For months now, we’ve talked about the pragmatism of Democratic primary voters. It's not ideology, policy or programs that are motivating vote choice in 2020, instead it is perceived electability. And, of course, the biggest beneficiary of this framing of the contest is Vice President Biden. Despite his age and his 40+ year voting record poll after poll finds Biden far ahead of his rivals on the question of who has the best chance to beat Trump.
Who has the best chance to beat Trump in 2020?
The most recent Washington Post/ABC, CNN and Quinnipiac polls (all taken in the wake of the first Democratic debate), find Biden ahead by 27-30 points on this question of who is best suited to defeat Trump. That’s the good news for Biden. The bad news is that a majority of Democrats DON’T see him as the strongest candidate to take on Trump. For now, a fractured, multi-candidate field helps Biden since none of the other candidates have been able to consolidate the other 50+ percent of the vote. But, how long will that be the case? And, how durable is that 40+ percent he currently holds?
The Quinnipiac survey shows some cracks in Biden’s ‘electability’ firewall. Back in April, a majority of Democrats — 56 percent, picked Biden as the strongest to face Trump. But, today, that support has shrunk to 42 percent.
The nice folks at Quinnipiac sent me the cross-tabs for the April poll to compare to the most recent poll. What you see is that Biden has lost support among all demographic groups. But, what jumped out to me was the precipitous drop Biden saw among ‘somewhat liberal’ Democrats- from 57 percent in April to 35 percent in June — and those age 50-plus — from 61 percent in April to 46 percent in June. This suggests that Biden’s hold on the ‘traditional’ Democratic voter (older and not overly liberal), is more tenuous than conventional wisdom suggested. Still, a solid majority of self-described moderate to conservative Democrats (which Quinnipiac estimates will be 43 percent of the Democratic electorate), see him as having the best chance to beat Trump.
Who has the best chance to beat Trump in 2020? (Biden crosstabs)
Another data point, this one from CNN, also points to some shakiness in the “Biden is the most electable” narrative. When asked: “which is more important to you personally,” 61 percent of Democrats say “the Democratic party should pick someone with a strong chance of beating Donald Trump,” and just 30 percent say the party should nominate someone who “shares your positions on major issues.”
But, when you drill down and find out who those 61 percent said they support as the nominee, Biden’s lead is less than impressive. Biden remained in the lead at 23 percent, but Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren are close behind at 18 percent each. Sen. Bernie Sanders comes in at 10 percent. That’s not much different from what we see among the broader electorate. In the overall head-to-head among all Democratic voters (not just those who prioritize electability), Biden leads with 22 percent, with Harris at 17 percent, Warren at 15 percent and Sanders at 14 percent. In other words, the “Biden as the best candidate to beat Trump” is already baked into the cake. And, while this message has been enough to put Biden in the lead — it is not an insurmountable one.
Image Credit: AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall