Biden has double-digit lead over Sanders for Democratic nomination

Joe Biden
(AP Photo/Michael Wyke)

(CNN) — Former Vice President Joe Biden has a double-digit lead over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination, a new CNN poll of Democratic voters nationwide conducted by SSRS shows.

Biden is now the choice of a majority of Democratic voters nationwide, according to the poll, which was taken in the days after the former vice president’s stronger-than-expected showing across Super Tuesday contests and as the field of Democratic contenders with a realistic shot at winning the nomination narrowed to two.

The poll finds 52% of registered voters who are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents say they want to see Biden win the nomination, while 36% say they’d rather see Sanders win.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who dropped out of the race on Thursday, lands at 7% in the poll. That is largely due to her 18% showing in interviews conducted on Wednesday, before she ended her campaign.

Among those interviewed after she left the contest, Biden’s support rose to 57%, Sanders stood at 36%, while 2% volunteered that they still backed Warren. Another 6% chose someone else or were unsure about who they would support.

Biden’s successful Super Tuesday appears to have led to a rebound in his favorability rating (48% overall now hold a positive view, up from 39% in December), while Sanders has hit his highest unfavorability rating yet in CNN polling back to 2015 (52% hold an unfavorable view of him, up from 44% in December).

Warren is the only candidate of the four Democrats who recently ended their campaigns who earns largely positive favorability ratings from both backers of Biden and of Sanders. Warren has yet to endorse a candidate in the nomination fight, while former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Minnesota Sen.

Amy Klobuchar have all thrown their support behind Biden and receive mostly positive views from Biden’s backers. They receive less positive views from those supporting Sanders.

Overall, Biden holds a nearly 20-point edge among white voters and 10-point one among non-whites, as Sanders’ strength among Latino voters cancels out a bit of Biden’s edge among African Americans. But there remain sharp divides within the party across age groups, ideological views and party affiliation. Among those under age 45, Sanders tops Biden by 26 points, 57% to 31%. Among voters age 45 or older, it’s a 72% to 17% advantage for Biden.

Liberals back Sanders 52% to 36%, while those who consider themselves moderate or conservative give Biden a 65% to 24% lead. Self-identified Democrats break 55% to 32% for Biden, while independents are about evenly split, 46% for Sanders to 45% for Biden. An education gap among white voters that seemed to be driven by white college voters’ tendency to choose candidates other than these two has faded as the field has shrunk.

About two-thirds of Democratic voters say they prefer a candidate with a strong chance of beating Donald Trump (65%), the largest share to say so in CNN polling in the last year, while 29% say they prefer one who agrees with them on major issues. These voters take opposite views on the race between Biden and Sanders: 59% in the beat Trump camp choose Biden and 53% on the issues side choose Sanders.

Still, there’s little to suggest a major backlash no matter who ultimately wins the party’s nomination. About nine in 10 voters who are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents say they would ultimately support each candidate in November, regardless of their support in the primary. And three-quarters of Democratic voters (74%) — including 78% of those who prioritize beating Trump — say they are confident the party will nominate someone with a strong chance to defeat the President.

But the poll suggests Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters are not merely looking for someone to hit the reset button on the Trump era. Asked whether it should be a higher priority for the next president to restore the government to the way it was before Trump took office or to go beyond restoration to make major changes to the way the government works, 72% choose major changes, just 25% restoration. Even among Biden supporters, 58% say it is more important to make major changes to move beyond where the government was before Trump.

About two-thirds of Americans (66%) and 8 in 10 Democratic or Democratic-leaning voters (83%) say they do not feel well represented by the government in Washington now. Among Sanders’ supporters, that rises to 88%, including 57% who say they feel not at all represented by the government in Washington.

On health care and the climate crisis, two issues which consistently rate at the top of Democrats’ priority list, Democratic voters are split between Sanders and Biden on who would best handle each issue. On health care, 46% say Sanders would do a better job, 43% Biden. On climate, 45% choose Sanders, 42% Biden. Biden holds his widest edge on foreign policy (67% choose him, 23% Sanders) and tops Sanders by 26 points on the economy (57% Biden to 31% Sanders), an issue that could emerge as a more critical one for Democrats as the effects of the novel coronavirus spread. Biden also tops Sanders as more trusted on immigration, 49% to 36%.

Biden outpaces Sanders by 40 points as the candidate with the best chance to beat Trump (66% say Biden has the best shot, 26% say Sanders), the best chance to unite the country (65% Biden to 26% Sanders) and as best able to handle a major crisis (65% Biden to 23% Sanders). But Sanders tops Biden by nine points as the candidate who best understands the problems facing people like you (47% Sanders to 38% Biden) and by six points on who agrees with you on the issues that matter most (46% Sanders to 40% Biden).

The poll finds both Biden and Sanders hold significant leads over Trump in hypothetical general election matchups among registered voters. Biden tops Trump 53% to 43%, while Sanders leads by 52% to 45%. Among those voters who live in 15 battleground states — those decided by 8 points or less in the 2016 election — Biden narrowly tops Trump, 51% to 45%, while Sanders and Trump are within the margin of error of each other, 49% back Sanders, 46% Trump.

The president’s favorability rating in the poll is about the same as December, 43% view him positively, 54% view him negatively.

In 2016, those voters who felt unfavorable toward both Hillary Clinton and Trump broke sharply in Trump’s direction, according to exit polls. This poll finds that those holding unfavorable views of both Trump and the top Democratic candidates are largely breaking against Trump at this point in the race.

The CNN Poll was conducted by SSRS March 4 through 7 among a random national sample of 1,211 adults reached on landlines or cellphones by a live interviewer. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.3 percentage points. For results among the 540 registered voters who are Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents, it is plus or minus 5.0 percentage points.

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