For Democrats, It’s the Past Versus the Future

Last summer I would not have guessed that the race for the nomination would come down to a contest between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Yet here we are.

The nerds at Five Thirty Eight have either Biden or Sanders winning all of the Super Tuesday states with the exception of Minnesota, which is expected to go to Amy Klobuchar. (Sanders is polling second in Minnesota.) The Super Tuesday states represent 40 percent of the U.S. population, I have read. Note that all of these states divide up delegates proportionately, so that second- and third- and sometimes fourth-place winners can pick up some delegates. Just not as many.

It’s interesting, though, that Sanders is winning in blue states and Biden in red ones, with a couple of exceptions. Who is ahead in the Super Tuesday polling (other than Minnesota) —

Sanders is currently polling ahead of Biden in these states (or territory):

  • American Samoa (caucus)
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts (Warren polling second)
  • Texas (but within the margin of error; this one is a coin toss)
  • Utah (Warren polling second)
  • Vermont (Buttigieg and Warren are close to a tie for second)

Biden is currently polling ahead of Sanders in these states:

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma (Bloomberg polling second)
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia

If the voting matches the polls, Sanders still will be ahead in delegates after Super Tuesday. There will be several more primaries on May 10, and the polling follows the same pattern — Sanders is ahead in bluer states; Biden in redder ones; no one else looks to be a major factor.

Side notes: Bloomberg was counting on winning some Super Tuesday states to make a claim for the nomination, and it doesn’t appear he will win any of them. He may pick up only a handful of delegates.

Indiana doesn’t vote until May, but poor Pete Buttigieg currently is trailing both Sanders (in first place) and Biden (in second) in his own state. Buttigieg is not doing well anywhere, as far as I can see. He may pick up one delegate in California this week. It occurs to me that Buttigieg has been running to appeal to older voters with policy ideas that are barely distinguishable from Biden’s. But the old folks are much less likely to vote for a young, gay man than younger ones. He might have done a lot better with much more progressive positions.

(Update: Buttigieg just announced he is ending his presidential bid.)

Back to Biden-Sanders: The most notable thing about a Biden-Sanders contest is that it amounts to a contest between generations, even though the candidates themselves are both septuagenarians. I wrote last November about the Democratic voter generation gap that put Biden way ahead with voters over 45 and Sanders way ahead with voters under 45. That hasn’t changed. Perry Bacon of FiveThirtyEight wrote last week that “In fact, age might be the most important fault line in the 2020 Democratic primary.” In Iowa, New Hampshire, and Nevada, the percentage of under-45 voters who voted for Biden was in single digits. But in Iowa and Nevada, at least, Biden came in first among over-45 voters. Sanders did slightly better with the old folks than Biden did with the young ones, but he slaughtered the rest of the field with under-45 voters.

Bacon continues,

Indeed, the Democratic Party appears to be in the midst of a generational fight that started in 2016 and is continuing now. For example, the left-leaning but gray-haired commentators on MSNBC have been deeply frustrated by the rise of Sanders. Conversely, it’s hard to find much Biden support on Twitter, which tends to be used by younger people and more liberal DemocratsButtigieg and Warren, while not as liberal or as anti-establishment as Sanders, are also to the left of Biden, which in part explains why the ex-vice president isn’t the clear second-favorite of younger Democrats either.

It’s significant to me that Biden isn’t even trying to win younger voters:

In 2019, the former vice president and his team seemed to deeply internalize the conventional wisdom among many establishment and center-left figures: that “Twitter is not real life” and that Democrats should not be too “woke.” Biden has seemed very frustrated at times with young liberal activists who have confronted him at rallies and argued that he was too conservative on some issues. He was fairly dismissive of criticisms of his handling of the Clarence Thomas hearings and his touching of women in ways that some of them considered inappropriate. He suggested the views of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez didn’t represent those of many other Democrats. His campaign aides downplayed the power of “Pod Save America” and did little to court the “black left.”

This all looked fairly savvy (or at least somewhat harmless) … until voting started. And you wonder now whether the Biden campaign could have at least competed for young voters by taking a different approach.

This is the same kind of tunnel vision that killed Hillary Clinton’s candidacy in 2016. She, and now Biden, are weirdly blind and deaf to younger voters and can’t address their concerns without sounding condescending. And it’s also the case, Bacon continues, that younger voters are not at all interested in a replay of the Obama Administration, so Biden’s appeal to Obama nostalgia just doesn’t work with them.

My sympathies are with the young folks, who are facing obstacles us geezers didn’t have to deal with. The “revolution” they seek is not a violent one, but one in which the resources and priorities of government are significantly realigned. They want major changes to long-standing policies — on climate change, health care, student loans, economic inequality, the cost of housing. Most of the people running for the nominations have instead brushed off the possibility of big change with the usual platitudes about practicality and what’s “do-able” and real solutions to real problems. The exceptions are Sanders and Warren, and for some reason the young voters appear to have abandoned Warren and are standing with Sanders. I am not sure why that happened, but there it is.

And of course, as soon as Joe Biden won the South Carolina primary, he was all over television talk shows with the line “I think people aren’t looking for revolution. They’re looking for results.” And we all know that “results” mean “tweaks to the status quo so minor you may not even notice them.”

For older Americans, for whom the old status quo worked reasonably well, big change may seem frightening. For younger people, it’s the status quo that is frightening. Because it’s not working for them.

But that status quo is awfully entrenched. And it really, really wants Biden to win the nomination.

Last week Paul Waldman wrote,

To date I’ve yet to see a persuasive case for why Sanders is certain to have less of a chance of winning than an uninspiring “moderate” candidate like former vice president Joe Biden or former New York Mike Bloomberg, both of whom have shown themselves to be weak campaigners of the kind who have lost presidential elections many times before.

The idea that establishment Democrats are horrified about a Sanders nomination solely because of their concerns about the outcome on November 3 is awfully hard to swallow. What seems more likely is that Sanders challenges, disparages and dismisses the entire political structure of which they are a part.  …

… So when either a Never Trumper or an establishment Democrat considers the world Sanders would make, they aren’t sure what their place in it would be. And that may be what has them really scared.

This is turning into a contest between the past versus the future.

It seems clear to me that the old political order that emerged from the chaos of the 1960s has run its course and is not sustainable. It is time for it to give way to something new. Only the Democratic Party in a position to lean into that change and benefit from it, while the Republicans have painted themselves into a corrupt, backward, xenophobic corner. The Democratic Party rejected change in 2016, and lost. Will it do so again?

Oh, and young folks? Please vote. Biden won big in South Carolina because two-thirds of the people who showed up to vote were over 45. If you stay home from primaries, don’t gripe because the geezer who gets the nomination isn’t the one you wanted.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Elise Amendola/AP/Shutterstock (10551224k)
Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, embraces Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., during a Democratic presidential primary debate, hosted by ABC News, Apple News, and WMUR-TV at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H
Election 2020 Debate, Manchester, USA – 07 Feb 2020