OZY Forecast: What Joe Biden's Revival Means
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this is turning into a two-man race for the nomination.
By Daniel Malloy
Nelda Holder still seemed a bit stunned by it all. “I wouldn’t have been here a week ago, because I wasn’t considering him — at all,” Holder said as she filed out of a peppy Joe Biden rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, on Saturday afternoon. In a crisp 15-minute stump speech, Biden had even connected after one of his verbal stumbles, when he called the president “Donald Drumps.” “Just a Freudian slip, I guess,” the former vice president added, and the gymnasium at historically Black Saint Augustine’s University ate it up.
And Holder, 75, of Raleigh, was right there with them. “I don’t want to see Bernie elected,” Holder said of the front-running Sen. Bernie Sanders. “And so that means somebody who’s got the strong suit that Biden has.”
That night, Biden crushed Sanders in neighboring South Carolina. On Sunday, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg dropped out — a key rival in the so-called moderate lane of the Democratic presidential nomination dispatched. It’s hard to ask for more momentum, and the numbers are reflected in the latest Forecast from OZY, data and technology firm 0ptimus and elections reporting company Decision Desk HQ.
Biden now has a 16 percent chance to win a majority of delegates before the Democratic convention — up from just 1 percent two weeks ago.
Our model crunches data from polls, demographics, past results and even media coverage to give you the best projections around. It shows that nationally Sanders remains the front-runner with a 38 percent chance of a delegate majority, but this is quickly becoming a two-man race. “Just days ago, the press and the pundits had declared this candidacy dead,” Biden said in his Columbia, S.C., victory speech. Indeed, the Forecast had at first tagged Biden the front-runner, but after finishing fourth in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire, Biden crashed in our model.
It looked like he was entering what’s called a “death spiral,” says Alex Alduncin, data scientist at 0ptimus, where a bad performance compounds on itself with bad media coverage, leading to another bad performance. “He was somehow able to wrangle out of it,” Alduncin says. He credits Biden’s bounce-back in part to voters never coalescing around an alternative.
At least for now, Biden has become the chief alternative to Sanders. But don’t forget, there’s a substantial chance no one wins a delegate majority — 42 percent as of Sunday night — meaning a contested convention. In those scenarios, Biden holds a strong hand given his deep well of support among party regulars known as ‘superdelegates,’ who will factor in on a second ballot if no one has a majority on the first go-round.
But we’re a long way from Milwaukee. The big question for Biden now involves Super Tuesday, when more than one-third of the delegates will be allocated. And even though there are several Southern states lined up where Biden can do well, Sanders is set up to dominate in California, Colorado and elsewhere. “I still think we’re going to wake up Wednesday and Bernie‘s going to have, according to our model, a couple hundred delegate lead,” says Scott Tranter, CEO of 0ptimus.
This is due in part to the presence of Mike Bloomberg. The former New York City mayor’s bottomless spending and centrist pitch should net more than a few delegates — despite a couple rough debate performances. On Sunday night Bloomberg bought three minutes of airtime on CBS and NBC to address the nation about coronavirus, pitching himself as a sober communicator and effective manager who understands how to handle a crisis. “The public wants to know their leader is trained, informed and respected,” he said.
Bloomberg, who has shattered all records by dumping more than $500 million of his own money into the race, is in contention in North Carolina, Arkansas and Oklahoma, according to the Forecast, and eating away at Biden’s numbers across the board.
But our Super Tuesday tallies show a marked shift to Biden in recent days. It has a lot to do with his strength in the South Carolina vote, where Biden dominated Sanders among Black voters who make up more than half of the Democratic electorate. He won 48.4 percent of the overall vote there, to Sanders’ 19.9 percent.
But it’s not just the Black vote: Biden won a plurality of White voters in South Carolina. In particular, he is getting a second look from the kinds of highly educated voters who are following the race closely and earlier had been skeptical of his candidacy, but now see their candidates dropping out or close to it.
Holder, for example, had been watching the race “like a hawk,” bingeing television coverage and talking up her friends. She had supported Buttigieg for a while and fretted about Biden’s age. But the 77-year-old’s strength in South Carolina convinced Holder that he was the pick.
As these voters have flitted from Buttigieg to Bloomberg to Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren, the top criterion was always that elusive, subjective notion of electability. And at least for now, with the wind in his sails and his grin toothier than ever, Biden has the look. “I know the two of us always wanted to vote for a woman, but the way it’s shaping up, we have to reconsider things,” Holder said of herself and her daughter-in-law. “Like Biden says, the thing is: We’ve got to beat Trump.”
- Daniel Malloy