Posted on March 11, 2020

Biden Turned Out a New, Key Group on Tuesday: Working-Class White Voters

Ella Nilsen, Vox, March 11, 2020

Former Vice President Joe Biden predictably swept the black vote in March 10 states, but he also scored key wins among white voters — most notably in the battleground state of Michigan.

On Wednesday morning, progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders was lagging behind Biden in every single county in Michigan, Missouri, and Mississippi, according to Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Crystal Ball. (Sanders won North Dakota and some Idaho counties; Washington state has yet to be called.) Sanders was expected to lose Mississippi and Missouri, but he contested Michigan fiercely after narrowly winning it in the 2016 primary.

Biden’s dominance with the black vote has been the prevailing story of Super Tuesday and beyond, but on Tuesday, the former vice president also cleaned up with the suburban white voters who propelled Democrats to victory in 2018 — and who he needs to win a general election in 2020.


White working-class voters, and white voters in suburbs

White working-class voters in Michigan were what propelled Sanders to a narrow and unexpected victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016, but 2020 exit poll data shows he couldn’t count on them this year.

While the vast majority of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula voted for Sanders over Clinton in 2016, they went for Biden in 2020, according to Cook Political Report editor Dave Wasserman.

Whereas working-class white voters had propelled Sanders to his 2016 win, “This year, they have been his undoing,” tweeted Economist pollster and journalist G. Elliott Morris, adding Sanders was down about 30 points from 2016 in the Michigan counties with large numbers of non-college-educated white voters.

And it wasn’t just working-class voters: Sanders also lost more well-educated suburban voters who helped propel Democrats to a win in the 2018 midterms. As Politico reporter Tim Alberta noted, Democratic turnout doubled in Livingston County, a richer (and traditionally Republican) suburban county that’s part of a congressional district flipped by a moderate Democrat in 2018.

Ahead of voting, political experts in the state were clear: Even though Biden’s dominance on Super Tuesday could be chalked up to his solid support with black voters, he could not count on black voters to win him Michigan because there aren’t enough black voters to deliver decisive wins in the state (the Washington Post exit poll showed they account for about 18 percent of the vote, compared to 72 percent white voters).

“Biden’s support will not depend on Detroit as much,” Michigan State University political scientist Matt Grossman told Vox recently, adding “Biden is doing better among white voters statewide.”

Biden needed white voters as well, and he got them.