It's not just older voters who are giving Biden the lead

Published on Friday, 17 January 2020 20:24
Written by Eugene Scott

Conventional wisdom has emerged that former vice president Joe Biden’s lead with black voters is due in large part to older black voters who are familiar with the former lawmaker.

Since he launched his campaign, multiple polls have regularly shown that Biden is popular with black voters. But the photos of him campaigning, particularly in states such as South Carolina, regularly show him embracing older black women in churches or shaking hands with older black men on the trail who are throwing their support behind the man who was the number two for America’s first black president.

And much ink has been spilled on younger black voters attempting to persuade their parents and grandparents to abandon the former vice president. But the latest data from a Washington Post-Ipsos poll shows that it is not just older black voters backing Biden over his competitors, but a sizable percentage of younger voters, too.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is leading the field with the youngest group of black voters. More than 4 in 10, 42 percent, of black 18- to 34-year-olds are backing the lawmaker.

But Biden earns about the same level of support among older millennials and voters from Generation X - ages 35 to 49 - at about 41 percent. And the candidate’s support with the youngest group of black voters isn’t insignificant.

Thirty percent of black 18- to 34-year-olds name Biden as their first choice, and an additional 19 percent in the youngest age group say Biden is their second choice. More broadly, 64 percent of black Democrats under 35 have a favorable view of Biden, while 19 percent are unfavorable.

Rachel Osinuga, a 22-year-old senior at Texas Southern University, met Biden when he visited her campus last September in preparation for the debate. She said it was after personal interactions with him during a campus tour that she decided to support the former vice president.

“It was paramount to me to know that our political leaders were taking the time to listen,” she told The Washington Post regarding what was essential in determining whom to support in 2020.

While the plurality of young black Democrats support Sanders, Biden fares slightly better on the question of electability: 39 percent of black Democratic adults under 35 say Biden is the candidate with the best chance of defeating Trump, while 31 percent say Sanders is, with no other candidate reaching double digits.

Many black voters, including those in their 30s and 40s - and even 20s - share this view, said Keneshia Grant, a political professor at Howard University who focuses on black voters.

“I think what we have is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. In his strategy around 2020, I think Biden came out early and smartly, saying and suggesting that he was the Democrat who could beat Donald Trump,” she told The Post. “And I think a lot of black voters are more concerned about beating Trump.”

The data supports that. The Post-Ipsos poll found that more than 8 in 10 black registered voters said “it is important to them personally that Trump not win a second term.” Seven in 10 said that it is “extremely” important to them.

Grant said that while younger voters may align more ideologically with the Democratic Party’s more liberal wing on issues such as Medicare-for-all, many may be willing to temporarily sacrifice ideology for the sake of electability.

“I do think that folks would be making decisions based on policy if they believed they could have both,” she told The Fix.

Antjuan Seawright, a millennial and Democratic strategist based in South Carolina, said that older black millennials and Gen Xers may be backing the moderate candidate because their own politics may be more moderate on economic issues. And black voters in their 30s and 40s may support collaborating with the various factions of the left - and even conservatives - in ways that the youngest black voters may not.

With the first big contests weeks away, multiple candidates are hoping to have a strong enough showing to convince voters that they have what it takes to win the Democratic Party’s nomination. But in the midst of all the uncertainty, one thing seems clear: Biden’s support with black voters appears to be solidifying.

Eugene Scott writes about identity politics for The Fix.

Posted in New Britain Herald, Columns on Friday, 17 January 2020 20:24. Updated: Friday, 17 January 2020 20:26.