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An early look at the Biden and Sanders coalitions

Voter coalitions in the Democratic primaries will probably shift significantly between now and when the voting starts, particularly as candidates drop out and voters adjust their calculations to the new political landscape. That said, it seems odd to suppose that current trends are going to completely reverse, and analyses based on actual polling are still much more legitimate than the kind of speculation and conjecture that has dominated talk about coalitions so far.

So let's take a look at the polls and see what they say. Here, I'm going to rely on a poll CNN released on Tuesday that simply asks voters which candidate they would be "most likely to support" in the primaries.1 At this point, the race is still between Joe Biden (32%) and Bernie Sanders (18%); everyone else is polling in the single digits. Since Biden has such a big lead, he predictably has large advantages over everyone else in nearly every demographic group, too - so the question is not "who prefers Biden" so much as it's "who prefers Biden the most, and where is his support the weakest."

The easiest way to show that is to simply subtract Bernie's preference number's from Biden's, which gives you a chart that looks like this:

Note that each demographic here is part of a demographic pair, indicated by color - you can tell just how significant the gap is by subtracting the larger of the pair from the smaller. So what does the chart tell us?

1. Age is still the most important dividing line. As it was in 2016, age remains the most significant divide in the Democratic primaries. This is the only demographic where Sanders has an actual lead: he beats Biden among voters under 50 by 2 points, and among voters until 45 by 7 points. Biden, however, holds enormous advantages among olds: he has a 35 point lead among voters over 45, and a 45 point lead among voters over 65.

2. Centrists like Biden; liberals like Bernie. Biden has a remarkable 25 point lead over Sanders among moderates and conservatives; among liberals, Sanders is only down one point. On a probably related note, Biden also has an 18 point lead among self-identified Democrats, but that lead shrinks down to just 4 points among Independents (which presumably includes leftists who do not identify as Democrats).

3. The more money you make, the more you like Biden. Biden has a 19 point lead among voters who make more $50,000 a year or more, but that lead shrinks to just 8 points among people who make less.

The dividing lines among other demographics are much less distinct. Biden has a 15 point edge over Sanders among women, for example, but his advantage among men - 13 points - is not much different, which suggests that support for the two isn't really breaking down along gender lines. The same can be said for college-educated and non-college educated voters. Perhaps the most interesting among these micro-trends is the gap between white and nonwhite voters, which is almost in the double digits: Biden has an 18 point advantage over Sanders among white people, but that drops to just 10 percent among nonwhites. This is mostly remarkable insofar as it undercuts the recurring 2016 narrative about Sanders being unpalatable to nonwhite voters, but the trend is still fairly weak.

In summary, then, the Biden and Sanders coalitions seem to look something like this:

If I had to guess, I would predict that these coalitions will look fairly similar a year from now, with the most significant shifts coming near the bottom of the table as voters become more polarized along lines of race and gender.

1 Note, as often happens, that these crosstabs have some significant error margins. The trends here are fairly consistent with what we've seen in poll after poll, however, so it seems unlikely that they are all erring in the same way.