Here’s my other thought on Joe Biden and the broader Democratic primary race.
I’m happy to have the nominee be Joe Biden. I’m happy to have it be one of the other candidates. There are some who are in the race as basically a joke – members of the House unable to crack .5% etc. – but there are lots of good people. What does matter a whole lot to me is that it’s someone who looks like a strong candidate against President Trump. Right now at least polls show Biden is clearly the strongest candidate against Trump. He’s usually several points ahead of Trump nationally and in key states – significantly stronger than the others.
Sanders is consistently a bit weaker than Biden but not a lot. The three other candidates in the top five (Warren, Harris and Buttigieg) generally poll significantly weaker, usually within the margin of error or tied with Trump. These are of course only ranges of a few points. But when a few points show up consistently over time they’re very meaningful.
It is important to understand that perceived electability can create a feedback loop of support in a primary race. It doesn’t do that in general election match-ups. The people up for grabs in a general election are people deciding between the two parties or one of the parties and a third party. By definition they aren’t focused on the most electable candidate from a party they might not even vote for.
Many people say we don’t know that Biden is the most electable. That’s 100% true. But it’s not true that polling gives us no data on that front. These polls can change. There’s a good argument that they may change for those other three as voters get to know them better. (Sanders is, I think, in the same boat as Biden: 100% name recognition.) We also don’t know how Biden holds up over time as a primary candidate. He could run poorly and get weaker. There are lots of unknowns. But those polls aren’t meaningless.
My fear or concern is that these patterns will persist. It’s not a fear exactly. If the margin persists and Biden is nominated and wins the 2020 election, awesome. I’m perfectly happy with that. But I’m not really confident that the others will catch up on the head to heads. If that’s the case then I would want to be sure Biden is the nominee because, to me, the stakes or way to high not to go with a candidate that has a strong shot at winning as opposed one where it’s more a 50/50 proposition. Unfortunately that creates a pretty negative potential dynamic in the primaries – supporters of other candidates will feel their candidate is being pushed to the side because of perceptions of electability they don’t agree with.
Now, don’t say, Josh! These polls are early! Don’t write off these other candidates! Joe sucks! etc. We don’t have to have that argument because I’m not writing off anyone. We won’t have a nominee until next Spring and no one is even going to vote for another six-plus months. We have plenty of time to see these other candidates introduce themselves to the electorate and show they’re strong candidates against Trump. I’m just less certain than I was that that’s going to happen. To me, everything takes a back seat to beating Trump.