WASHINGTON, D.C. – Joe Biden cut deep into Bernie Sanders' coalition of young, liberal and Latino voters, securing solid victories in Florida, Illinois and Arizona in unsettled times.
The former vice president on Tuesday expanded his support among groups that have been propping up the Vermont senator's struggling campaign. Biden, who has run as a moderate, won liberals in Florida, and ate into Sanders' advantage with young people. In Arizona and Illinois, the two men were competitive among Latino voters, a group that Sanders heavily courted.
The results from AP VoteCast surveys of thousands of Democratic voters across the three states show Biden consolidating Democrats at a time of rising anxieties about the spread of the new coronavirus and a national mobilization to contain it.
Not surprisingly, voters in all three states ranked health care as a top issue — and in Florida more said they trusted Biden over Sanders to handle the issue.
In just a few weeks, the coronavirus has upended the presidential campaign — not to mention the global economy and Americans' daily routines.
Ohio chose to halt in-person voting on Tuesday and delay its primary to avoid the risk of spreading the virus. Illinois, Florida and Arizona went ahead, instituting some new safety measures for voters and poll workers.
AP VoteCast surveys are designed to capture voters' views regardless of when or how they voted, accounting for the many voters in Florida and Arizona who voted early. Here's a snapshot of voters' priorities and concerns as they cast their ballots:
BIDEN'S BIG TENT
Biden, 77, preserved his strength among older voters, women and moderates and conservatives — all groups that make up majorities of Democratic primary voters. He continued to be African Americans' overwhelming favorite.
But he went much further. In Florida and Illinois, Biden appeared to beat Sanders in suburbs, small towns and cities, while he ran about even with Sanders in Arizona's urban areas. He bested Sanders with Protestants, Catholics and Jews in Florida and Illinois, and among voters there with a college degree and those without. In Florida, he even won liberals, getting 51% to Sanders' 37%.
Young voters stand out as still somewhat wary of Biden, even as he gained some ground. Sanders, 78, maintained a modest edge among young voters in Florida, where about half of those under 30 supported him. Sanders got at least two-thirds of those voters in Illinois and Arizona.
SANDERS' LATINO SUPPORT ERODES
Sanders has enjoyed a foundation of support from voters under 30 and Latinos, but that foundation showed some cracks.
Latinos were 16% of Florida's Democratic voters. And of that group, 21% of identified as Cuban, 33% as Puerto Rican and the rest had family ties to other countries. Not only did Biden win Latinos in Florida overall, he got 62% of Puerto Ricans and 57% of Cubans. Sanders may have alienated many voters of Cuban descent for praising the literacy program of Fidel Castro's regime despite human rights abuses in that country.
In Illinois, the two men were competitive among Latinos, with Sanders just slightly ahead of Biden.
Biden also pulled about even with Sanders in Arizona, where Latinos made up 27% of the state's Democratic primary voters. Voters were closely divided between the two in Arizona's cities, while Biden had a modest edge in other communities.
HANDLING HEALTH CARE
About 4 in 10 voters in Florida and roughly a third in Arizona and Illinois said they are “very” concerned that they or a family member may get infected with COVID-19. About 40% of voters in each state felt somewhat concerned.
Distress about the coronavirus was spread evenly across gender, education and income levels. But voters under 45 were somewhat less likely than their older counterparts to worry about getting infected.
The outbreak feeds into pre-existing concerns about the health care system. Democratic voters have for weeks named health care as a top issue of concern and that remained true in Arizona, Florida and Illinois.
Democratic primary voters in Florida, a state with both a large population of retirees and many younger tourism and service sector workers, believe that Biden would be better than Sanders at handling health care issues, 55% to 34%. Arizona and Illinois voters are closely divided between the two candidates on the issue.
The full brunt of the economic damage from the coronavirus hasn't hit, but the surveys reveal most Democratic voters already felt on shaky ground. Less than 20% in Arizona, Florida and Illinois said they were getting ahead financially in what has been the longest expansion in U.S. history.
Roughly two-thirds in each state think they are “holding steady,” while about a quarter describe themselves as falling behind.
Overwhelming majorities in all three states — about 80% in Arizona and about 70% in Florida and Illinois — describe the country’s economic system as unfair.
POISED FOR NOVEMBER
Biden is widely seen as the strongest contender against Trump.
About 80% of voters in Arizona, Florida and Illinois think the former vice president could definitely or probably win the general election. Smaller majorities in each state — roughly 60% — have the same confidence in a Sanders victory.
Opposition to Trump is a defining trait of Democratic primary voters. In Florida and Illinois, around three-quarters said they would vote for whomever the party nominates to take on Trump. That figure is somewhat more, 80%, in Arizona.
AP VoteCast is a survey of the American electorate conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for The Associated Press and Fox News. The surveys were conducted for seven days, concluding as polls closed.