March 8, 2020

Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden: Decision Time


The Democratic primary contest has come down to what was probably always inevitable: Joe Biden vs. Bernie Sanders. And now that I'll be voting on Tuesday, I am running out of time to decide who to support. I guess I better begin the process of doing so. Neither Biden nor Sanders were my first choice, and I assumed that I'd be able to vote for a candidate I liked better in the primary even though I've long suspected that I would need to vote for Sanders or Biden in the general election. So, who's it gonna be?

Somewhat unexpectedly, I find that the choice is not as obvious as I once thought it might be. It is time to review the three questions I posed previously:

  1. Which Candidates Best Match Me?
  2. Who Can Win the General Election?
  3. Which Candidates Can Accomplish What They Say They Want to Accomplish?

Who Is Best On The Issues?

The question of which candidate best matches me on the issues I consider important is the easy one. Bernie Sanders wins hands down. It isn't even close. There are plenty of things I dislike about his policy positions (and how he presents some of them), but his positions on the relevant issues match my own far better than those of Biden. Thus, Sanders wins this category by a wide margin. This is typically my most important consideration when deciding how I will vote in a primary election; however, that is not the case this time. This time, finding a candidate that matches me on the issues takes a back seat to the need to get Donald Trump out of office.

Who Can Beat Trump?

The question of which candidate is best positioned to win the general election is my primary consideration this time. Although I still believe it will be a long-shot for either, I do believe it is at least possible. I now see Biden as having a better chance of winning a general election than Sanders. Sanders has not demonstrated that he is able to generate the levels of voter turnout he acknowledges he will need to compete against Trump in the handful of states that matter. If he had beaten Biden by large margins in more of the states that have voted so far, this would be a different story. But while he has made some gains with some demographics, there seem to be limits on his voter base and their willingness to show up at the polls. Enthusiasm at political rallies is great but matters little if it doesn't translate to actual voting.

To be sure, Biden is going to struggle in other ways. He has had trouble appealing to younger voters, especially those motivated primarily by grievance, and this will be a challenge going forward. And yet, he's been able to beat Sanders in many states. Challenges aside, I now see him as better positioned for a general election than Sanders. He's shown that he can get his voters to the polls, and his coalition seems broader than that of Sanders. Despite whatever misgivings I might still have about him, I have to give this one to Biden.

Who Would Be More Effective in Governing, If Elected?

As for which candidate could accomplish more of what they say they want to accomplish, I think this is an overwhelming win for Biden but with one important qualifier. Not only has Sanders accomplished relatively little for how long he's been in Congress, but he doesn't even have the support of a majority of his own party in the Senate for some of his more appealing policies. Biden will almost certainly be able to accomplish more of what he says he wants to accomplish. As for the qualifier I mentioned above, that's easy: the scope of what Biden says he wants to accomplish is smaller and less appealing than what Sanders says he wants to accomplish. Of course, I'd rather see some small improvements pass Congress than some large improvements fail. Some of Sanders' bold ideas sound great, but the odds of him getting most of them through Congress are not good. Again, I have to give this one to Biden.

Who Should I Support?

So where does this leave me? It leaves me leaning toward voting for Biden at this point, which is something I was not seriously entertaining even a couple weeks ago. If we lived in a different reality where Sanders had a magic wand and would be able to enact whatever policies he wanted without needing to go through Congress, he'd be the obvious choice. I'd love to see many of the sweeping changes he's pitching. Since that's not the case and since my top priority is ridding the White House of its current occupants, I'm now leaning toward voting for Biden. Although his agenda is less progressive than Sanders', much of what he's pitching would be a step in the right direction and would have far more support among Democrats in Congress. That means he'd have a far better chance of getting some of it done. And perhaps most relevant of all, Biden's policy agenda, imperfect as it may be, is still vastly preferable to that of Trump.