And that explains why he was polling better than he’s been doing…
Except we’re pretty sure those people won’t be for Bernie, but still persuadable to change their minds otherwise.
At least that’s what we’ll explore today: that Biden supporters aren’t really behind Biden same way as Bernie Sanders supporters are behind Bernie.
We believe the former vice-President is just comfortably occupying a place in their minds until they figure out who they’re really going to get behind. (And that still could be Biden, but could just as easily be someone else.) Earlier this week, we told you about one such person: who went to bed the night before the New Hampshire primary thinking “Biden”, but woke up thinking “Klobuchar”. “And I feel good about it”, she said.
We’re not saying Joe Biden is definitely out of it. But we’re pretty convinced right now Biden = Undecided. Those people could still decide on Biden, but they’re far from signed, sealed and delivered.
To prove our point, we made a point of tracking down a small sampling of Biden supporters last weekend in states that haven’t voted yet, and really none of them know whom they’re supporting yet. Interestingly, none of them could tell us specifically why they decided to support Biden other than he’s a far better choice than Trump, and in one case because they’d wished he’d run in 2016. But they’re OK with other candidates too. Our determination: they are decidedly undecided. They like Biden as a person (we do too) and are comfortable with a familiarity they feel toward him. So if a pollster were to ask them today who they are voting for, they’d say Biden. And not be lying. But still veryopen to changing their minds, we think.
Look, maybe we’re totally wrong and we got the responses we got because our questions were leading, because we wanted to prove our thesis. But we don’t think so. The last thing we’d want to do is cause people to question their thoughtfully made choices.
So those responses have led us to genuinely believe Biden voters aren’t really Biden voters. They’re really undecided voters, and they fall into the “Biden” column in polls because they happen to be fond of him as a person. Contrast that with Bernie Sanders supporters, who are pretty much 100% going to vote for Bernie Sanders in the primaries no matter what, and nothing could possibly change their minds.
Now, before you go accusing us of fashioning our column today as a hidden paean to Bernie Sanders, we don’t think he’s a lock either. Although he’s got a better shot than anybody right now for one very important reason: his support is singular. Support for other Democratic candidates is more wavering and fragmented. So all it would take for Bernie to shoot commandingly forward is for him to win more than 15% of the vote in some big state, or a couple, with no other candidate reaching that 15% threshold, and that state automatically becomes “winner take all” for Bernie. That’s still a tall order. But he seems to be the only one right now capable of accomplishing that feat. Otherwise, the victories will continue to be shared and the nomination could be won by attrition as the convention nears, or not at all. (And as we pointed out yesterday, if Bernie goes into the Democratic National Convention without a winning margin of delegates, he probably won’t be handed the nomination.)
And while Biden’s poll percentages are falling, they’re still decently large nationwide. And if, as we’re suggesting, a lot of those voters are really “undecideds”, now that they’re starting to make up their minds, (or feeling hopeful or at least OK about other candidates), they probably won’t be breaking for Bernie. (Although as we just illustrated above, if they fragment too much, they could end up benefiting him anyway, even if they don’t vote for him, by ensuring his competitors don’t get to 15%, and therefore get no delegates). So far, in New Hampshire, those voters went to Buttigieg and Klobuchar. And they each did get more than 15%. And delegates. And Bloomberg hasn’t even been on the ballot yet. As for Tom Steyer, who’s making a lot of noise about still being viable starting this week in Nevada: we’ll believe it when we see it. (Maybe he’s a “West Coast” phenom we just don’t get yet.)
So if Biden = Undecideds, and if Undecideds do not by-and-large go to Bernie, as long as his opponents keep scoring 15% or more individually (which is hardly guaranteed), that translates to a substantial enough percentage of delegates that are not for to Bernie to eventually become a negative for him and maybe even outdo him. Even if he picks up all the Elizabeth Warren votes. So unless Bernie scores big across the board (which is very possible), it’s very likely to come down to whomever ends up being the “Champion of the Undecideds”.
You know why we’re so sure about this? Because one of the canniest political minds out there already knows this. Who? Trump.
That’s why he’s already continuously Tweeting that the fix is in against Bernie, because he knows that things don’t necessarily add up for him right now, especially in the long game, so he’s gotta get the Bernie people so upset and angry about it that they don’t vote at all. Because that’s the only way he can win.
We’re not saying it’s inevitable. Bernie at the moment is still clearly the front-runner. No one yet has clearly shown an ability to attract as much loyalty or generate as much momentum. Which means he could very well get to the convention with an unbeatable number of delegates. Especially if he benefits from some of the weirdness in the way Democrats set the primaries up. He appears to have a statistical advantage. And if you start looking at maps and adding up numbers in large states, things look good for him. But good enough to sail into the convention with a lock on the nomination? Not so sure. And if he doesn’t have it in the bag by the convention, and the Superdelegates come into play again, he’s not likely to win the nomination.
Big wins for Sanders on Super Tuesday, March 3rd, would change that in a hurry (but so would’ve a big win in New Hampshire after the Iowa Caucus was set on fire and allowed to drift out to sea, and that didn’t materialize for him).
Nor are we 100% sure that real support won’t coalesce around Biden. People could decide on him when they make up their minds too, and end up being for him for real. But for some reason that seems less likely to us than Bernie managing to hang on.
This is where a lot of people in politics start getting really excited about getting to a convention with no one candidate entering with enough votes to secure the Democratic Party’s nomination. We are doubtful that’ll happen either (although if Bloomberg picks up momentum, given his late start, it could).
We can’t get excited about the prospect of a brokered convention and “horse trading” and all that. First of all, because pundits get excited that it’s gonna happen every single Presidential election year (either that or something like a “co-Presidency” or cross-party ticket) and then it never does. At least not in our lifetimes (the most recent brokered conventions were in 1952). Secondly, because if Democrats enter that convention in any way but arm-in-arm the only candidate gaining a huge advantage will be Trump. Can you imagine the Democratic nominee being decided by “Superdelegates” this time around?! After their role was de-emphasized by Democrats because of all the rumpus they created in 2016? Which is what wouldhappen.
And maybe that’s why it will happen this year: these are odd times, and Trump has uncanny good luck.
So we think it’s worth diving in to that a little deeper. Which we’ll do tomorrow.