Former Vice President Joe Biden clinched a win in Michigan’s primary on Tuesday night, delivering a tough blow to Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Biden appeared to perform well both with Michigan’s African American population and its white working class, two groups Democrats hope to turn out in a general election against President Donald Trump. The state contains 125 delegates; it is also a key one for Democrats hoping to do well in the Electoral College in November.
To underscore his strength with African American voters nationally, Biden held a large rally in Detroit on Monday night with Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA), two black senators who were former candidates for president and who endorsed Biden in recent days.
“Sanders spent a lot more time here in 2016 and has again in 2020, but the Biden campaign has taken Michigan more seriously than the Clinton campaign did,” Michigan State University political scientist Matt Grossman told Vox on Monday.
A slew of recent polls in Michigan largely showed Biden with a commanding lead. A Monday Monmouth University poll found Biden ahead of Sanders by 15 points, and a Data for Progress poll released the same day showed Biden 21 points ahead. Earlier ones by Mitchell Research and EPIC-MRA for the Detroit Free Press in the days before Tuesday showed Biden 21 points and 24 points ahead of Sanders in the state, respectively.
It’s important to note Sanders pulled off an upset win in the 2016 primary after polls showed him 21 points behind former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But while those polls had not accounted for the young voters who make up much of Sanders’s enthusiastic base, the 2020 polls were adjusted to account for young voters. It didn’t shake out that way for Sanders this time.
“We’re still expecting an older electorate ... but the polls have been updated to reflect the likelihood of more young people turning out,” Grossman said. “The polls last time really undershot both the level of youth turnout and the level of Bernie’s support.”
The EPIC-MRA poll showed Biden with a massive lead among older voters (who make up 56 percent of the electorate), 65 percent to Sanders’s 14 percent. And that poll also showed voters are putting a heavy premium on electability; 57 percent said they wanted a candidate who could beat Trump, compared to 34 percent who said they would vote for someone who aligned with their issues. Among voters who wanted a candidate to beat Trump, Biden was the clear winner.
Even with strong support in Detroit, polls here have also shown Biden doing well among white voters. This constituency matters if Biden wants to make a general election argument that he can beat Trump among white working class voters, as well as boost African American turnout.
Grossman added one potential problem for Sanders in Michigan is that Latinos don’t make up a big part of the state’s electorate. Latinos have been an important voting constituency for Sanders in states including Nevada and California. But their relative absence in Michigan was tough for Sanders.
Biden’s win in Michigan was another significant step toward the nomination. It could also be a big boost for his general election argument.