Biden's Enthusiasm Gap Among Democrats Poses Challenge
Joe Biden has taken the lead away from President Donald Trump in national polls, but his campaign may have serious issues with a lack of enthusiasm among his party’s core base.
On Sunday, Trump’s deputy campaign manager, Bill Stepien, released a memo to the public outlining why they believed the recent slate of predictions dooming the president to losing reelection were inaccurate. Stepien, in particular, argued that polling aside, Trump is in a stronger position than the presumptive Democrat nominee because the GOP base is united behind his candidacy.
“President Trump has historic support within his own party,” the deputy campaign manager wrote, noting that Republicans had already broken the primary vote totals for previous incumbents seeking reelection. “By contrast, former Vice President Joe Biden and his campaign have yet to inspire or coalesce their own base.”
Although Stepien did not elaborate on how Trump could take advantage of Biden’s supposed enthusiasm gap, the issue has significant relevance.
In 2016, the dropoff in turnout among voters in the Democrats base, especially voters of color, contributed to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s narrow defeat in the Electoral College. A number of national polls taken in the past month hint the same fate may face Biden this November.
A CNN survey released in mid-June showed Biden leading Trump nationally by 14-points, 51 percent to 41 percent. While those numbers appeared good for the former vice president, other portions of the poll indicated voters were not so much casting a vote for Biden, but rather a vote against Trump.
For example, the CNN survey found that 70 percent of those backing Trump said they were doing so because they supported the president’s record, while only 27 percent said the decision was influenced by their dislike of the Democrat nominee. Biden’s numbers, on the other hand, showed a less-devoted base of support. Of the respondents who said they would be backing Biden, only 37 percent claimed it was because of the former vice president’s positions, while 60 percent said it was, in effect, a way to show opposition to Trump.
The enthusiasm issue, though, has not only manifested itself in polling. Turnout in recent Democrat primaries and caucuses also seems to signal the former vice president is struggling with his base.
Since Biden’s main rival, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), dropped out in early April, 18 states and the District of Columbia have held their nominating contests. In each of those, the former vice president has not been able to garner more than 85 percent of the vote, despite in some states no other candidate even appearing on the ballot. Biden failed to even break 75 percent in a number of contests, including Ohio (72 percent) and New Mexico (73 percent).
The results have been poorest in swing states, especially those in the industrial Midwest. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Biden only received nearly 79 percent of the vote, despite the race being uncontested. Sanders, who has endorsed the former vice president since dropping out of the contest, garnered 18 percent.
Overall, the results bode even worse when compared to Trump’s performance in the state’s Republican primary. While the president was also uncontested, with former governor Bill Weld having dropped out in March, Trump received more than 93 percent of the GOP vote.
In total, Trump garnered around 934,000 voters in the Republican primary, compared to Biden’s 914,000 in the Democrat nominating contest. The former vice president had initially trailed Trump by nearly 100,000 votes in their respective primaries on Election Day, but the margin narrowed after all the mail-in-ballots had been counted.
Biden’s lower tally was all the more surprising as around 440,000 more Democrats cast votes in the presidential primary than Republicans.
The former vice president’s enthusiasm problem was further on display when Kentucky and New York went to the polls. Although neither state has finalized their tallies from the presidential primary, the partial results do not bode well for Biden.
In New York, Biden currently leads with more than 67 percent of the vote, with Sanders in second place with 19 percent. Meanwhile, in Kentucky, partial results show Biden winning with nearly 61 percent of the vote, while Sanders and the other candidates no longer in the race took nearly 40 percent combined.
The exact reason for Biden’s issue energizing Democrats remains unclear. It likely stems from the former vice president’s difficulty in courting supporters of Sanders’ failed presidential campaign. Since the self-described Democrat socialist dropped out and endorsed Biden, former members of his political movement have been unwilling to do likewise.
The sentiment among Sanders supporters was summed up by the one-time national press secretary for the senator’s campaign, Briahna Joy Gray, in late-April.
“I supported Bernie Sanders because he backed ideas like Medicare for All, canceling ALL student debt, [and] a wealth tax,” Gray said shortly after Sanders decided to throw his weight behind the former vice president. “Biden supports none of those.”