Posted on May 26, 2020

The Voters Joe Biden Needs to Win the Election, Explained

Ella Nilsen, Vox, May 26, 2020


Barack Obama beat his Republican challengers in 2008 and 2012 by driving historic turnout among African American voters and winning working-class white voters in Midwestern Rust Belt states. Replicating that exact playbook may not be realistic; Trump’s hold on white working-class voters can’t be underestimated.

“Michigan and Pennsylvania are prerequisites for a Biden victory,” said election analyst Dave Wasserman of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report. “After that, what can put him over the top? Is it Wisconsin, Arizona, or Florida?”

The Biden campaign strategy will take a series of carefully executed plays. Cut into Trump’s margins with rural and exurban voters in states from the Upper Midwest to Florida. Make sure African American, Latino, and Asian American turnout is strong in Sun Belt and Rust Belt states alike. Appeal to a subset of voters where Democrats have been racking up big wins lately: suburban voters (especially women) who may have voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 but are wary of Trump.

And — maybe the biggest play of all — see if the campaign can win or at least significantly cut into the president’s margins with older voters, a traditionally more conservative and reliable bloc that suddenly seems to be turning away from the president. {snip}


It’s going to be tough to pull off. Trump has an incumbent advantage and vast financial resources. And Democrats could risk stretching themselves thin; as much as there are new opportunities, there are also a lot of areas where they need to play defense. The former vice president’s strength with the African American community may not be enough to garner Obama’s levels of support from black voters. The Trump campaign’s attempts to woo black voters certainly haven’t escaped Democrats’ attention, and they’re worried black voters in Midwestern states who stayed home in 2016 may do the same in 2020.


Biden needs to win with a combination of white and black voters in the Rust Belt


The Cook Political Report’s most current Electoral College forecast projects Democrats currently have a slight advantage with 232 electoral votes in states that are either solid, likely, or lean blue, compared to 204 electoral votes in red states for Republicans. Keep in mind these ratings could certainly fluctuate. There are just six states that Cook currently rates as true toss-ups (plus Nebraska’s 2nd Congressional District; Nebraska is one of two states that assigns Electoral College votes to individual House districts).

Trump won all these toss-up states in 2016: Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina.

The Midwestern trifecta of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin is an area where Democrats historically had solidly won presidential elections from the early 1990s, until Trump came along. Of the three, election forecasters believe Michigan and Pennsylvania are likelier to go blue in 2020 than Wisconsin.

The RealClearPolitics average of head-to-head state polls shows Biden up 6.5 percent in Pennsylvania, 5.5 percent in Michigan, and a smaller 2.7 percent lead in Wisconsin. (In the rapidly diversifying Sun Belt states, Biden has a 4 percent lead in Arizona, a 3.3 percent lead in Florida, and Trump has a 1 percent lead in North Carolina.)

Biden winning the three Rust Belt states will take a combination of strong African American turnout in cities like Philadelphia and Detroit, suburban voters, and working-class white voters where Democrats can get them. While Biden is strong with African Americans overall, Trump’s campaign is doing outreach that could cut into that lead.

“We should take the Trump efforts with black men and younger black men seriously,” said Addisu Demissie, former campaign manager for Sen. Cory Booker’s presidential run. “When you’re talking about margins in the tens of thousands in some of these states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida, that could be the difference. On the margins, any constituency matters.”

Polls so far show Trump still has a pretty strong hold on working-class white men nationwide, which he won by nearly 50 points in 2017. This is the core of Trump’s base, and they have largely remained loyal. Still, there is the potential for some movement among white non-college-educated women, who Trump carried by 27 points in 2016.


Biden needs to win over retirees to win Florida, the retiree state

The southern coastal swing state is key to any candidate’s victory on election night. It was crucial to Trump’s Electoral College win in 2016, when the Republican candidate over-performed Mitt Romney in white and rural exurban counties.

Clinton did well in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, but Trump’s performance in the corridor along Interstate 4, around Tampa and St. Petersburg, was too much for Democrats to overcome. They don’t want to make the same mistake twice.

Biden is currently leading Florida by 3.3 percent, according to RealClearPolitics. That’s causing some politicos who had written Florida off as a solid Trump win to rethink its competitiveness. If history is any indicator, the election there could be very tight; the last two presidential elections in the state were decided by less than a point.

“I’ve never understood why people didn’t think Florida was going to be in play,” said Florida Democratic strategist Steve Schale, Obama’s Florida state director in 2008.

Like Arizona, Florida boasts a sizable Latino population, but it’s largely made up of Cubans and Puerto Ricans rather than Mexican-Americans in the southwestern US. Because Florida is home to a contingent of people who fled socialist governments in Cuba and Venezuela, its Latino population tends to be more right-leaning. The GOP has found success with this group in the past. Biden also bested Sanders with Florida Latinos in the 2020 primary.


When it comes to November, Democrats are looking for opportunities along the I-4 corridor, and the suburbs and exurban communities between Orlando and Tampa are a prime target for them. Older voters account for another big reason why Florida is back on the table for Democrats in 2020. Florida is where many Americans go to retire, including large shares of retirees from places like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.


A combination of Latinos and suburban whites could put Biden over the top in Arizona

With a 4 percent lead on the RealClearPolitics state polling average, Biden’s campaign seems particularly bullish on Arizona. This southwestern state is a traditionally Republican stronghold that’s trending purple, owing to a combination of a growing Latino vote and white, college-educated suburban voters.


Arizona voted for Trump in 2016, but pollsters see substantial demographic changes contributing to Democrats’ recent success there. Democratic US Sen. Kyrsten Sinema was elected in 2018, as was a Democratic secretary of state. And this year’s Arizona Senate race is one of the most competitive in the country.


Changing demographics in North Carolina make it competitive

Out of all the Electoral College toss-ups, North Carolina is the biggest reach state for Democrats in 2020. Trump slightly overperformed Mitt Romney in the red-leaning swing state in 2016, but its cities and suburbs are a growing worry for Republicans.

Trump’s razor-thin 1 point lead in North Carolina’s polling average reflects the state’s complicated political dynamics. In 2008, Obama was the first Democratic presidential candidate to win the state since 1976, and he did it by the slimmest of margins.


The reason North Carolina is so competitive this year, both with the presidential contest and the Senate race, is its growing suburbs. People are moving to North Carolina cities and their suburbs; in 2017 and 2018, a full 63 percent of the state’s population growth happened in the Charlotte, Raleigh, and Durham metropolitan areas, which are all considered blue spots and a potential opportunity for Democrats.


Obama won in 2008 in part because of enthusiastic black voter turnout, which also helped lift Democrat Kay Hagan to the Senate. Biden likely won’t be able to get the same levels of black support in North Carolina as the first black president did. {snip}