Super Tuesday: why Biden beat Bernie

Sanders’ ‘political revolution’ keeps failing to show up at the polls.

Sean Collins
US correspondent

Topics Politics USA

In American politics, there have been few reversals of fortunes like this. Only a week or so ago, Joe Biden’s campaign for president was widely thought to be on its deathbed. All of the focus was on Bernie Sanders and his apparent march to the Democratic nomination. But after Super Tuesday’s remarkable series of upsets, Biden has managed, in a matter of days, to flip the narrative and become the frontrunner.

Biden’s stunning comeback began with his win in the South Carolina primary on Saturday. His lead in the polls in the run-up to that primary had dwindled to single digits, but on the day of the vote he trounced Sanders. But even after South Carolina, the most optimistic scenario for Biden had him trailing Sanders by 200 delegates after Super Tuesday. Yet, by this morning, Biden had overtaken Sanders in delegates, and is projected to remain in the lead after the California results are announced.

Watching the vote tallies as they came in, state by state, it was one surprising win for Biden after another. First, he won across the south, including in Virginia and North Carolina, by larger-than-expected margins. Next, in the Bernie-friendly north-east region, in a huge upset, Biden won Massachusetts, beating Sanders and sending Elizabeth Warren to an embarrassing third place in her home state. Then he took Minnesota, benefitting from Amy Klobuchar’s withdrawal. Finally, in perhaps the most surprising result of them all, Biden somehow managed a come-from-behind win in delegate-rich Texas.

It’s worth noting that, in many of these states, Biden did not even campaign. He didn’t have offices. He barely had money for advertising and was outspent by a huge margin by Sanders and Michael Bloomberg (who had a dismal night and has now dropped out, proving that money – even half a billion dollars – doesn’t buy votes).

Much of Biden’s support was driven by momentum from South Carolina, and backed by media coverage that followed that primary. But it is rare for the boost from a primary victory in one state to yield results so quickly – in just three days – in other states. This rapid shift indicates that many Democrats had not really settled on a candidate prior to Super Tuesday. About half of voters in Virginia and Oklahoma, for example, said they made up their minds in the past few days. Across the 12 states in which exit polls were conducted, Biden won 47 per cent of voters who made their decision in the past few days, compared to 26 per cent who had decided earlier.

Biden was clearly given a big boost from the withdrawal of Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and Tom Steyer from the race. Those drop-outs, and their endorsements of him, provided him with an open path to secure the so-called ‘moderate lane’ of Democratic voters. Likewise, many of the party’s establishment figures came off the sidelines, and began to publicly back Biden. And on Super Tuesday, Biden capitalised on this party support. The results show that he came close to restoring the Obama coalition, gaining votes from a range of constituencies – African-Americans, college-educated whites, women in the suburbs, and Baby Boomers. Biden’s victories and the re-emergence of this coalition will boost his argument among the party that he is the most electable Democrat.

Despite wins in California and some other states, Super Tuesday was a major setback for Sanders. He underperformed in polls in almost every state, including his home state of Vermont and other parts of New England, as well as progressive California, where he was predicted to win by a landslide. Bernie claims he is creating ‘an unprecedented grassroots, multi-generational, multi-racial movement’, but there was no sign of that last night (nor in earlier primaries). His support is neither multi-generational nor multi-racial, as older Americans and black voters clearly back Biden. His vote is solid among the younger Democrats who vote, but fewer young people turn up to the polls. Bernie isn’t creating the new surge of voters that he promised. On Super Tuesday there were big increases in turnout in many states – in Virginia, it amazingly almost doubled compared with 2016 – but they were energised to come out to vote for Biden, not Sanders.

Sanders and his supporters are blaming the Democratic Party establishment for his poor showing. But this is unconvincing. Sure, the establishment wants to stop Sanders, but that is to be expected. Until a few days ago, the party hierarchy has been pretty disorganised and ineffective, and they gave Sanders (who wasn’t even a member of the party until recently) plenty of opportunity to get his message out. More to the point, it is hard to blame the ‘economic and political establishment’ when African-American voters were so prominent and decisive in rejecting Sanders – unless you want to argue that they are tools of the establishment as well.

