Four years ago this month, Democrats met in Philadelphia, and despite all the efforts of convention managers and Bernie Sanders himself, the convention was marked by ugly demonstrations inside and outside the arena against the hegemony of the party’s nominee, Hillary Clinton. According to a Cooperative Congressional Election Study, only 74 percent of 2016 Sanders primary voters eventually voted for HRC in November; 12 percent voted for Trump and 9 percent voted for minor-party candidates. Democratic unity was clearly a major problem that contributed to Clinton’s narrow Electoral College loss.
According to data collected by the New York Times’s Nate Cohn from Times/Siena polling of battleground states, party unity doesn’t look to be a problem Joe Biden will confront this November:
Over all, voters in the battleground states who said Bernie Sanders was their top choice for president said they backed Mr. Biden over President Trump, 87 percent to 4 percent. If there was a Bernie-or-Bust movement, it has either faded with the conclusion of the Democratic race, or it never existed in serious numbers in the battleground states.
Mr. Biden commands even more significant support from voters who supported Elizabeth Warren in the primary. The Democrats who said she was their top choice to be the Democratic nominee backed Mr. Biden over Mr. Trump by a staggering margin of 96 percent to 0 percent — even wider than Mr. Biden’s 96-1 lead among those who said he was their top choice in the Democratic primary.
Less surprisingly, “supporters of Pete Buttigieg, Michael Bloomberg and Amy Klobuchar back Mr. Biden by 87-6.” But in general, the standard “Democrats in Disarray” narrative doesn’t seem relevant this year. And Democrats don’t seem open to persuasion about Trump:
No Warren supporter in the survey — which was conducted in June — allowed for the possibility that there was even “some chance” they would vote for Mr. Trump.
This powerful antipathy to the incumbent should be recalled when reviewing findings —which are in the Times/Siena data as well — that many Democrats are more interested in voting against Trump than for Biden:
By 69-26, Sanders supporters say their vote is more a vote against Mr. Trump than a vote for Mr. Biden. Warren supporters also say it’s mainly a vote against the president, by a margin of 61 percent to 36 percent.
Yes, this means less “enthusiasm” for Biden than is exhibited by Trump supporters, but at the same time, Biden supporters express a high likelihood to vote. “Positive” voters don’t get bonus points over “negative” voters, so “enthusiasm” may not matter. There is a small falloff in the data Cohn reviews in likelihood to vote for former Sanders supporters, but it’s probably because of their disproportionate youth rather than misgivings about Biden; younger voters almost invariably turn out at lower levels than their elders.
Today’s Democratic unity could be tested by some future Biden misstep or gaffe or by disgruntlement with his vice-presidential choice. But for now, the best not-so-secret weapon for Democrats is the laserlike focus of their rank-and-file on getting Trump out of the White House. The president’s current wallowing around in racism, coronavirus evasions, and generally nasty divisiveness will only enhance the strength of Biden’s coalition.