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What We Know About The Voters Who Swung Super Tuesday For Biden

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A key part of former Vice President Joe Biden’s success on Super Tuesday was his strong performance among voters who had only made up their minds in the last few days. According to exit poll data,1 Biden won at least 40 percent — if not more — of the late-deciding vote in every state except Sanders’s home state of Vermont.

Late voters turned the tide for Biden

Vote share by candidate among voters who decided in the last few days (“late” voters) and prior to the last few days (“early” voters), according to exit polls in 11 Super Tuesday states

Biden Sanders
State Early Late Diff. Early Late Diff.
Minnesota 24% 53% +29 45% 19% -26
Tennessee 34 61 +27 28 15 -13
California 19 44 +25 38 22 -16
Maine 22 47 +25 47 17 -30
Vermont 13 35 +22 64 32 -32
Massachusetts 24 43 +19 40 18 -22
Texas 29 45 +16 33 16 -17
North Carolina 39 53 +14 26 22 -4
Oklahoma 33 44 +11 35 16 -19
Virginia 50 59 +9 29 17 -12
Alabama 63 64 +1 20 11 -9

Colorado is not included as its exit poll was conducted prior to Election Day to account for its mostly mail-in balloting system and it included candidates who withdrew just ahead of Super Tuesday. We don’t have exit poll data from Arkansas, Utah or American Samoa.

Source: ABC NEWS/edison research

But who exactly were these voters? And why did they so overwhelmingly back Biden at the last minute? If we look at the exit poll data we have, there is a lot of variation from state to state, but there are a few key trends from Tuesday:

  1. Late deciders, on average, were more moderate.
  2. Voters in the Northeast (Maine, Massachusetts and Vermont) and the Midwest (Minnesota) were especially likely to decide late (nearly half did) while voters in some parts of the South and California were more likely to have cast their ballot early (in California, mail-in voting played a huge role in boosting early voting numbers).
  3. Biden picked up a lot of support among white voters who decided late.

Let’s unpack that first finding. Thirty-nine percent of late deciders said they were moderate, compared with 27 percent of those who had decided earlier. They were also somewhat more likely to say they wanted a candidate who could defeat Trump more than one who agreed with them on most issues.

The fact that this is something many late-deciding voters had in common makes sense. Both Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg did better among more moderate voters, as evidenced in Iowa and New Hampshire, and because they dropped out right before Super Tuesday, at least some moderate voters were forced to change their mind — and, perhaps aided by Buttigieg’s and Klobuchar’s endorsements, many broke for Biden.

But it wasn’t just moderates who broke for Biden. Very liberal voters were less likely to be late deciders overall, but Biden also saw a huge swing among these voters: an increase of 19 percentage points, while Sanders saw a huge decrease (22 points).

Voters across the ideological spectrum swung to Biden

Vote share by candidate among voters who decided in the last few days (“late” voters) and prior to the last few days (“early” voters) by ideology, according to exit polls in 11 Super Tuesday states

Biden Sanders
Group Early Late Diff. Early Late Diff.
Very liberal 15% 34% +19 54% 32% -22
Somewhat liberal 25 48 +23 35 20 -15
Moderate 45 56 +11 20 12 -8
Conservative 30 45 +15 25 14 -11
All 28 48 +20 36 19 -17

Colorado is not included as its exit poll was conducted prior to Election Day to account for its mostly mail-in balloting system and it included candidates who withdrew just ahead of Super Tuesday. We don’t have exit poll data from Arkansas, Utah or American Samoa.

Source: ABC NEWS/edison research

Second, there was a geographical divide in where late deciders cast their ballots, with a relatively larger percentage concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest. A majority (55 percent) of Minnesota voters, for instance, said they decided in the last few days, which probably had a lot to do with Klobuchar’s last-minute departure from the race. She had been polling about even with Sanders in Minnesota before she dropped out and on March 1 had a 1 in 2 chance to win her home state, according to the FiveThirtyEight model. Biden obviously benefited here, performing 29 points better among late-deciders than early ones, en route to an 8-point victory.

Late deciders also boosted Biden’s performance in the Northeast and helped Biden win both Maine and Massachusetts, states in which he had no better than a 1 in 4 chance of winning. In Maine, 47 percent of voters were late deciders, in Massachusetts 51 percent and in Vermont 38 percent were late deciders, with Biden even having a very narrow edge here too despite it being Sanders’s home state. Fewer voters in the South (34 percent) and California (18 percent) said they decided on a candidate in the last few days, though there were exceptions such as Oklahoma (50 percent) and Virginia (49 percent).

