A new CNN poll shows Biden leading Sanders by a margin of 52 percent to 36 percent in a two-person race. The biggest dividing line is age — voters under 45 said they prefer Sanders by nearly 2-to-1, while voters 45 or older picked Biden by more than 4-to-1.
That generational gap looms over another big day of voting Tuesday, with Democratic voters in Michigan, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota and Washington set to deliver their verdict on who should be the party’s nominee to take on President Donald Trump. It’s also the last day for Democrats living abroad to participate in the primary.
Here are five things to watch on Super Tuesday II.
1. Will Sanders see a turnout revolution?
Sanders has said his path to the presidency involves young and irregular voters turning out in big numbers to outnumber establishment-friendly Democrats. So far, the opposite has happened. There hasn’t been a progressive revolution for change; there has been a suburban revolution for normalcy.
Consider the results from Virginia last week. Compared to 2016, the Democratic primary turnout surged in upscale suburban areas like Loudoun County from 36,149 to 71,632, and in Fairfax County from 139,818 to 244,664. Biden lapped Sanders in both counties.
Meanwhile, voters younger than 30, who overwhelmingly voted for the Vermont senator, shrunk as a share of the Virginia primary electorate from 16 percent in 2016 to 13 percent in 2020.
Sanders desperately needs that trend to change.
2. Michigan, Michigan, Michigan
In 2016, Michigan delivered Sanders a stunning come-from-behind victory that revived his campaign and gave him staying power in his battle with Hillary Clinton. If he is to mount a comeback this year, it would have to begin in Michigan.
It’s the most delegate-rich contest on the map Tuesday. And as a key battleground state, Sanders must show strength to close Biden’s perceived “electability” advantage nationwide, which soared to 40 points in the new CNN poll. That’s not sustainable if he wants to win over a base that is desperate to defeat President Donald Trump.
A Detroit Free Press poll showed the former vice president leading Sanders by 24 points, while a Monmouth survey had him ahead by 15 points. Sanders beat the polls last cycle, and he has placed a big bet on the state this time, with a packed campaign schedule over the weekend and a focus on trade in the industrial Midwestern hub.
“I still have PTSD from 2016. We certainly thought we were going to win Michigan by 10 points and we lost by a point and a half,” former Clinton campaign aide Adrienne Elrod said on MSNBC. “So you never know what’s going to happen in a state like Michigan.”
3. Margins matter more than victories
The contest is no longer about winning states, but rather about delegate math. Delegates are awarded proportionally based on margins, so big victories matter more than narrow ones. Sanders needs to notch big victories to cut into Biden's delegate lead.
Apart from Michigan, Sanders handily won North Dakota, Idaho and Washington state in 2016. He lost Missouri by a wafer-thin margin. In theory, Sanders could narrowly win those five states and still fall behind in delegates if he gets walloped again in Mississippi.
In 2016, 7 in 10 Mississippi primary voters were black, and Biden showed his dominance among African American Southerners last week. He paid a visit to Mississippi over the weekend to rally voters after Sanders canceled a planned speech there Friday to spend more time in Michigan.
4. Where will Warren supporters go?
Super Tuesday results indicated Biden was the main beneficiary of former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s supporters after they dropped out and endorsed him. Since then, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., has also dropped out, but she has not endorsed either Biden or Sanders — and it’s unclear where her voters will go.
Biden has a chance to win older and college-educated white women in her base, while Sanders may add to his base of young liberals who were torn between the two progressives who aligned on policy.
A Morning Consult poll taken last week found that among Warren supporters, 43 percent prefer Sanders as their second choice while 36 percent choose Biden.
5. Will caucus-to-primary switches hurt Sanders?
Sanders has proven stronger in caucuses — which tend to be low-turnout affairs that draw the most enthusiastic voters — than primaries. It boosted him to a big victory in the Nevada caucuses. But he lost Minnesota, which switched to a primary system after caucuses in 2016 that Sanders won handily.
Washington and Idaho have also switched from caucuses to primaries. Can Sanders carry those states? Having fallen behind in delegates, he can ill-afford to lose places he won last time.