5/10/19

Biden can be beat

Abi Wilkinson asks, "Give me your most persuasive, optimistic case for why it's not going to be Biden." Here's my take.

Biden's enjoying his post-announcement honeymoon right now, which is always a moment of strength for any presidential campaign. But even now, 50% of voters are backing another candidate, while 9% aren't backing any candidate [1]; meanwhile, if you ask voters to pick all of the candidates they would vote for, 54% of them won't even consider Joe Biden. [2] And only a minority of voters - 41% a the moment - want him to win. [3]

Biden is not, in other words, a frontrunner with majority support - he needs his opponents to split their vote. But even worse for Biden: most voters want him to lose. This gives us every reason to believe that as his opponents drop out, their supporters will disproportionately migrate to anyone-but-Biden. Which means that his lead will probably narrow as time goes on, a trend that will disproportionately favor candidates who have a high floor of support and who can afford to tough it out.

Bernie can be that candidate. Even at his worst (14.6%), his floor his still higher than the highest ceiling of any not-Biden candidate in the race (three months ago, Kamala Harris managed to reach 12.3%) [4]. He still has the most enthusiastic supporters in the race with a 21% "Very Favorable" rating and a 2.01 Likert score. [5] And Sander is still, of course, demolishing the rest of the field in fundraising, earning $15.3 million in donations under $200. [6]

It is difficult to predict with any rigor how dropouts will benefit Biden and Bernie; as Nathaniel Rakich points out, second choices are fluid and unpredictable [7], and when multiple candidates are dropping out, third, fourth, and fifth choices start mattering too. One simple poll probably illustrates this point: if you ask voters whether they prefer Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, a plurality (31%) says "Neither One", and the percent that says "About the same" (16%) is more than enough to wipe out Biden's current lead over Bernie (30% versus 23%, putting him 7% up).

If the race comes down to Biden and Sanders, as I think it will [8], then as many as 45% of primary voters who don't already favor one or the other will have a choice to make. This doesn't mean that Biden will lose, but it does mean that he is probably very beatable - and that Bernie is almost certainly in the best position to do it.