At the exact moment I’m typing this, things are looking up for Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. He may face plant again in the next debate, but he’s in first place in every poll taken in the past week that FiveThirtyEight has posted. And they post a lot more polls than Real Clear Politics does.
We’re talking about 20ish polls taken in a whole lot of different places. From California to New Hampshire. Texas to Iowa. Not all leads are the same. Several of these are within the margin of error. While it’s better to lead by 10 than trail, that’s not a safe lead more than half a year before anyone votes.
Some of his margins are more comfortable though.
He’s up 16 in Georgia. Fifteen in Tennessee. Leads native son Beto O’Rourke by 10 in Texas. We don’t have recent numbers in Florida. If you take the June numbers, average them, and round down for his post-debate hit, Biden is +20ish.
There’s a clear trend here. If it’s a southern or Civil War Era border state, Biden does well. If Donald Trump won very easily, Biden does well. These states combine everything that works for him.
White Democrats are disproportionately older. They’re more conservative than their West Coast or Northeast brethren. Not only are Deep South states heavily African American, but black voters are favoring him by a wider margin than elsewhere in the country. Check out these numbers from Mississippi. Before the debate, Biden led Kamala Harris by a 10:1 ratio.
After the debate, a different pollster has Biden at 47% overall instead of 50%. Keeping in mind that there’s virtually no such thing as a white Democrat in Mississippi—only a slight exaggeration—poll samples are usually 75% black, this means Biden didn’t lose anywhere near as much ground with African American voters as he did in blue states.
Time for a reminder. Not all black voters are the same. Not even close. Just because 90% of African Americans vote for the Democratic candidate every four years does not mean this is a monolithic voting block in primaries.
Even when it seems a given candidate is widely favored, it’s still more complicated than it looks. Hillary Clinton was way more popular than Bernie Sanders in 2016. Except among voters under 30. In that case, age was more predictive than race.
In South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi, Clinton destroyed Sanders. She won over 80% of black voters in those primary states. But in Michigan, Bernie’s upset (he was trailing by 20 points in last minute polling) was driven in part by African American voters in the Detroit area who did not favor Hillary by the same margins as in the South.
Kamala has already closed the gap in places like California. If she gets the best of Biden again next week, she’ll pick up more ground. But we should not assume a voter in Oakland will act like a voter in the Delta, just because they classify themselves the same way on their 2020 Census form. And younger voters of all ethnicities are still feeling the Bern.
Biden isn’t guaranteed to retain his current support all the way until most of these states vote in March. If he finishes fifth in Iowa, he’s done. However, it’s going to take a lot more than another shabby debate to knock him off his pedestal in Mississippi, Missouri, et al.