Third, Biden did really well among white voters, especially those who decided late: Of the 34 percent of white voters who made their minds up in the last few days, 51 percent of them went for Biden compared with 17 percent who backed Sanders. Overall, Biden bested Sanders among white voters in eight states, including a 15-point edge in Minnesota. He also ran close to Sanders among white voters in Maine and Texas, narrowly edging Sanders out in the former and trailing him only slightly in the latter.2 This marked a massive shift compared with voters who picked a candidate earlier.

White voters had the biggest last-minute swing

Vote share by candidate among voters who decided in the last few days (“late” voters) and prior to the last few days (“early” voters) by race, according to exit polls in 11 Super Tuesday states

Biden Sanders
Group Early Late Diff. Early Late Diff.
Black 60% 55% -5 17% 22% +5
White 23 51 +28 36 17 -19
Hispanic 21 37 +16 48 22 -26
All 28 49 +21 35 18 -17

Colorado is not included as its exit poll was conducted prior to Election Day to account for its mostly mail-in balloting system and it included candidates who withdrew just ahead of Super Tuesday. We don’t have exit poll data from Arkansas, Utah or American Samoa.

Source: ABC NEWS/edison research

But if we dig a bit deeper, we find certain groups of white voters were more likely to land on a candidate in the final days. For instance, 37 percent of white women were late deciders, more than any other group broken down by race and gender. As a whole, they made up 43 percent of late deciders, and 50 percent of them backed Biden. Though this was in line with the overall support for Biden among late deciders, the sheer number of white women (the single largest voting bloc on Super Tuesday) made it a key late-deciding group for Biden.

White voters aged 45 years or older were also likely to be late deciders. In fact, they made up half of all voters who made their vote choice in the final days. And of those, 57 percent supported Biden vote compared to only 11 percent for Sanders. That 46-point margin was nearly seven times larger than the 7-point edge for Biden over Sanders among older white voters who decided before the last few days.

But not all groups swung towards Biden in the last few days. Black voters were already very supportive, with more than half voting for him, and he didn’t make additional inroads with them. Even younger black voters, who were more likely to decide in the last few days than older ones, didn’t swing that much towards Biden in their decision.

Other polling bites

  • Here’s another interesting tidbit from Tuesday’s exit polls: Many voters went to the polls with coronavirus in mind. In California, 15 percent of respondents said that coronavirus was the most important factor in their vote, 37 percent said it was one of several important factors, 19 percent said it was a minor factor and 22 percent said it was not a factor at all. In Texas, 25 percent said it was the most important factor, 37 percent said it was one of several important factors, 20 percent said it was a minor factor and 15 percent said it was not a factor.
  • After former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg dropped out of the presidential race on Wednesday, Morning Consult released a snapshot of polling data from Monday and Tuesday on second-choice voter data and found that 48 percent of Bloomberg supporters’s identified Biden as their second-choice candidate. Twenty-five percent said Sanders was their second choice and 15 percent said Warren (who also dropped out on Thursday).
  • According to a HuffPost/YouGov poll, 43 percent of adults said they have more distrust than admiration for billionaires; just 18 percent said they have more admiration than distrust. However, 50 percent also said being personally wealthy doesn’t make a difference to how they see presidential candidates. Just 19 percent said it is a negative characteristic for presidential candidates, while 12 percent said it is a positive characteristic.
  • The Democratic primary for mayor of Baltimore is April 28, and a new WYPR/Baltimore Sun/University of Baltimore poll says it’ll be a close race. Former Mayor Sheila Dixon got 16 percent, City Council President Brandon Scott got 10 percent, former prosecutor Thiru Vignarajah got 10 percent, former city police spokesman T.J. Smith got 9 percent, former U.S. Treasury official Mary Miller got 7 percent, incumbent Mayor Jack Young (who acceded to the post when the previous mayor resigned) got 6 percent and state Sen. Mary Washington got 5 percent.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 42.9 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 52.9 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -10 points). At this time last week, 43.2 percent approved and 52.3 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -9.1 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 43.4 percent and a disapproval rating of 52.1 percent, for a net approval rating of -8.7 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot, Democrats currently lead by 6.9 percentage points (48.0 percent to 41.1 percent). A week ago, Democrats led Republicans by 6.5 points (47.8 percent to 41.3 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Democrats by 5.7 points (47.2 percent to 41.5 percent).

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.

Footnotes

  1. We have data for 11 states that voted on Tuesday. This excludes American Samoa, Arkansas, Colorado and Utah.

  2. Sanders won white voters by clear margins in California and Vermont.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

Laura Bronner is FiveThirtyEight’s quantitative editor.

Nathaniel Rakich is FiveThirtyEight’s elections analyst.

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