Former Vice President Joe Biden’s major selling point to Democratic primary voters is that he is in the best position to beat President Donald Trump in 2020. And while electability is difficult to measure, Biden has one thing going for him for now: the polls.
Biden continuously beats Trump by a wider margin than his Democratic opponents do.
A new Ohio Quinnipiac University poll is just the latest example of this phenomenon. Biden leads Trump by a 50% to 42% margin. Remember, Ohio wasn’t close in 2016. Even if this is another example of a Midwestern poll underestimating Trump, if Biden wins the Buckeye State by merely a point, he’s likely well on his way to an electoral college victory.
Of course, what I’m more interested in is the comparison between the Democratic candidates. All the non-Biden Democrats are either tied or trailing the President in Ohio.
Now if this were just one poll, Biden’s electability argument wouldn’t be strong. The thing is that Biden’s been doing better across the board. He was the only Democrat to beat Trump in Texas. Biden also held the largest leads over Trump in Florida and Pennsylvania, both important states in the electoral college. He has also been consistently running at least 3 points better than his fellow Democrats against Trump nationally.
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The Ohio Quinnipiac poll demonstrates a key facet as to why Biden is currently the strongest against Trump: he does better with non-Democrats. Among Republicans, for example, Biden loses to Trump by 76 points. That doesn’t seem good, but it’s much better than Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who loses this group by 87 points. Or take a look among independents: Biden wins them by 23 points compared to Warren’s 11 points. Among Democrats, Biden’s margin over Trump is similar to Warren’s (94 points vs. 92 points).
Biden, simply put, has better crossover appeal than his fellow Democrats at this point.
You can see this nationally. All the Democratic candidates hold negative ratings among non-Democratic primary voters. (You’d expect that, given this group is mostly Republicans.) Biden, though, has the least negative net favorability rating (favorable - unfavorable) of any of the major Democrats running, according to our latest CNN poll. His net favorability rating among non-Democratic primary voters is over 10 points higher than well-known Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders or Warren, for instance.
That Biden does routinely better than his fellow Democrats against Trump marks a significant difference from the 2016 race at this point. Back in late July 2015, Hillary Clinton couldn’t use the polls to say she did better against Trump than Sanders. In fact, Sanders actually led Trump by 5 points more than Clinton did in CNN’s July 2015 poll. Later on in the primary season, Sanders consistently did better than Clinton against Trump.
Will Biden’s electability argument hold later into the primary season? That’s difficult to say. Biden may lose some glow with non-Democrats after he gets attacked more. Keep in mind, further, that most Democrats are not as well known as Biden at this point.
Still, Biden is doing better than Sanders and Warren, who are well known nationally. Moreover, Biden’s relative edge lines up with recent political science research that shows a candidate more toward the middle (as Biden is) would do better in the general election.
If nothing else, Biden can, at least for now, use the electability to shield himself from some criticisms from other Democrats.