Maybe it is strategically unwise to build a presidential candidacy based on winning back a sizable number of white voters who supported Obama and flipped to Trump. Roughly seven in 10 Obama-to-Trump voters approve of Trump’s job performance, according to a recent Morning Consult poll of these voters in the swing states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. How can anyone who is serious about defeating Trump think Democrats should nominate a candidate on the theory that he can win back voters who Morning Consult says “resemble Republicans” and who overwhelmingly approve of Trump—over a candidate who can win back voters who “resemble Democrats” and who overwhelmingly disapprove of Trump? Roughly seven in 10 other swing voters—those who voted for Obama in 2012 and did not vote in 2016—disapprove of Trump in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Morning Consult called them “low-hanging electoral fruit” in three states Clinton lost by less than 80,000 votes combined.
The low-hanging fruit is disproportionately composed of young voters, and especially young black voters. Democratic primary voters should value candidates’ performance with these other swing voters as much as they value their performance with white swing voters. Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren are running first and second among voters under 35, according to the latest national poll by Quinnipiac University. Among young black voters, Sanders is outpacing Biden by double digits. Only Warren and the businessman Andrew Yang register more than 1 percent support among this crucial group of swing voters. Black support—young or old—for Buttigieg and Klobuchar is nearly nonexistent—as is their chance of defeating Trump without heavy black support.
Young black swing voters who are not supporting Biden are more likely to be progressive and less likely to identify as Democrats than their elders. They look at Biden’s record—from pushing “tough on crime” and welfare-reform legislation to mistreating Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings to demeaning black parents—and are repelled. Like Clinton’s super-predator video, I fear Biden’s record can push the other swing voters into not voting.