The reality is that, so far, Sanders has had difficulty increasing his support above the 30 per cent level in many states. After his win in New Hampshire, he was tagged the frontrunner. For many Americans, it was the first time they took his candidacy seriously. But the past few weeks have not gone well for him. His shouty and defensive debate performance in Nevada didn’t help; nor did his 60 Minutes interview, in which he continued to say positive things about Cuba.

Super Tuesday exposed a problem Sanders has with significant numbers of voters outside of his base – cultural differences. Large segments of working-class voters, who are supposed to be Bernie’s constituency, went for Biden. That includes African-Americans and sections of white workers, especially in the south, middle America, and rural areas, where Sanders’ vote collapsed.

One thing these groups have in common is that they are more culturally moderate or conservative than Sanders and his supporters. Some political commentators argue that Sanders only cares about class issues, that he only wants Medicare for All. But many, especially in non-urban areas, recognise what the pundits don’t – that Bernie has got woke. Sure, he is no cultural warrior. But the ‘always consistent’ Bernie has changed his tune on a range of cultural-signifier issues – including new support for open borders, gun controls and a fracking ban – that are perceived in traditional working-class areas as attacks on their way of life, and as undemocratic impositions. On top of this, everyone notices that Bernie’s handpicked, most prominent surrogates are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, who are among the wokest the Democratic Party has to offer.

Many of these non-urban, working-class Democratic voters may have switched to Trump in 2016, and may not be returning to the Democrats. But it’s not like Trump’s support is rock solid, especially given his erratic performance in office. It’s not as if these voters can’t be persuaded to come back to the Democrats. Yet Bernie’s reactions to Trump have also cost him with these working-class Trump voters. For one thing, he was one of the loudest cheerleaders for the Russia-gate hysteria, going as far as introducing his own bill condemning Russia and Trump. For another, he was a prominent supporter of impeachment, one of the most flagrant attempts to overturn the people’s democratic vote.

Beyond Sanders’ own shortcomings, it may just be that this is not a year for his politics. In 2016, we saw the dams break, with both major parties facing challenges from outsiders claiming the populist mantle. The spirit that animated 2016 was change – a break-up of the old, and the rise of new political actors. In 2020, neither Trump nor Sanders is new. Indeed, the election in 2020 seems to be about rendering a verdict on Trump, who dominates American politics. And that verdict appears to be shaping up to be a question of whether or not to continue his chaotic rule, or to restore a more stable order without him.

Among many Democrats, Biden’s appeal seems to rest with the desire for stability. Biden himself talks about ‘healing’. It’s notable that the endorsements of Biden stress his personal qualities, such as his decency and empathy, rather than his ideology or policies. Representative Jim Clyburn, who was so decisive in turning black support towards Biden in South Carolina, praised Biden’s ‘goodness’. It seems that many Democrats are willing to overlook Biden’s gaffes, much in the way that Trump supporters give him the benefit of the doubt.

Of course, the race for the Democratic nomination is far from over. It is now a two-man contest, and Sanders still has a chance to prove himself. Biden’s senior moments and waffle on policy issues do remain a big liability for him. In many ways, the Democrats turned away from Biden months ago, checked out the other candidates, found them wanting, and are only settling for Biden now. The resurrection of his candidacy says a lot about the lack of political talent among the younger Democrats.

Once again, the voters have upended expectations. They have proved to be more engaged, attentive and critical than they are often given credit for. That’s a good thing, whatever the outcome.

Sean Collins is a writer based in New York. Visit his blog, The American Situation.

Picture by: Getty.

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jessica christon

5th March 2020 at 7:34 am

“These are good numbers. I don’t know. I mean, I should be at 100%, I hate to tell you, right?”

