The Slatest

Michigan Puts Biden in Cruise Control

Joe Biden underneath an American flag.
Joe Biden walks out after speaking at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia on Tuesday. Mandel Ngan/Getty Images

There was no calamitous polling error in Michigan redounding to Bernie Sanders’ benefit this time. There were no surprises in Mississippi or Missouri, either. Joe Biden cleaned up where he needed to clean up in Tuesday night’s primaries. Regardless of how the night’s final three contests in Idaho, North Dakota, and Washington pan out, Biden will substantially add to his delegate lead over Sanders, with a knockout opportunity arriving in one week.

Biden’s lopsided support among black voters has been the story since the South Carolina primary, and they delivered for him again on Tuesday. In Mississippi, two-thirds of voters were black, and Biden won 87 percent of their support to Sanders’ 11 percent. The latest exit polls said Sanders did a little better in Missouri, earning the support of 22 percent of black voters, and Michigan, where he earned 28 percent. All of these numbers, though, are either down a couple of points or equal to his support in 2016. He had four years to change this. It didn’t happen.

What was damning for Sanders’ 2020 campaign relative to 2016, though, were his numbers with white voters. Take Missouri, where Sanders lost to Hillary Clinton by one-quarter of a percentage point in 2016 but got blown out on Tuesday night. Sanders won white voters by 9 percentage points in 2016, and lost them, according to the most recent exit polls, by 22 in 2020. In Michigan, Sanders won white voters by 14 percentage points in 2016, and was losing them by 10 in 2020.

Much of this flip comes from rural working-class whites, specifically—and the more results we get from this primary season, the more those rural and working-class white votes for Sanders in 2016 look like protest votes against Clinton. When you combine Clinton-esque support among black voters, overwhelming suburban support, and majority support from working-class whites in a Democratic primary, it’s possible to win almost every county in state after state. That’s what Biden did in Michigan, Missouri, and Mississippi.

There was one demographic divide where Biden couldn’t seize voters from Sanders, however: Yet again, the age gap between the two candidates’ supporters was a dizzying chasm. In Michigan, for example, Sanders won two-thirds of voters age 18 to 44 and Biden won two-thirds of voters age 45 or older. It was even more acute on the outer end of that spectrum: Sanders won three-quarters of those age 18 to 29, while Biden won three-quarters of those age 65 and older. The reason these numbers don’t cancel each other out is that there’s a useful shorthand for older voters: “the electorate.” Voters over 45 made up 62 percent of Michigan primary voters.

The strength of Biden’s coalition and his lopsided results have given many prominent Democrats excuse enough to begin doing what they do best: declaring the primary over and calling on Bernie Sanders drop out. Priorities USA, one of the leading Democratic super PACs that will spend millions on behalf of the party’s nominee, has officially gotten behind Biden. Ex-candidate Andrew Yang, now a CNN commentator, declared Biden “our prohibitive nominee” and endorsed him. And House Minority Whip Jim Clyburn, who’s earned more credit for Biden’s turnaround than any other individual, went so far as to suggest the party should “shut this primary down” and look at canceling Sunday’s debate.

It would behoove party leaders right now to note that the overwhelming majority of Democratic primary voters under the age of 45—which is a lot of people—are depressed right now. The majority of Latino voters, an integral part of Democrats’ coalition as they try to flip the Sun Belt blue, are Sanders supporters too. A heavy-handed move to “shut this primary down,” by having the DNC cancel Sanders’ one last opportunity to change the race before next week’s contests in Florida, Ohio, Arizona, and Illinois, is something that many Sanders voters will remember. Giving Sanders at least, like, a week to make his decision isn’t that much to ask.