Biden is Second Choice Among Clinton Supporters in Texas - But Still a Long Shot



In recent weeks, signs that Vice President Biden is again considering his prospects as a presidential candidate have fueled continued media coverage of a new subplot in the 2016 presidential nomination contest. Former Secretary of State, U.S. Senator and First Lady Hillary Clinton has been the odds-on favorite in the Democratic Primary race since (almost) the day of Barack Obama's second inauguration. But the Clinton campaign's difficulties, especially the slow, endless progression of the saga over her personal email server and the seemingly tone-deaf response to that attention, have no doubt fed both Biden's late consideration as well as the media coverage of his stirrings among potential donors and supporters.

There are two primary lines of speculation surrounding a Biden candidacy: One, seemingly long shot scenario has Biden providing an alternative to Democrats having second thoughts about Clinton as a result of her rocky campaign performance thus far. A second, more plausible scenario has Biden as the party's plan-B in the event that investigations of Clinton's email server and, to a lesser extent, but still an extent, her response to those inquiries, suddenly render her candidacy unviable.

In Texas (and in national polling), the likelihood of massive unforced defections from Clinton to Biden among Democratic primary voters looks pretty unlikely. The vice-president finished 45 percentage points behind Clinton (and 7 points behind Vermont socialist Bernie Sanders) in the June 2015 University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll. 

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Hillary Clinton53%
Bernie Sanders15%
Elizabeth Warren8%
Joe Biden8%
Jim Webb1%
Andrew Cuomo1%
Martin O'Malley1%
Lincoln Chafee1%
Haven't thought enough about it to have an opinion12%

The plan-B scenario seems a far more plausible route to the nomination for Biden. Among Clinton supporters, the vice president was the leading second choice candidate – though not by an overwhelming margin. This with nearly a quarter of Clinton supporters declining to register a second choice.

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Second ChoicePercent
Joe Biden39%
Elizabeth Warren19%
Bernie Sanders10%
Andrew Cuomo5%
Martin O'Malley2%
Jim Webb1%
Lincoln Chaffee1%
Don't know24%

The limits of Biden's viability as a candidate in the current field, sans a Clinton collapse or exit, is evident when examining some of the subgroups in the sample of Clinton supporters. Looking at the intensity of their liberalism, Biden's second choice appeal is strongest among more moderate Democrats (i.e. those who identify as "leaning" or "somewhat" liberal), which isn't the most plentiful source of potential support in a Democratic primary. Should Biden try to extend his appeal to the more liberal segment, he finds Bernie Sanders increasingly well established, as well as the specter of Elizabeth Warren (though Warren has publicly ruled out running in 2016).

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Second ChoiceLean liberalSomewhat liberalExtremely liberal
Joe Biden45%37%26%
Elizabeth Warren17%29%30%
Bernie Sanders7%18%20%
Andrew Cuomo3%3%6%
Martin O'Malley0%1%0%
Jim Webb0%0%0%
Lincoln Chaffee0%0%0%
Don't know27%13%17%

Biden's prospects look similarly limited when looking at the pattern of Clinton supporters' second choice by race. He is a strong second choice among black voters, but doesn't appear to be drawing much interest among white voters, most of whose votes would go to a hypothetical Elizabeth Warren candidacy. Given Sanders' success since June, it seems very likely that a good share of these voters are more likely to shift their support from Warren to Sanders than to Biden.

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Second ChoiceWhiteBlackHispanic
Joe Biden23%59%32%
Elizabeth Warren29%14%16%
Bernie Sanders17%3%9%
Andrew Cuomo4%1%8%
Martin O'Malley6%2%0%
Jim Webb1%0%0%
Lincoln Chaffee0%0%2%
Don't know19%21%34%

Even bracketing for the moment the difficult human considerations shaping Biden's choice – the recent death of his son, his age, the potential damage that entering the race could do to his reputation and place in history – his numbers in Texas illustrate the palpable murkiness of the decision Biden faces. Biden is a well known figure to whom a chunk of Democrats are likely to default, which boosts his position as a viable alternative in a race without Clinton, but he is far from the guaranteed alternative in such a scenario, which would, it should be said, seriously destabilize the race. As long as Clinton remains in the race, there is little space for him to occupy as a viable candidate. Thus, if his rationale for entering the primary is to win the nomination, his only real chance (without guarantee of success) is for one of the most durable political figures of the last two-plus decades of American politics to be forced out of the race by circumstances. This is closer to the presidency than virtually anyone in America ever gets – but far from a sure thing for Biden.