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Joe Biden's 2020 chances might be stronger than we think

Former Vice President Joe Biden is thinking about running for president, yet few seem to think he's the fron...

Posted: Dec 18, 2018 10:12 AM
Updated: Dec 18, 2018 10:12 AM

Former Vice President Joe Biden is thinking about running for president, yet few seem to think he's the frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

The reasons to be suspect are plenty including his record (fairly mainstream in a party moving to the left), his age (he's 76) and the fact that he's a white male in a diversifying party that nominated women in record numbers in 2018.

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But maybe -- just maybe -- we're underestimating Biden's strength. Let's go through some key points working in Biden's favor.

1. He leads in all the polls

Our CNN national poll last week had Biden ahead at 30%. He hasn't trailed in a single national poll conducted in the last 11 months. Our Iowa caucus poll had him leading the pack with 32%. Biden's advantage is far from dominating, but it's nothing to sneeze at, even at this early stage.

The candidate leading in contested primaries without an incumbent running since 1972 has gone on to win his or her party's nomination 50% (8 of 16) of the time. That may seem low, but keep in mind that the betting markets give no Democrat a greater than 20% chance of winning at this point. Additionally, pegging Biden at a 50% chance is far higher than the 10% the markets currently give him.

For comparison, Biden never led in any national or Iowa poll in either of his previous presidential runs in 1988 and 2008. In fact, he hit no higher than 10%

2. His leads are not just about name recognition

It would be tempting to think that Biden's advantage is merely a side effect of being well-known. Indeed, in CNN's latest national poll, 88% of Democrats and independents who lean Democratic hold an opinion of him. That's nearly double the 45% who can form an opinion of Sen. Kamala Harris, for example.

Biden, though, isn't just well-known; he's well-liked. We can allocate those who say they're undecided on whether they hold a favorable or unfavorable view of each potential Democratic nominee. With a 7-to-1 ratio of favorable to unfavorable rating nationally, Biden's favorable-to-unfavorable rating is the highest of any Democrat tested. In Iowa, it's the same story. Biden's 5.5-to-1 favorable to unfavorable rating is the highest.

3. Polls say he can beat President Donald Trump

One of Biden's big flaws as I mentioned at the top is his fairly mainstream record. Yet, Iowa Democrats by a 54% to 40% margin think it's more important for Democrats to nominate someone who can beat Trump than someone who shares their ideology. Biden has led in every single poll over Trump and usually by double-digits.

Iowa Democrats also believe by a 49%-to-36% margin that a "seasoned hand" has a better chance of defeating Trump than a "newcomer". Biden, of course, served in the Senate for decades and became vice president.

The polling matches the pattern seen in the 2018 primaries. Voters seemed to want to win above all else. When the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee or Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee endorsed one candidate and an outside progressive group endorsed another, the party-endorsed candidate won 89% of the time.

Now, none of this data proves that Biden will win. In fact, I don't think he will. For one thing, Biden may not end up running. If he does decide to throw his hat into the ring, however, there's no doubt that he'll face attacks on his record that could drag his numbers down.

Still, there's enough data out there that would make me think that perhaps I should run if I were Biden.

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