All Your Base Are Belong to Us (Part 1)

It’s easy to get anxious looking for post-debate poll results. At least it’s easy for me. A new survey from CNN taken 6/28-6/30 has some striking results.

The most visible item is found on the top line:

Biden 22% (down 10 from 5/28-5/30)

Harris 17% (up 9)

Warren 15% (up 8)

Sanders 14% (down 4)

Buttigieg 4% (down 1)

Sure looks like Harris took a chunk of Biden’s support, and Warren removed a bit from Sanders. Mayor Pete now looks adrift compared to the leaders. A month ago, he was bunched with Warren and Harris. Now he’s a statistical afterthought.

I’m still inclined to take him seriously. His Iowa numbers are better than his national. He raised almost $25 million in the quarter that just ended. He’s in a distant fifth place though.

CNN releases survey results with tons of supporting data. This is where I want to root around a bit and see if we can figure out which voters Harris and Warren took from their elderly male opponents. What else is readily accessible? Which voter profiles make up their respective bases?

A month ago, Harris was struggling to attract non-white voters. Here are some selected candidates from late May:

White Non-White

Biden 34% 30%

Sanders 16% 20%

Harris 12% 4%

Warren 7% 8%

Buttigieg 8% 1%

O’Rourke 3% 6%

Booker 2% 3%

Castro 0% 3%

Only Mayor Pete was similarly vexed in trying to appeal to voters of color.

Then the debate happens. Kamala highlights racial issues and how they particularly relate to her. The shift was quick. Her numbers improved with every group in every breakdown, but it’s extra noticeable here.

White Non-White

Biden 20% (-14) 25% (-5)

Harris 17% (+5) 19% (+15)

Warren 16% (+9) 13% (+5)

Sanders 15% (-1) 13% (-7)

Buttigieg 6% (-2) 1% (NC)

O’Rourke 1% (-2) 5% (-1)

Booker 3% (+1) 1% (-2)

Castro 0% (NC) 1% (-2)

No Choice 16% (+7) 14% (NC)

Harris and Biden get into a scrap about civil rights, busing, etc. Harris improves her standing, particularly with voters of color. Biden’s numbers drop. The easy conclusion is one block of voters moved their support from Joe to Kamala. And you’d think those voters were predominantly non-white.

Except that’s not what happened. Biden’s decline was mostly with white voters. Some of those went to Harris. More of them went to Warren. Meanwhile, through some odd political transitive property, Kamala seemingly took lots of non-white supporters from Bernie.

Some of Biden’s previous white support went to another candidate, but the jump in undecided voters indicates a substantial portion of white voters are waiting to see how he does next time.

So which white voters ditched Joe?

College graduates. A month ago, he pulled 28% support. Now? 12%. Looks like they went right to Warren, who surged from 8% to 22%. Harris improved more with non-college grads. She’s up 9% with them. College grads were already a strength.

Lots of intricacies. What’s it mean? Where is each contender’s base of support right now, and what opportunities and risks are indicated?

There are several places to go hunting for supporters:

Issue Based

Ideology Based

Gender Based

Age Based

Ethnicity Based

Income/Education Level Based

Defeating Trump Based

There’s significant overlap. An individual voter might be a young, liberal, college-educated, upper-income, African American woman who cares a lot about health care and is focused on ending the Trump Era.

So think of a candidate as picking up points each time they show strength on one of the above points. If they have several points that impact the same voter, it’s super likely they get their support.

A few notes:

Issue-based means the candidate is the voter’s first choice on a particular big issue, like immigration, health care, the economy, foreign policy, climate, etc. CNN polls regularly on this, though they shuffle the issues from survey to survey.

Ideology is how the candidate reads to voters as liberal/progressive, moderate, or conservative. Keep in mind, this is in primary election terms. Joe Delaney, Michael Bennet, and Amy Klobuchar are most certainly not right of center. But they are by the standards of the current Democratic field.

A large gender gap between Democrats and Republicans began appearing decades ago and is now substantial. In 2016, a majority of Hillary’s support was female. Bernie did better with men. In the short-term, a gender gap can indicate a candidate is building a base. Longer-term, once the contest is down to only two or three candidates, having more trouble connecting with a particular gender is a sign of trouble.

