AP VoteCast: Biden edges out Sanders on electability

WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden came into Tuesday’s primaries riding a wave of voter confidence about his chances of victory in November.

Democratic primary voters in Michigan, Missouri and Mississippi are more likely to think the former vice president could defeat President Donald Trump in the general election, compared with Biden’s top rival, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, according to AP VoteCast surveys in the three states.

That perception of electability is part of what is drawing Democrats to rally around the more moderate Biden, who has emerged as the party’s front-runner thanks to moderate and conservative voters moving quickly in his direction.

The presidential race has become increasingly uncertain in recent days as the outbreak of the coronavirus led to a plunge in the stock market and new jitters about the economy. Here is a look at voters’ views as they cast their ballots in half of the six primary contests on Tuesday.

ELECTABILITY

Voters generally view Biden as the better match against Trump. About 80% in Michigan and Missouri believe Biden could beat the incumbent, while roughly 90% in Mississippi feel that way. Just about two-thirds of voters in each state thought Sanders was likely to defeat the incumbent president.

Still, there is some notable indecision among primary voters about whom they’ll cast a ballot for in November. Roughly 80% in each state say they will definitely vote for the Democratic candidate against Trump no matter who is nominated. But about 20% say their decision depends on which candidate becomes the nominee.

In Michigan, a state that flipped Republican in 2016, those undecided voters looked more like potential Trump voters than liberals unhappy with the prospect of a Biden nomination. Among voters saying their November decision depends on the nominee, about 20% describe themselves as conservative and roughly 60% say they are moderate. That’s true in Republican-leaning Missouri as well.

WHERE IS THE ENTHUSIASM?

Even if Democratic primary voters like their odds in November, enthusiasm isn’t overwhelming. Just about half of voters in Michigan and Missouri and roughly 60% in Mississippi say they are very enthusiastic about the candidate they are supporting in the primary. In all three states, roughly a third are somewhat enthusiastic. About 10% expressed little to no enthusiasm.

Many voters — ranging between about a third in Mississippi and 40% in Missouri — say they made their decision at the last minute. Those who made their decisions well before the final stretch were far more likely than those who just decided to express high enthusiasm about their candidate.

TOP ISSUES

Despite fears that the coronavirus could stop the longest economic expansion in U.S. history, there does not yet appear to be a spike in voters’ concern about the economy. Just about 1 in 10 voters in Missouri said the economy was the most important. Only 18% in Michigan described the economy and jobs as most critical, roughly comparable to the share saying that of climate change.

In Mississippi, where a majority of voters were African American, about a quarter viewed the economy as the top issue. That’s about the same share as in Alabama, which voted last week.

Health care was the top issue for voters in all three states, as it has been in other Democratic presidential contests. Close to half of voters in Missouri, and about 40% of voters in Michigan and Mississippi, name health care the top priority.

UNFAIR ECONOMY

Still, economic inequality is a key concern for Democrats.

Roughly three-quarters of voters in each state consider the economic system in this country to be unfair, similar to Democratic voters in contests earlier this year. Many — a third or more — call the system “very unfair.”

About a quarter of voters said they were “falling behind” financially, while majorities felt they were holding steady. Roughly half of voters in Michigan, and about 60% of voters in Missouri and Mississippi, who are “falling behind” called the system highly unfair.

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AP VoteCast is a survey of the American electorate conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for The Associated Press and Fox News. The surveys were conducted for seven days, concluding as polls closed.

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