vision 2020

Will Pete and Amy’s Abandoned Voters Move to Biden?

Buttigieg presses the flesh in South Carolina. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

With Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar withdrawing from the presidential race and signaling that they will both endorse Joe Biden, it’s logical to assume that most past supporters of these two high-speed drivers in the “moderate lane” will move right to Team Joe, just in time to give him a big Super Tuesday boost. But that’s actually not 100 percent clear.

For one thing, early voting means that an untold number of Super Tuesday votes have already been cast for Buttigieg and Klobuchar. One estimate is that 40 percent of Californians who plan to vote had already voted by the end of the weekend, and there has been robust early voting in the other very large Super Tuesday state, Texas. These are votes that obviously won’t be available to Biden.

Beyond that, as Ron Brownstein has pointed out, just calling them “moderates” and assuming they’ll now support Biden ignores the fact that Buttigieg and Klobuchar voters actually share an important characteristic with Elizabeth Warren fans:

[T]he biggest tactical question following Buttigieg’s departure is whether his supporters re-sort more along ideological or class lines. At his events in Iowa and New Hampshire, I found more voters considering Warren—another brainy, policy-focused candidate—than either Biden or Sanders. (The same was true of Buttigieg at Warren events.) The link seemed less about ideology than about demonstrable fluency and expertise …

So far, neither Sanders nor Biden has proved himself particularly well-suited—especially in stylistic terms—for the white-collar white voters common at events for Buttigieg, Warren, and Klobuchar. Sanders’s best showing among white voters with at least a college degree was in Nevada, with 24 percent, according to the entrance poll; in the other states that have voted, he hasn’t exceeded 21 percent of their votes. Biden posted a very strong 39 percent among college-educated white voters in South Carolina, but before that his numbers had reached only 15 percent in Nevada, 16 percent in Iowa, and a bruising 6 percent in New Hampshire, according to the Election Day polls.

You could see Warren, whose most important Super Tuesday goal is avoid the very real campaign-ending possibility of losing her home state to Sanders, picking up some past Buttigieg and Klobuchar supporters. But it’s unclear where they would go if that’s just a brief stop:

The result: A huge bloc of college-educated white votes is now parked with two candidates who just left the race and a third who, at this point, has a vanishingly small chance of actually becoming the nominee.

These voters aren’t guaranteed to become the tipping point in a Sanders-Biden race. They aren’t distributed as evenly across the upcoming states as white voters without a college degree, so they may not shape the result in as many places. And there’s no assurance that they will coalesce behind one candidate. But there’s no question that there is enough of them to make a difference if they do.

Upscale, white, “wine track” voters were an important part of Democratic down-ballot suburban success in 2018. So looking at how suburban votes play out on Super Tuesday (and the rest of March, when 11 more states hold primaries) could be instructive in terms of both the Democratic nominating contest and the November general election.

Will Pete and Amy’s Abandoned Voters Move to Biden?