It’s An Older Black Voter Thing, You Wouldn’t Understand
People continue to be mystified why the old establishment white dude who stumbles over his words comfortably leads the Democratic field. But Biden continues to refuse to collapse.
There are several reasons for this but surely one of the most important, if not the most important, is his strength among black voters. And not just black voters in general but older black voters in particular. And it is this latter trend that is possibly the origin of many observers’ failure to “get” Biden’s enduring popularity. Harry Enten explains:
“Biden’s averaged 49% among all potential black Democratic primary voters in our last two CNN national polls. That’s good enough not only for a 35-point lead over his Democratic competitors, but good enough to beat all of them combined by about 10 points.
But I think treating black voters as if they’re some sort of monolith creates some sort of a blind spot for those following the campaign: the wide faultline along age in the black community.
In our polling over the last two months, Biden is getting northward of 60% of the vote among black voters 45 years and older. His nearest competitor, Warren, is 50 points behind him.
Younger black voters are far less enthralled with Biden. A look at our polling over the last three months has him in the low 30s with black voters under the age of 45.
This large age gap has existed all primary long, and it’s not going away. If anything, our polling is indicating that it is getting larger.
The age gap in Biden’s support benefits him in a way that I’m not quite sure folks understand. Simply put, there are more older black voters than there are younger black voters. Those 45 years and older made up 60% of all potential black primary voters. In the majority black primary in South Carolina, those 45 years and older were 71% of all actual primary voters in 2016.
I cannot help but think this age divide imperils some folks ability to understand Biden’s appeal with black voters. If all you’re reading about is how a lot of younger black activists don’t like Biden (which is true), you’re missing most of the black voting population. This is also true if you’re someone who gets their news off of Twitter, where younger voices dominate in a way they don’t in the real world.”
I agree with Enten. I think many people are being sorely misled by what they hear on Twitter and from a sector of very visible black activists. Those views are not, by and large, the views of the black community writ large. It is the latter’s views that explain Biden’s continuing popularity and illuminate his future prospects.
Which are actually pretty good, when you consider how crucial the black vote is to the Democratic nominating process. The Times had an excellent piece on this with good accompanying graphics last week.
Candidates gain delegates based on voting in both states and districts, which are Congressional districts in all but a few places. While Iowa and New Hampshire may generate political momentum for a winner because they vote first, the two states award very few delegates. By contrast, a candidate who is popular in California, Texas and predominantly black districts in the South could pick up big shares of delegates.
A recent poll shows Mr. Biden at 44 percent among black voters in South Carolina, the early voting state with a majority-black Democratic electorate, and a historic harbinger for how the South will vote. The same poll had Mr. Biden’s next closest competitor, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, trailing him by more than 30 percentage points among black voters.
Mayor Randall Woodfin of Birmingham, Ala., who has yet to endorse a candidate, said national political analysts are underestimating the political advantages Mr. Biden enjoys in the South.
“It’s not that he’s weaker than people think,” Mr. Woodfin said. “He’s much stronger.”
Some of the most delegate-rich districts in Southern states like Tennessee, Alabama and South Carolina have large shares of black Democratic voters. (Vermont is an exception; its population is largely white, but it has only one district with 11 Democratic delegates.)
Under party rules, more delegates are awarded in districts with high concentrations of Democrats. Because black people overwhelmingly vote Democratic, areas with many black residents tend to have higher numbers of Democratic delegates.
This is a big reason why black Democrats are so sought-after in the race for the party’s nomination. Historically, black Democratic primary voters have tended to back a single candidate…The last Democratic candidate to win the nomination without winning a majority of black voters was Michael Dukakis, then the governor of Massachusetts, in 1988.”
I might add here that black voters are not Biden’s only advantage at this point. There’s also his adamant refusal to take politically toxic positions on hot-button issues to appease vocal critics on his left. We see this most recently in the run up to the release of his immigration plan. From the Post’s Daily 202:
“[The plan] will outline an end to Trump’s family separation policy, protections for “dreamers” and address the root causes of the immigration crisis. This will include a proposal for foreign aid to stabilize the Northern Triangle countries in Central America, similar to what Sanders and Warren had in their plans….
Biden’s plan will be more moderate than his rivals. So far, the biggest flashpoint in the Democratic immigration debate this year has been over whether to repeal a portion of the law that makes it a criminal offense to illegally enter the United States. The proposal was first made by former housing secretary Julián Castro, the first candidate to publish a detailed immigration plan, and it targets Section 1325 of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, which the Trump administration used to defend its family separation policies. Sanders and Warren endorsed Castro’s idea.
Biden still opposes repealing Section 1325, and that won’t change. He said during one of the debates that changing the law could incentivize more illegal immigration. “Repealing that section could undermine our immigration system. It could undermine efforts to combat human smuggling,” Alex said in an interview. “It would shift an additional burden into the immigration court system. Additionally, if the logic behind ending 1325 is to end family separation, there are likely at least eight other laws on the books that someone nefarious and anti-immigrant like Trump could use to separate families. So the problem isn’t 1325. The problem is Donald Trump.”
Not that I don’t have my doubts about Joe Biden. I worry about him as a campaigner against Trump. And, while I think his programmatic commitments as they are evolving are plenty progressive, I worry that he will surround himself with the kind of economic and budgetary advisers that will undercut that program. Personnel is policy and neoliberal personnel tend to promote neoliberal policy (see Reid Hundt’s A Crisis Wasted).
That said, he does have strengths–some very important strengths–and even those who don’t like him would do well to understand them.