The problem with all of these “takes” is that there is little or no evidence that they correspond with reality. To the dismay of the pundits and the cable TV news execs who pine for high-decibel shouting matches between two evenly matched sides (Good ratings!), at this stage in the race there is extraordinary consensus around a moderate Democrat well-situated to beat Trump.
The latest Hill-HarrisX poll shows former vice president Joe Biden opening up a 32-point lead over Sanders, whose claim to the party’s heart is evaporating before our eyes. The latest Morning Consult poll shows Biden expanding his share to 40 percent (up 4 points from the previous week) and Sanders tumbling to 19 percent (down from 27 percent in February). In other words, available evidence suggests that at present the predicted story lines aren’t emerging.
Morning Consult’s pollsters explain, “Since his announcement, Biden has seen a 14-point gain with voters ages 55-64 and a 12-point gain with those 65+.” Because they are less active on social media and are outside many reporters’ age bracket, these older voters can get short shrift. Some stories make you think that the quintessential Democratic voter is a young urban-dweller who voted for Sanders in 2016. Such voters exist (especially in many reporters’ social circles), but they do not make up a majority of Democrats.
There is also a racial disconnect in much of the campaign reporting. Contrary to conventional wisdom, African American voters do not congregate on the far-left wing of the party. They tend to be more moderate and more socially conservative.
In the aftermath of the 2018 midterms, Jim Kessler and Lanae Erickson of the moderate Third Way reminded us:
In its groundbreaking 8,000-person survey, More in Common found that “progressive activists” in the electorate are 92 percent white. Of all the “political tribes” it identified in its report on “The Exhausted Majority,” only “devoted conservatives” (at 94 percent) are more consistently white. Appealing to the broad demographic diversity of the party is an absolute imperative for 2020. But presidential candidates should not conflate that with appealing to the far left with populist rhetoric and a democratic socialist agenda.
The most reliable voters — African American women — have little affection for Sanders, nor have they automatically gravitated to African American candidates to the left of Biden. They know Biden, they like him and so far they are content to reward him with their support after his eight years of service in the Obama administration.
The lack of appeal among African American candidates is now a significant problem for Sanders and for other progressives such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. (The latest Quinnipiac poll found, “Biden had the support of 42 percent of nonwhite respondents, more than 30 points ahead of his nearest rival, Warren. Sanders, who struggled with nonwhite voters during his 2016 campaign, had only 7 percent support.”)
In short, in going far to the left, Sanders and other candidates misfired not only with older, more moderate whites but also with the critical African American electorate. The media likewise has overestimated the influence of the far left and failed to appreciate the centrist bent of both white and African American voters.
It bears repeating that this is the state of the race now. While Sanders cannot claim to be an unknown quantity (in fact, his lack of connection to African American voters in 2016 might haunt him), Buttigieg and others have the opportunity to introduce themselves and make headway with both white and African American voters. Likewise, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) has the potential to build a coalition of African Americans and slightly left-of-Biden white voters. There is certainly no guarantee that the race will look the way it does now a month, let alone a year, from now.
However, the gap is striking between the race that the mainstream media has been covering and the actual race to date. Rather than assuming that Sanders rules the roost and that African American voters are going to be the most progressive and most open to left-leaning newcomers, reporters should spend less time on Twitter and more time with regular voters. They would be surprised to find that they have been extrapolating from a small segment of super-progressive, mostly white Democrats. Their “take” is therefore not a very accurate representation of the party as a whole or of the current state of the race.