That doesn’t sound like he’s ‘bothered’, more like he’s embarrassed for them. And if Donald Trump is embarrassed for you, that means you’re really getting something wrong!

jessica christon

5th March 2020 at 7:36 am

That should be a reply to Johnnie Henley’s post on 4th March @11:40pm.

Jonnie Henly

5th March 2020 at 2:34 pm

I don’t think African Americans need to be overly concerned with whether Trump is embarrassed for them or not.

Rikhard Wright

5th March 2020 at 3:34 am

Often quoted, but never more appropriate than now: “If voting made any difference, they wouldn’t let us do it.” [Mark Twain]
Voters have no more upended expectations than Bush upended expectations in 2000, while Bush and Biden actually have far more in common than their allegiance to their respective political parties would suggest. They are both utter and complete Establishment men, and, today, that’s all you need.
The Establishment machinery, which owns media, corporations and banks, will see to the rest.
Set one foot outside the Establishment’s preferred “narrative”, and you’re out.
Surely Spiked is aware enough to realize that anyone who is against perpetual war in the name of USA interests must be totally ignored, or disposed of.
This isn’t conspiracy theory. It is transparent conspiracy, and it’s been going on for my entire life.
Our western elections are fixed. An uncomfortable concept, certainly, but that can’t be helped. Just look at the entire US Congress… Ages ago, Dennis Kucenich put forward serious articles of impeachment against the Bush administration for its lying about Iraq in order to justify its invasion of the country. The media yawned, and Kucenich was forgotten. Ron Paul also wanted to put an end to the US’s endless and ruinously expensive wars in countries which were of no legitimate American concern . He, too, was ignored by the media. And when the media decide to ignore somebody, they REALLY get ignored.
The result of all this is that again and again Americans are faced with only two choices: A warmonger, or a warmonger. Biden will do precisely what the Establishment wishes him to do. He hasn’t the wit to do otherwise. Sanders, on the other hand, while being no revolutionary, would certainly have rocked the boat enough to get many people thinking rationally about American wars.

Rikhard Wright

5th March 2020 at 4:01 am

Apologies for my reference to Spiked “being aware enough”, since Spiked was clearly not the author of this article.

Asif Qadir

5th March 2020 at 12:03 am

Shorn Dullins.

Trump supporters give him the benefit of rhe doubt?? For what?? I’d ask you to get a sense of humour but you seem to have one in your own way. “Biden’s gaffes” you say. Except that he’s clearly demented. You think I’m joking? If he makes the debates the whole world will see once again just how “engaged”, “attentive” and “critical” you lying leftists are to be supporting such a person. There’s a fair chance that Trump will win 48 states at this rate, and then there’ll be Donald Trump Jnr.

Jonnie Henly

5th March 2020 at 12:25 am

“There’s a fair chance that Trump will win 48 states at this rate”

And you call Biden “demented”!

Oh how brilliant.

Asif Qadir

5th March 2020 at 1:09 am

Ha, l like you Jonnie.

Asif Qadir

5th March 2020 at 1:13 am

Don’t be surprised tho…it might even end up being 49!!!

I’m hoping that Eric Trump might consider running after Donald Trump Jnr has had his two terms.

H McLean

4th March 2020 at 11:28 pm

Sanders is a grifter who has accomplished absolutely nothing in his lifelong political career. The nominee selection process allowed closer examination of his policies and, guess what, the American people do not want a communist sympathiser in the White House.

It is highly possible that neither Sanders nor Biden will garner enough delegates to win the nomination outright which makes a brokered convention all the more likely. The war for the soul of the Democrats just might lead to the party tearing itself apart, with the Wall St establishment elites most likely seeing off the ultra-progressive new-left wing of the party and setting Biden as their nominee. That’s when things will get much worse for the Democrats.

Once Biden comes up against Trump he will face the same rigorous inspection Sanders has had to endure over recent weeks, and it will be his undoing. Trump will shine a very bright light on Biden’s Ukraine corruption, his gaffes and all too frequent senior moments and his outright creepy behaviour for everyone to see. Of course, many Democrats will hold their nose and vote for him regardless, but many more – centrists, moderates, swing voters and disillusioned old school Democrats – will look at the economy and vote for Trump in a landslide.

