The dynamics of the 2020 Democratic primary are growing clearer post-Super Tuesday as millions more Americans have now voted, giving us new insight into the race’s larger trends and yielding some clues as to what we can expect from the contests to come.
Late-deciding voters broke decisively for former Vice President Joe Biden. Sen. Bernie Sanders is running up his margins with Hispanic voters. And although they both underperformed, former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg got more votes than Sen. Elizabeth Warren. And Democrats were deeply divided by age over their party and its future.
By the current delegate count, Sanders only narrowly trails Biden, but Super Tuesday still felt like a seismic shift in the race. The former vice president consolidated support among mainstream figures in his party after his big win in South Carolina, and he parlayed that into winning 10 states to Sanders’s four. It’s Sanders’s strength in California and Texas, the biggest delegate prizes, that allowed him to mostly keep pace.
But the primary terrain is thought to be more favorable to Biden in the coming weeks. That likely helps explain why he saw his odds of winning the nomination leap on Super Tuesday, according to the FiveThirtyEight forecast, while Sanders’s chances plunged.
There wasn’t one thing alone that precipitated such a dramatic turn in the race; a number of factors are responsible for the results we’ve seen so far. So let’s go through some of the things we saw on the 2020 campaign’s biggest day yet.
1) Late deciders voted overwhelmingly for Biden
One week ago, Joe Biden was not necessarily set up for a potentially massive Super Tuesday: His best finish was a distant second in Nevada, and even allies argued his campaign needed restructuring. Then things very quickly changed. He snagged his first win in South Carolina on Sunday, and then Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg dropped out and endorsed him. He also picked up an endorsement from another former 2020 candidate, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke. It all paid off: He won the delegate tally on election day and most of the states — including Klobuchar’s home state of Minnesota, where Sanders had polled well.
It was the late-deciding voters who swung the race: 47 percent of primary voters who said they decided in the last few days supported Biden versus 17 percent for Sanders, per the ABC News/Washington Post exit polling. They had been running pretty even among voters who decided earlier than that: 33 percent went for Sanders and 29 percent for Biden.
The trend shocked even the most seasoned election prognosticators.
In my lifetime, I've never seen an election where late deciders have broken so sharply from early voters than this one.— Dave Wasserman (@Redistrict) March 4, 2020
2) Young voters didn’t turn out
A big part of Sanders’s plan for winning the nomination revolves around turning out younger and less frequent voters, which research does show are big fans of the insurgent candidate. Sanders’s potential upside in a general election match-up with Trump is founded in his ability to turn out those people.
But overall, the youth vote hasn’t materialized for Sanders — so far — particularly on Super Tuesday in the critical state of Texas, according to Vox’s German Lopez:
Consider Texas: According to NBC News’s exit polls, the Democratic electorate actually skewed older in Tuesday’s primary compared to past primaries. In 2008 and 2016, 13 and 18 percent of the electorate, respectively, was 65 and older. In 2020, it was 24 percent.
Texas is getting older, but not at a rapid enough rate for that increase to be tied solely to state demographic trends. In fact, the share of the population that’s 65 and older is just 12.6 percent. Given Biden’s strength with this group of Texas voters — 46 percent support Biden, while just 16 percent support Sanders — that surge in older voters helps explain Biden’s narrow victory in the state.
3) Democrats have a gigantic age gap
The Democratic primary is probably best understood as generational warfare. Young voters overwhelmingly want Sanders, and older voters are just as resolutely behind Biden. Look at these exit poll numbers from ABC News/Washington Post:
- 58 percent of voters ages 18-29 voted for Sanders; just 17 percent picked Biden
- 41 percent of voters ages 30-44 felt the Bern; 23 percent chose Uncle Joe
- It flipped with voters ages 45-64 (42 percent for Biden, 25 percent for Bernie)
- Then the 65-and-over crowd was even more lopsided (48 percent for Biden and 15 percent to Sanders)
And if young voters aren’t turning out as much as the Sanders campaign hoped, that’s an advantage for Biden.
