Many Democrats are looking for a candidate with experience who can stabilize a federal government they view as chaotic, especially regarding international affairs. Trump has alienated our long-time allies while reinforcing autocrats and dictators in North Korea, Russia, and Saudi Arabia. He has withdrawn the U.S. from important trade deals. His tariff war is driving farmers into bankruptcy in record numbers. He has allowed Russia and North Korea to exploit his ego and inexperience. And his policies against China are hurting American consumers. Some supporters may view Biden as the candidate with the experience to start fixing these issues on day one in the White House.

Voter age is a significant factor among Democrats voting for Biden vs. Warren. While electability may be an issue for older voters, it is not a primary concern for younger voters.

Erin Doherty of fivethirtyeight.com looked at differences between younger Democrats and older Democrats and found that younger voters placed the policies of candidates before the electability of candidates, while older Democrats placed electability over policies. “This generational divide may be reflected in the patterns of support for former Vice President Joe Biden” writes Doherty. She noted a Quinnipiac University poll that found that “while 28 percent of Democrats over 50 rate Biden as their first choice, just 17 percent of Democrats between 18 and 49 said the same.”

These are very early indicators of an election 14 months away. The early polls, however, fuel the thinking among many Democrats that Biden may be in the best position to beat Trump in 2020, especially among older voters. For many voters, this is all they need to know.

Biden, however, is benefiting from the fact that many progressive voters are splitting their support primarily between Warren and Sanders. As other more progressive candidates drop out, look for a major swing of voters toward Warren.

Tom Zirpoli writes from Westminster. He is program coordinator of the Human Services Management graduate program at McDaniel College. His column appears Wednesdays. Email him at tizpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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