Jonnie Henly

4th March 2020 at 11:44 pm

“Trump will shine a very bright light on Biden’s Ukraine corruption”

That didn’t work out too well for him last time.
Trump’s also going to have a hard time going after Biden because of his gaffes, given he makes so many of his own.

He didn’t do that against any of his opponents in 2016.

Biden’s also faced rigorous inspection and scrutiny multiple times in his career, indeed arguably more so than Trump has.

Melissa Jackson

5th March 2020 at 7:30 am

Yes dear, if you say so.

The problem is that the Democrats attempts to paint themselves as “the good guys” are totally undermined by the shady and/or illegal things they get involved with.

Trump doesn’t need to make a legal case against the Bidens activities in Ukraine. He just has to say “Joe is just as bad”.

If creepy uncle Joe isn’t seen to maintain a higher standard than Trump, especially regarding his son being used to facilitate access for undesirables, then Joe has no leg to stand on.

This is something that was forgotten in the last election – The message that Ms Clinton was on the right side of history, juxtaposed with her delight in drone striking people and corrupt relationship with just about every regime outside the US led to voters flatly refuse to join her on the “right side”.

Trump may be weird and erratic, but at least when he goes off book and comes out with something insane it tends to be something his supporters want to hear. When Biden mumbles something crazy he just looks old.

This is what happened in the UK too. Boris got away with a million stupid comments, because his personality is a jester. The super-earnest Corbyn had to answer for every poorly judged declaration of support for an enemy of Britain.

Jonnie Henly

5th March 2020 at 2:33 pm

Saying: “The other side is bad too” is not a vote winning strategy. It’s never worked out well for any politician.

Besides, Biden has always been a jester, he was a jester throughout his time as VP and no one minded.

Trump could win against Hillary because she was the perfect archetype of the polar opposite of Trump. She was his perfect nemesis.

Biden isn’t.

Jonnie Henly

4th March 2020 at 11:06 pm

“But the ‘always consistent’ Bernie has changed his tune on a range of cultural-signifier issues – including new support for open borders, gun controls”

These issues have been fairly mainstream in liberal politics for decades.
It’s pretty absurd to claim that any Democratic candidate who speaks about them frequently has “got woke”.

Then again, woke is an overused meaningless term that now apparently means whatever someone wants it too. It is nothing more than an irrelevant buzzword now.

Jonnie Henly

4th March 2020 at 11:03 pm

“More to the point, it is hard to blame the ‘economic and political establishment’ when African-American voters were so prominent and decisive in rejecting Sanders – unless you want to argue that they are tools of the establishment as well.”

Is the same thing true of Donald Trump and the GOP in general?
They are forever complaining about the establishment, the “liberal elite” etc and it’s their go to excuse whenever they lose…. yet they’ve been prominently and decisively rejected by African Americans for decades.
African Americans favoured Clinton over Trump by huge margins, for example.

Were they tools of the establishment, out to undermine Trump in 2016 then?

H McLean

4th March 2020 at 11:35 pm

Point of interest – Trump’s approval rating among African American voters recently hit 43%, which is the highest African American approval rating for any Republican president ever recorded.

Jonnie Henly

4th March 2020 at 11:40 pm

Says it all really. Even at its highest ever point, the majority of African Americans reject Trump and the GOP. Something that clearly bothers him:

“President Trump told black supporters at a White House Black History Month event that his approval rating with the African American community should be higher.

“I just want to congratulate the black community because what you’ve done in the progress you’ve made over the last three years,” the president said at the Thursday night celebration.

“The African American poverty rate has plummeted to the lowest level in the history of our country,” Trump added. “These are good numbers. I don’t know. I mean, I should be at 100%, I hate to tell you, right?”

Tinfoil Hat

4th March 2020 at 7:57 pm

I wonder when the President of Ukraine will come clean about Biden’s son or has he already?

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