The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Biden is now the real front-runner

Former vice president Joe Biden, left, gestures while seated next to Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) prior to speaking at New Hope Baptist Church on Sunday in Jackson, Miss. Seated at right is Thompson's daughter, B.J. Thompson. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and his supporters can whine all they like about the “Democratic establishment.” They can insist that they have the “grass roots” behind the Sanders campaign and that former vice president Joe Biden is a creature of the billionaire class. However, when you are overwhelmingly behind in the polls, both national and state, it might be time to stop making excuses and start recognizing that the vast majority of the Democratic primary electorate wants someone else as the nominee.

What a difference South Carolina and Super Tuesday can make. Biden is now crushing Sanders. In the latest CNN poll, taken after Super Tuesday, Biden leads Sanders 52 percent to 36 percent nationally among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. By a 65 percent to 26 percent margin these voters believe Biden is best able to unify the country and by a nearly identical margin think he is best able to beat President Trump.

Biden’s favorability among all voters is now in positive territory (48 percent to 44 percent) in contrast to both Trump (43/54) and Sanders (42/52). Biden leads Trump by a 53 to 43 percent margin in a head-to-head contest, Sanders by seven points (52 to 45 percent). Key, however, is the margin in battleground states: “Among those voters who live in 15 battleground states — those decided by 8 points or less in the 2016 election — Biden narrowly tops Trump, 51% to 45%, while Sanders and Trump are within the margin of error of each other, 49% back Sanders, 46% Trump.” Meanwhile, Democrats have a nine-point lead in the generic congressional poll (53-44).

Looking at the breakdown of support for the remaining primary contenders, Biden leads overwhelmingly among Democrats (55 percent to 32 percent) while they are virtually tied among Democratic-leaning independents. Biden leads by a wide margin among both college and non-college graduates and even more (58 percent to 30 percent) among non-college-educated, nonwhite voters. If anyone has a claim to a diverse cross-section of working-class voters, it is Biden, not Sanders.

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In Tuesday’s Michigan primary, Biden has a double-digit lead over Sanders, 51 percent to 27 percent in the Detroit Free Press poll released on Monday. While Sanders trailed in polling by a wide margin in 2016 but eked out an upset over Hillary Clinton, the terrain looks considerably worse for him. “Looked at as two blocs — those under the age of 50 and those over — Sanders wins the younger bloc, 43%-33% with 15% undecided. Biden wins the older group 65%-14% with 11% undecided,” the pollsters report. “The older group, according to the poll, makes up 56% of the electorate, while the younger group makes up 44%.”

Sanders will need a surge of younger voters to draw close to Biden. However, as in Super Tuesday states, late-deciding voters favor Biden (“among the 37% of respondents who decided in the last few days, Biden led overwhelmingly, 75%-18%, over Sanders”). It seems that at least in Michigan, the primary electorate has decided en masse that electability matters more than the candidates’ stance on issues (57 to 34 percent) and among that 57 percent, Biden takes 61 percent.

Henry Olsen

counterpointBe careful, Biden. You might be inviting a challenge from the left.

Should Biden win in Michigan, Missouri and Mississippi on Tuesday, he will have confirmed how decisively the race shifted on Super Tuesday. The endorsements of former rivals (e.g. Pete Buttigieg; Sens. Kamala D. Harris, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar; Beto O’Rourke) parallel the consolidation of support for Biden. Democrats seem ready to put the primary contest behind them and get on to the business of beating Trump. At some point, it would behoove Sanders to realize that “real” Democrats, working-class Democrats and a diverse cross-section of Democrats do not support him.

Read more:

Fred Hiatt: Biden will pick a woman as his running mate. But who?

Hugh Hewitt: Enjoy it, Joe Biden, because it won’t last

Henry Olsen: Why a Biden-Klobuchar ticket can beat Trump

Jennifer Rubin: Here’s why Joe Biden is in command