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Biden and The Moderate Lane

by Caitlin Peartree

By David Winston and Myra Miller

Since Joe Biden’s stunning reversal of fortune coming out of South Carolina and into Super Tuesday, much has been said about Biden “consolidating the moderate lane,” now that Buttigieg, Bloomberg and Klobuchar have dropped out and endorsed him. He may have consolidated the moderate lane of presidential candidates and re-emerged as the frontrunner over Sanders, but this doesn’t mean that the Democratic Party has suddenly become more moderate again in the past week. 

As we have raised in Discussion Points before, a majority of Democratic voters are now self-identifying as liberal (51%) over moderate (38%) – a stark contrast to the composition of the party when Democrats won the majority in 2006 in which the party was more moderate (51%) than liberal (38%). Ever since then, the Democratic Party’s steady trajectory toward identifying as liberal over moderate has not changed. What happened in states like South Carolina and many other Super Tuesday states is that Biden won liberals overall, or at least performed well enough among liberal voters, particularly among “somewhat liberal” voters, then won by large margins among moderates to be able to pull off a win. 

In South Carolina, exit polls show that Biden won among liberals (+17), including “very liberal” (+13), matching that with a large victory among moderates (+44). In states like Texas, Massachusetts and Minnesota, Sanders still won the overall liberal vote by single digits, but Biden was able to win among the “somewhat liberal” and gain a reasonable percentage of liberal voters, combined with large wins among moderates. In Virginia, Biden managed to win among liberals (+16). Though Sanders still won the “very liberal” by 4, Biden won 2:1 among the somewhat liberal, which was a much larger group (34% of the state’s Democratic primary voters) compared to the very liberal (19% of the state’s Democratic primary voters). 

As a long term trend among Democratic voters, the moderate lane is becoming more of a shrinking side road, with the liberal lane becoming the main highway toward the Democratic nomination. Biden may have successfully performed among the two wings of his party, but this challenge has certainly not gone away, with implications for their convention, party platform and positioning for the general election.