In 2016, age was the best single predictor of whether a voter would support Clinton or Sanders. Women favored Hillary. So did African Americans. But a 26-year-old African American woman was more likely to pick Bernie.

Age may also carry forward more consistently than building a base among voters of a given ethnicity, Sanders is showing the same strength with young voters and weakness with older voters as 2016.

Clinton struggled with younger voters in both 2008 and 2016, while she shifted from doing well with lower-income white voters in 2008, and poorly with African Americans, to the reverse in 2016.

Income and education aren’t an exact match. Despite the common stereotype, Trump voters are not lower-income than the nation as a whole, but he gets less support from college educated voters, particularly those with post-graduate degrees. Strong numbers with higher income voters without degrees was a visible trend during his 2016 primary campaign.

That was a bit of an exception. And that particular voter type is more prominent on the GOP side. But this is an opportunity for a candidate to try to pick up votes by splitting that group as Trump did. On the Democratic side, it’s voters with more education than money.

Defeating Trump is code for electability. This is an easier point for a candidate to run on when you know the opponent. It’s not just a question of who voters think other voters might like, but whether the candidate is particularly well-suited to take out the opposition.

Let’s see where each of the main candidates are:

Joe Biden:

Voters like Joe on the economy. On a poll where he got 22% support overall, 28% of voters favored him on this issue. Sure, older voters think he’ll do better than younger voters. Less educated voters > more educated. But he runs significantly ahead of his overall margins with his weaker groups.

This is the only issue tested by CNN where his numbers are better than his overall support. However, there aren’t any huge weaknesses. He’s the second most trusted on health care. Tied with Bernie for most trusted on climate. After the debate, he’s a distant second to Harris on race relations. Interestingly, non-white voters score Biden slightly higher than white voters.

Biden is running *way* ahead of his opponents among voters describing themselves as moderate/conservative. He’s at 31%. The next closest is Harris at 11%. This is reversed among liberals. Harris, Warren, and Sanders are all at 20% or higher. Biden holds 12%.

The age gap is similarly gargantuan. If a voter is 65+, there’s a 34% chance they support Biden. Among the 45-and-under crowd, only 13%. This isn’t fixable. He’s going to need to hold the oldsters. Younger voters aren’t going to go his way in the primary. Fortunately for Biden, older voters are more reliable.

In the latest survey, Biden has a small gender gap, preferred by 25% of male voters, but only 20% of females. However, a month ago, he registered at 32% for each. It looks like Warren is the immediate recipient of his defections. Biden doesn’t have any inherent problem with women voters, but men might be more loyal to him.

CNN puts all non-white voters in the same bucket. From other polls, there is reason to believe Biden does better among African Americans than other voters of color. We’ll deal with that specific breakdown in a different piece.

In the meanwhile, Biden has support among both white and non-white voters. His non-white support is more solid as we saw above. A 70-year-old moderate to conservative black male is very likely still with Biden. That’s the absolute center of his base at the moment.

On the income/education view, Biden is a less extreme version of Trump. He does better with less educated voters, but not necessarily less affluent. His latest numbers are 22% for those on both sides of the $50,000 divide. But he scores 26% for non-college and only 18% for college grads.

When he was more popular a month ago, Biden actually ran stronger with more affluent voters (35%/30%). He’ll need to up his debate game and hope Harris and some of the others stumble to win them back, but they are potentially part of a Biden Coalition. Unless they have too many degrees.

Even after the debate face plant, voters are still strongly convinced Biden is the toughest opponent for Trump. 43% think he’s the choice. Sanders, Warren, and Harris land between 13% and 10% respectively.

The good news is this opinion is broad-based. His lowest splits are 33% of liberals and 38% of white voters. On all other measures, Biden is north of 40%.

The bad news is only half of the voters who think Biden is the most likely to beat Trump currently support him. I don’t think Biden’s ceiling is as high as a couple of the other candidates, but you can see his floor is higher than anyone, with the possible exception of Sanders.

We’ll explore Bernie, Kamala, Liz, Mayor Pete and a few others with a pulse in Part 2.

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