Update 418 — Super Suburban Tuesday:
Late Boomers Lend Biden Latent Boost
Last night, over 11 million voters in 14 states selected their choice to face President Trump in the November election. Vice President Biden took ten states including Texas. Sen. Sanders won the other four primaries including California. Delegate numbers are still being determined, but it looks like Biden will walk away with a slight lead, with 32 states still to vote.
Below, we analyze the Super Tuesday results, asking 1) whether the Democratic nomination process has moved toward resolution or toward replication of the 2016 contest which lasted until July and 2) how this augurs for a progressive economic policy agenda in 2020.
Was last night a rejection of the progressive economic policy agenda, including proposals such as Medicare for All, a $15/hour minimum wage, and a wealth tax? Exit polling reveals that major economic issues like health care and income inequality were on the tops of voters’ minds, but electability overshadowed these concerns.
A plurality of ‘late deciders’ voted for Biden, leaning in on the electability argument espoused by high-profile endorsers, Mayor Buttigieg, Sen. Klobuchar, and Beto O’Rourke. We examine the competing explanations for last night’s results below.
With millions of Americans without insurance or underinsured, health care is a salient issue for many voters. And health care was by far the most important policy concern for Democratic Super Tuesday voters. Forty percent of voters exit-polled chose health care as the most important issue when deciding for whom to vote.
Of the remaining candidates, Vice President Biden advocates for a public option as an expansion on the Affordable Care Act, while both Sens. Sanders and Warren favor Medicare for All.
Medicare for All has broad popular support; per CNN exit polls, at least 50 percent of Democratic primary voters in every Super Tuesday state support government-provided health care coverage over private insurance. Yet, despite his opposition to single-payer, Biden pulled a resounding victory in many of those states. Of Super Tuesday voters who chose health care as their primary issue, 39 percent voted for Biden, compared to 30 percent who voted for Sanders and 10 percent who voted for Warren.
But policies such as Medicare for All show big majorities in polls, so why did Biden amass the most votes? One explanation: many voters chose Biden because of electability concerns, rather than his policy platform. This is borne out by exit polls: of Super Tuesday voters who would rather nominate a candidate who agrees with them on major issues, just 25 percent voted for Biden, compared to 39 for Sanders and 12 percent who voted for Warren. Of voters who would rather nominate a candidate who could beat Donald Trump, 43 percent voted for Biden.
Twenty-one percent of Super Tuesday voters said income inequality was their most important issue. Income inequality in the U.S. has accelerated and is the highest among G7 countries. Since 1968, the highest earning 20 percent increased their share of total national income from 43 to 52 percent, and the highest earning five percent increased their income share from 16 to 23 percent.
Sanders performed well among these voters — 35 percent of voters who said income inequality was their top choice cast their vote for Sanders, compared to the 28 percent and 18 percent who voted for Biden and Warren, respectively. In delegate-rich California, 24 percent of voters said income inequality was their top issue, and nearly half of that group supported Sanders.
With such a contrast, why didn’t Sanders run up the score with these voters and translate his populist message into more delegates? Warren may have prevented such a scenario. The two northeastern Senators are in the same ideological lane and, like Sanders, Warren performed well among voters citing income inequality as their major concern. By splitting the vote, the two progressive candidates may be masking just how important this issue is to the Democratic base.
- Tax policy: The wealth tax is just one small difference between Sen. Sanders and Vice President Biden’s tax plans and fiscal policy proposals. In totalling his health care, housing, higher education, clean energy, social security expansion, universal preschool and childcare, and infrastructure proposals, Sanders seeks $50-60 trillion in new federal spending over ten years. To pay for it all, Sanders pegs about $30 trillion in new taxes, mostly from businesses and wealthy taxpayers. Biden takes a scalpel to the tax code by partially rolling back the 2017 Trump tax law, raising taxes on capital gains, and eliminating certain deductions and loopholes — bringing in $3.7 trillion in revenue over ten years.
- Housing: Creating more affordable housing stock is on the top of both Biden and Sanders’ list, but they disagree on how much to invest. Sanders’ housing plan calls for a $1.48 trillion investment to the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund. It also includes investment in green technology and decarbonizing housing as part of “the Green New Deal,” of which Biden is critical. Biden’s plan calls for a much more modest $20 billion investment in the Trust Fund. Both plans end unfair lending practices like redlining.
- Minimum wage: Vice President Biden and Sen. Sanders are generally in agreement when it comes to the minimum wage. Both Biden and Sanders support raising the federal minimum wage to $15/hour and eliminating the tipped minimum wage, which currently sits at a meager $2.13/hour. It could be the Democratic party has reached an apparent consensus that the government should ensure all workers a living wage?
The Campaign Continues
The race narrowed over the weekend and again yesterday, yielding a two-person race, for all intents and purposes. Super Tuesday again demonstrated that many voters see beating Trump as the highest priority this year, deciding that Biden is the best candidate to accomplish that task. The prize is front-runner status and the massive scrutiny that accompanies it.
Did voters choose Biden for his electability prospects or his policies? Will progressives seek to convince Biden, if nominated, to take up structural economic policy reforms supported in fact by a broad Democratic majority. The popular economic programs of Medicare for All, $15/hr minimum wage, and wealth taxes seem to be gaining momentum across a diverse and younger electorate. The contest between electability versus policies will continue; we look towards the Michigan primary on March 10 to give us the next clue as to who will represent the Democratic Party in November.