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Democrat-Leaning Independents

That’s the conclusion I’ve drawn from analyzing Exit Interview data collected from registered voters who cast ballots in 16 Open Primary states on Super Tuesday I (March 3) and Super Tuesday II (March 10). Interview results were reported by TheWashington Post.

Among other things, exit interviewers asked voters about their political affiliation and how they voted in their state’s primary election. For my analysis, I focused exclusively on voters who reported they are politically independent and who voted for either Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders.

Among those voters, Senator Sanders, not former VP Biden, held the edge in 13 of 16 primary states—including in many of the states where Biden won the overall vote. Here are the results.

What about the three states where Independent voters preferred Biden over Sanders? All three states are located in the South. And in two of those states—in Alabama and Mississippi—a significant number of voters were African American (49% of Alabama’s primary voters, and 69% of Mississippi’s primary voters). Those results validate the widely reported strength of Biden’s appeal among Southern African Americans.

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Overall, though, Exit Interview results from March 3 and 10 raise questions about Biden’s ability to attract the support of political Independents.

Overall, though, Exit Interview results from March 3 and 10 raise questions about Biden’s ability to attract the support of political Independents. My conclusion is based on the number of Independents who voted on March 3 and 10. On average, Independents constituted about 30% of those who voted in the Democratic primaries held in those 16 states. And it’s based on the preference gap. Sanders was the median statewide choice over Biden by between 8-10%.

How do we explain the results? Exit Interview data from two diverse states—Michigan and Texas—offer insights. When asked about political ideology, Moderate/Conservative was the choice for 43% of Dem Primary voters in Texas and for 39% of Michigan’s Dem Primary voters. Those voters preferred Biden over Sanders, and they also said they picked a candidate (Biden) whom they believe can beat Donald Trump in November. But when voters were asked if they voted for a candidate who supports issues ‘of importance to you,’ in each state Sanders held a double-digit edge over Biden.

We don’t know if the results I’ve shared here will hold up as the primary season unfolds. But there is one thing we know for sure. To win, candidates need support from Independent voters, a group that Gallup estimates to be about 40% of America’s electorate (most recent national poll conducted Feb 17-28). At issue is how Independents will vote—Progressive Independents, especially—if Biden is on the November ballot.

I’ve wrestled with that issue and I know other Independents have wrestled with it, too. For those Independents who haven’t, it might be the most important political issue they’ll face between now and Election Day.

You can listen to this article—and other contributions from Frank Fear—via Frank’s podcast, Under the Radar. Hosted by Anchor.FM, it is also available on other digital platforms, including Breaker, RadioPublic, and Spotify.

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Frank Fear