A voter rushes to the polls in Ridgeland, Miss., Tuesday, March 10, 2020, as people participate in the Republican and Democratic party primaries statewide. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

AP VoteCast: Biden edges out Sanders on electability

March 10, 2020 - 9:21 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden came into Tuesday’s primaries riding a wave of voter confidence about his chances of victory in November — and that helped him win Michigan, Missouri and Mississippi.

Democratic primary voters in those states were more likely to think the former vice president could defeat President Donald Trump in the general election, compared with Biden's top rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, according to AP VoteCast surveys.

That perception of electability is part of what is drawing Democrats to rally around the more moderate Biden, who has emerged as the party's front-runner thanks to moderate and conservative voters moving quickly in his direction.

Tuesday's contests were the first head-to-head matchups between the two men, sharpening the focus on voters views' of their strengths and weaknesses. Here's a look at voters' opinions as they cast their ballots in half of the six primary contests on Tuesday.

ELECTABILITY

Voters generally view Biden as the better match against Trump. About 80% in Michigan and Missouri believe Biden could beat the incumbent, while roughly 90% in Mississippi feel that way. Just about 60% of voters in each state think Sanders would be likely to defeat the incumbent president.

Still, there is some notable indecision among primary voters about whom they’ll cast a ballot for in November. Roughly 80% in each state say they will definitely vote for the Democratic candidate against Trump no matter who is nominated. But close to 20% say their decision depends on which candidate becomes the nominee.

In Michigan, a state that flipped Republican in 2016, those undecided voters looked more like potential Trump voters than liberals unhappy with the prospect of a Biden nomination. Among voters saying their November decision depends on the nominee, about 20% describe themselves as conservative and roughly 60% say they are moderate. That's true in Republican-leaning Missouri as well.

WHO IS VOTING?

In the Democratic presidential contests, it's all about what women want.

About 60% of Democratic primary voters in Michigan, Missouri, Mississippi were women. This fits a pattern in most states where a firm majority of voters are women. This has helped boost Biden, who has beating Sanders among women voters.

Other key Democratic demographics showed up for Biden on Tuesday. In Mississippi, about two-thirds of voters were African American, among Biden's most loyal supporters. About 70% described themselves as moderate or conservative, another base of Biden support. The other defining characteristic of the state was that 70% of its voters said they lived in small towns and rural communities.

By contrast, about two-thirds of voters in Missouri and Michigan live in cities and suburbs. Roughly three-quarters of voters were white. Roughly 60% were self-described moderates and conservatives, compared with about 40% who called themselves liberal.

THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS

Sanders still gets love from voters under 30, but he has not delivered on his strategy of getting them to the polls.

He won 70% of this group in Missouri and 64% in Michigan. Just about a quarter of young voters in both states backed Biden. Sanders also pulled about even with Biden among voters ages 30 to 44. But the problem for Sanders was that this group was too small to help him be competitive overall.

The under-30 crowd was just 15% of voters in Missouri and 13% in Michigan. In all three states, roughly 60% of voters were 45 and older, a group Biden has won over handily.

BLUE COLLAR LOYALTIES

Both Biden and Sanders have claimed to be the working-class candidate. On Tuesday, Biden assembled a coalition that could back him up.

About 60% of voters in Missouri and Michigan don’t have a college degree, and Biden won about 60% of their votes in both states. At least 40% of voters earn less than $50,000; Biden won a majority of their votes.

Biden’s strength among voters without a college degree crossed race and gender, suburbs and cities. Only young people defied the trend. Sanders appeared to beat Biden with voters under 44 who don’t have a college degree.

YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION

Voters in New Hampshire and Iowa wanted to change the U.S. political system. That turned out to be an outlier as the nomination battle spread to other states.

In the opening two contests, about two-thirds of voters wanted a Democratic nominee who would transform the government, compared with roughly a third who would rather return to a time before Trump. But as Biden climbed to the pole position, the answers to this question have shifted. Voters on Tuesday were about evenly split on the question of change versus restoration.

WHERE IS THE ENTHUSIASM?

Even if Democratic primary voters like their odds in November, enthusiasm isn't overwhelming. Just about half of voters in Michigan and Missouri and roughly 60% in Mississippi say they are very enthusiastic about the candidate they are supporting in the primary. In all three states, roughly a third are somewhat enthusiastic. About 10% expressed little to no enthusiasm.

In Missouri and Michigan, Sanders' supporters are more enthusiastic than Biden’s. About two-thirds of Sanders’ voters said they were very enthusiastic about supporting their candidate, compared with about half of Biden’s supporters saying the same.

TOP ISSUES

Despite fears that the coronavirus could stop the longest economic expansion in U.S. history, there does not yet appear to be a spike in voters' concern about the economy. Just about 1 in 10 voters in Missouri said the economy was the most important. Only 18% in Michigan described the economy and jobs as most critical, roughly comparable to the share saying that of climate change.

In Mississippi, where a majority of voters were African American, about a quarter viewed the economy as the top issue. That's about the same share as in Alabama, which voted last week.

Health care was the top issue for voters in all three states, as it has been in other Democratic presidential contests. Close to half of voters in Missouri, and about 40% of voters in Michigan and Mississippi, name health care the top priority.

UNFAIR ECONOMY

Still, economic inequality is a key concern for Democrats.

Roughly three-quarters of voters in each state consider the economic system in this country to be unfair, similar to Democratic voters in contests earlier this year. Many — a third or more — call the system “very unfair.”

About a quarter of voters said they were “falling behind” financially, while majorities felt they were holding steady. Roughly half of voters in Michigan, and about 60% of voters in Missouri and Mississippi, who are “falling behind” called the system highly unfair.

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AP VoteCast is a survey of the American electorate conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for The Associated Press and Fox News. The surveys were conducted for seven days, concluding as polls closed.

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