It bears repeating that a high percentage of voters say they could change their minds (although Biden has a larger share of voters saying they won’t change than do other candidates), and the early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire where Biden’s polling has been much weaker will influence later contests.
The most extraordinary feature of Biden’s polling is his share of African American voters. In the Quinnipiac poll, he has 52 percent of African Americans; the next highest, Sanders, has 14 percent. Among nonwhite voters in the Fox poll, Biden gets 35 percent; Sanders is next, but remains far behind at 22 percent. (Perhaps Biden’s underperformance in New Hampshire and Iowa has more to do with the low number of African American voters than any perceived shortcomings in his performance, a favorite topic in national media coverage.)
Biden is also having success pulling in liberal voters (perhaps those who have gotten nervous about the electability of Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts). In the Fox poll, Biden leads among these voters with 26 percent; in the Quinnipiac poll, he also draws 26 percent (although he claims only 15 percent among very liberal voters). The IBD/TIPP poll points out: “Before the 2020 Democratic primaries begin, Biden gets just 17% of liberal support, vs. 21% for Sanders and 23% for Warren. The elusive, but much-coveted moderate voter, favors Biden by 31%, Sanders by 21% and Warren by 23%.” Put those liberal or somewhat liberal voters together with moderate voters who favor him overwhelmingly, and Biden has broad ideological support to go with his racially diverse base.
In additional to Biden’s relatively broad base, he has another couple of things going for him. First, the other candidates are fighting among themselves, leaving him out of it. The subject of a lot of the sniping between Warren and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg over their work for corporate America does not affect Biden, who has released his taxes going back decades and has spent virtually his whole adult life in the public sector.
Second, as the Boston Globe’s Michael Cohen points out: “Seeing Biden on the stump is a constant reminder that for all his faults — his verbal gaffes, his meandering speeches, his often uninspiring debate performances, the creeping sense that politics has passed him by — Uncle Joe is, at his core, a good guy.” Cohen concludes, “There is perhaps no simpler explanation for why, in a campaign where so much of the attention has been focused on his political rivals, Biden remains the Democratic front-runner and the candidate best positioned to not only win his party’s nomination but become the next president of the United States.”
Emotional connection. Affection. No other candidate, with the exception of Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) who left the race, is so engaged at a visceral level with voters. Warren rattles off her list of proposals. Sanders prides himself on being a grouch and wants voters to do the talking about their struggles. Buttigieg is a cheery whiz kid, but not the kind to grab voters by their shoulders and stare intently at them while sharing stories of loss.
Gut-level emotion, hugging and back patting (remember when Biden was in trouble for that?) may not be every voter’s cup of tea, but plainly an awful lot of voters, especially African American voters, feel comfortable with him. If Buttigieg is most akin to the cool, cerebral President Obama, then Biden might be in the mold of another successful Democrat: President Bill Clinton. He too felt voters’ pain, won over African Americans and cornered the market on moderate Democrats. That coalition elected him. Twice.