4) Latinos broke big for Sanders in California and Texas
These were the two most important states on Super Tuesday. Sanders relied on big margins with Latino voters in both to take an early lead in California and eke out a near tie with Biden in Texas.
As Vox’s Katelyn Burns noted regarding California, where about 1 in 10 of the Super Tuesday delegates will be won:
Sanders has focused his turnout efforts on working-class Latinx voters, and that strategy largely paid off for him in California Tuesday. The Vermont senator received 49 percent support from Latinx voters to Biden’s 12 percent.
In Texas, Sanders beat Biden among Latino voters 39 percent to 26 percent. Across all of the Super Tuesday states, he enjoyed an 11-point advantage, 36 percent to Biden’s 25 percent. It wasn’t quite as decisive as Biden’s support among black voters, but the Latino vote helped Sanders keep himself in the race on a night that probably didn’t go as his campaign hoped it would.
5) Black voters went for Biden everywhere
Black voters are going to be important for Biden throughout the primary and will be just as important for the Democratic nominee in the general election. They delivered South Carolina to him, and then Biden swept the southern states on Super Tuesday. It was the black electorate that allowed him to do so, according to exit polls: 58 percent of black voters supported Biden, versus 17 percent who opted for Sanders across the country on Tuesday.
In Alabama, North Carolina, and Virginia, Biden’s margins among black voters were even higher, nearing or topping a 70 percent share of the vote. If you look at the rough delegate lead Biden is expected to hold over Sanders once all the results are counted, you’ll find it is thanks to wins in those states.
6) Medicare-for-all support didn’t translate into a big Sanders win
Most Democratic voters support Sanders’s signature health care policy. But it didn’t deliver a decisive Super Tuesday victory.
The exit polls displayed Sanders’s problem: He beat Biden among voters who support Medicare-for-all, but Biden still picked up a decent chunk of those people — and the former vice president won easily with Democratic voters who prefer the public option. Exit polls aren’t a perfect metric, but the trend was consistent across the 14 states that voted on the primary’s biggest day.
From the ABC News/Washington Post exit polls, these were the averages across all of the Super Tuesday states:
- For voters who said health care was their most important issue, Biden outperformed Sanders, 38 percent to 30 percent
- Among voters who said they support replacing all private insurance with a single government plan for everyone, Sanders got 42 percent of the vote. But Biden still picked up 25 percent of these voters; Elizabeth Warren, another Medicare-for-all supporter who has said Democrats should start with a public option and then pass single-payer, was the choice for 15 percent of those voters
- Among voters who said they opposed Medicare-for-all, Biden won by a huge margin: 49 percent to Sanders’s 11 percent
7) Mike Bloomberg got more votes than Elizabeth Warren so far
In the ignominious race for third place, between two candidates who have had some memorably testy debate exchanges, it appears Bloomberg has a slight edge over Warren. At least for now — it’ll be days before the final votes are counted in California, though for the time being Bloomberg has a small lead there, too.
The New York Times is compiling the overall vote from the Super Tuesday states, and currently, the former New York City mayor has a 67,000-vote lead over the Massachusetts senator: 1,693,027 to 1,625,773.
Still, Bloomberg saw the writing on the wall and dropped out of the race on Wednesday. As for Warren, Vox’s Ella Nilsen and Emily Stewart covered the state of her campaign:
Pressure is mounting on Warren to drop out as well, but so far, she seems determined to stick with it, though it’s unclear how her performance on Super Tuesday, including a third-place finish in her home state of Massachusetts, may change her calculation. Warren’s campaign rolled out a lengthy memo over the weekend about her plans to continue throughout the spring and summer.
What Warren deciding to stay in the race means isn’t as clear-cut as you might think — voters aren’t super-ideological, and Sanders isn’t all of her supporters’ second choice, nor are all the Buttigieg and Klobuchar backers going to go to Biden.
In these and more ways, Super Tuesday was a clarifying moment in the 2020 campaign.