Posted on February 25, 2020

Biden Lost His ‘Electable’ Claim. That’s Why Black Votes Are Up for Grabs Again.

Chryl N. Laird and Ismail K. White, Washington Post, February 24, 2020

{snip} Joe Biden has said that his status in the Democratic presidential race can’t be assessed until after we’ve “heard from the most committed constituency of the Democratic Party — the African American community.” He’ll get his chance in this week’s South Carolina primary, where black voters are around 60 percent of the Democratic electorate.

Recently, Biden argued, “I’m the only one who has the record and has the background and has the support” of the black electorate. Indeed, for much of this campaign season, polls showed Biden was favored among black voters: A January Washington Post-Ipsos poll found 48 percent of black Democrats supported Biden, but in the latest Post-ABC News poll, Biden’s African American support fell to 31 percent. {snip}


While it may be too early to say whether black support for Biden has collapsed, there is reason for his campaign to worry going into South Carolina. Clinton was initially seen as the safe bet for black voters in 2008 — in the run-up to that year’s primaries, polls showed she led Obama by wide margins among African Americans. But an early loss in Iowa that year began the gradual erosion of her support among black voters and gave Obama, then cast as a fresh, barrier-breaking contender, the momentum. Unlike 2008, though, there’s no Obama in 2020 for black voters to unify around. The most likely outcome, then, is the black vote splits and leaves black voters attempting to identify the candidate who will focus on policy issues of specific concern to black Americans, and less coalesced around a candidate mainly seen as having the best chance of beating Trump in November.

Among those black Americans who value more a candidate who is committed to representing black group interest — specifically, reducing inequality in education, wealth and health outcomes — we expect a shift in their support toward candidates like current front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). {snip}

While many black Americans find political common ground in Warren and Sanders, many also worry about whether either of them can muster enough white support to beat Trump — the electability question looms. In a Feb. 10 Quinnipiac poll, 85 percent of black voters said they would vote for either Warren or Sanders in a head-to-head matchup with Trump. But by contrast, when asked in the same poll which candidate they thought had the best chance of winning against Trump, only 14 percent placed their confidence in Sanders and a mere 2 percent chose Warren. The two candidates that African Americans saw as most likely to beat Trump were Biden (40 percent) and former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg (25 percent). {snip}

{snip} The January Post-Ipsos poll found Bloomberg had only a 29 percent net favorability rating among African Americans (with the caveat that many of those polled had either never heard of him or had no opinion) — compared with 69 percent for Biden, 63 percent for Sanders and 51 percent for Warren. In the same poll, among registered black voters, nearly 14 percent reported they wouldn’t vote in the general election if Bloomberg were the Democratic nominee — compared with 6 percent for Biden, 8 percent for Sanders and 10 percent for Warren. Lastly, when asked who would be the best candidate at addressing issues that are important to the black community, only 3 percent of black Democrats identified Bloomberg as the best, compared with 32 percent who selected Biden and 19 percent who chose Sanders.

Black support for Bloomberg is far from negligible, but it is driven by the same electability considerations that once heavily favored Biden. {snip}

So, Biden’s last glimpse of viability may lie in South Carolina, and in his campaign’s capacity to convince black voters there that he really can satisfy — at least more than any current alternative — their joint demands of electability and group interest. {snip}