Race for White House: Here’s why Joe Biden outperformed Bernie Sanders
In a major blow to Bernie Sanders’ hopes of a comeback, Joe Biden won Michigan, Mississippi and Missouri primaries.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ White House bid seems to be fading as his rival and former Vice President Joe Biden has won the nominating contests in Michigan, Missouri and Mississippi. These wins have put 77-year-old centrist Biden on a path to the Democratic nomination to challenge US President Donald Trump in November.
Biden’s Michigan win proves to be a major blow to 78-year-old Sanders’ hopes of a comeback. It was the most competitive of the six states that held nominating contests on Tuesday, including Washington, North Dakota and Idaho. With 125 delegates, Michigan offers the largest number of the minimum 1,991 delegates a candidate needs to secure the nomination outright.
It also is a key battleground state that Trump won by just over 10,000 votes -- an unexpected victory that along with wins in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin propelled his ascent to the White House.
Sanders' disappointing performance in a state that he won in the 2016 Democratic primary increases pressure on him to withdraw from the race and help Democrats set up for a bruising general election campaign against Trump. Also, the Vice President’s victory in Michigan, Missouri and Mississippi could be too much for the Vermont Senator to overcome. By the end of March, about two-thirds of the delegates will be allocated.
Why is Biden preferred over Sanders?
It seems that the former Vice President’s appeal to broad and diverse segments of Democratic voters cemented his win over Sanders. In some cases, Biden outperformed 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton with key groups, suggesting that Sanders’ path to the nomination has narrowed.
Here are some of the factors behind Biden’s success on Tuesday:
A gender gap
According to exit polls, Sanders has a woman problem. As he did on Super Tuesday, Biden easily outpaced Sanders with female voters, part of the lifeblood of the Democratic Party. In Michigan, while Biden and Sanders were neck-and-neck among male voters, Biden dominated his opponent among women, according to the Edison Research exit polls.
In Michigan, Biden held about a 20-point advantage with all women. It bloomed to 30 points in Missouri. Already strong with black female voters, Biden showed appeal to white female voters as well, including those with and without a college degree, beating Sanders by double digits with both groups in those states.
In Michigan, Biden performed better among female voters against Sanders than Clinton had. In 2016, Clinton won over female voters by seven percentage points, according to exit polls. On Tuesday, polls showed Biden with 59% of that vote and Sanders garnering 36%.
Democratic strategist Joel Payne who worked for Clinton in 2016, said that Sanders may have been damaged by the perception that his base of support is largely young males who express themselves aggressively online.
Sanders has disavowed his most abusive online supporters while defending the majority of his backers.
On the campaign trail, female voters voiced anger over Sanders’ protracted 2016 primary battle against Clinton, which they felt damaged her and the Democratic Party.
Sanders has largely shrugged off such criticism. “I don’t want to relive 2016. We’re in 2020 now,” he said this week on Fox News Channel.
Sanders’ big advantage over Biden in Michigan and elsewhere was supposed to be with white, working-class voters -- particularly men -- who were drawn to his anti-corporate rhetoric and his call for universal healthcare.
But in Michigan, a heavy manufacturing state, Biden was evenly matched with Sanders among white men without a college degree, exit polls said. In 2016, Sanders hammered Clinton in that category, 57% to 42%.
Biden also beat out Sanders among union households, after Sanders had beaten Clinton among those voters four years ago. Biden made his support of the 2009 auto bailout that saved jobs in Michigan a central part of his pitch.
Michael Ceraso, who worked for the Sanders campaign in 2016, said Sanders had become a less potent candidate this time around.
“His message doesn’t quite resonate this cycle in the same way it did before. This election is about heart over head. Biden is the heart. Voters feel connected to him in a way that Clinton couldn’t do.”
In Michigan, Biden did especially well as compared to Clinton in the suburban counties surrounding Detroit, considered to be key battlegrounds in the general election against the Republican Trump.
The former Vice President had double-digit leads over Sanders in Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties. Macomb voted for Trump over Clinton in the general election. Suburban voters were key to Democratic efforts to win back moderate districts and seize control of the House of Representatives in 2018.
Projected turnout in Michigan was 1.7 million, up from 1.2 million in the 2016 primary, which could be good news for Biden in a matchup against the US President. Trump’s win over Clinton in Michigan in 2016 by just over 10,000 votes helped deliver his White House victory.
While Sanders has boasted that he could persuade more young voters and working class voters to show up at the polls, it has been Biden who has seen a wave of new support from suburbanites, particularly women.
As the spread of the new coronavirus has become a front-burner issue on the campaign trail, Biden seems to be the candidate who has benefited the most.
In Washington state, which also held a primary on Tuesday and is the US epicenter of the threat, Biden was the clear choice among voters who said they were concerned about the virus. Among those who described themselves as “very concerned,” Biden, who spent 35 years in government as a senator and Vice President, held a large advantage over Sanders.
In Michigan, when voters were asked which candidate they trusted more to handle a crisis, about half the voters surveyed picked Biden, while 32% chose Sanders.
Uniting the country
Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, continued to struggle with voters outside his ideological lane.
According to exit polls, only voters who described themselves as “very liberal” preferred Sanders. Voters who considered themselves “somewhat liberal” or moderate backed Biden in large numbers. In Missouri, 62% who said they are “somewhat liberal” supported Biden, and 72% of moderates supported Biden compared to just 19% for Sanders.
For voters whose top priority is to “unite the country” – a persistent Biden campaign theme -- he was the stark favorite. In Michigan and Missouri, more than 80% said Biden was the best hope to bring people together. In Washington, it was six of 10 voters.