Why aren’t Americans sure Joe Biden can win the presidency?

May 22, 2020, 7:10 PM UTC

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has consistently held a single-digit lead over President Donald Trump in Economist/YouGov Polls. But Biden has not convinced the electorate – as well as many of his own voters – that he can win the November election. This week, only one in three registered voters currently believe Biden will win. 

Skepticism is especially high among those Democratic voters who originally supported Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Barely half of them (52%) expect a Biden victory. Nearly a third of those who now say they will vote for Biden in November aren’t sure he will win. Registered voters supporting President Trump are much more positive about his chances in November. Nine in 10 Trump voters (91%) say their candidate will be victorious. 

In the November horserace, however, Biden leads Trump (47% to 42%) among registered voters. One in 10 either say they will vote for someone else, aren’t sure whom they will vote for, or say they will not vote at all. Democratic primary voters are more than twice as likely as Republican primary voters to fall into these categories.  

Presidential politics

That’s especially true for those who hoped Sanders would win the nomination: one in five voters who favored Sanders are not yet committed to Biden: 8 percent say they will vote for a third-party candidate (5% will vote for the President), and another 6 percent are not sure about whether or for whom they will vote.  

The Sanders supporters are the largest group of skeptics among those who currently say they will vote for Biden. Doubters also are more liberal and more likely to be political independents than the Biden voters who expect their candidate to win. 

Those who are voting for Biden but don’t expect him to win give three types of reasons for their opinions, when they are asked to explain their position in their own words. The largest share  don’t place the blame on Biden, but rather, on the electoral structure and outside forces. They argue either that the Electoral College system is stacked against the Democrat (pointing to the 2016 election and Hillary Clinton’s loss despite winning the popular vote) or believe that there will be cheating this year that will benefit the incumbent President.   

Almost as many reason that Biden has his own problems: his age, his non-progressive ideology, or the recent allegations about his behavior towards a former staffer, Tara Reade.  

But a few describe the President’s supporters as more committed than Biden’s, or believe the economy may help the President win. There is some justification for saying this: a majority of registered voters disapprove of how the President is handling his job overall, but more than half approve of how he is handling the economy, even though 61% of registered voters describe the economy as currently in recession.  

Presidential politics

See the toplines and crosstabs from this week's Economist/YouGov Poll 

Image: Getty