Biden and Sanders
Credit: Doug Jones for Senate/Phil Roeder

We continue to see evidence that Texas is turning a deep shade of purple. Not only have several incumbent Lone Star congressmen called it quits in the last couple of weeks, but the polls of the presidential election are consistently showing a very competitive race. The latest sampling is from Emerson which has a B-Plus rating from Nate Silver.

All of the top-tier candidates (plus Texans Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke) are polling very close to Trump, and Biden and Sanders are actually slightly ahead within the margin of error. I had an observation about the numbers on Twitter.

Back in June, I wrote “Biden and Sanders Could Take Different Paths to Get to the Same Place.” In that case, I was observing that both Biden and Sanders were beating Trump in Michigan by an identical 53-41 margin, according to a Glengariff Group public opinion survey that had just been released.

Here we are two months later and we’re seeing something really similar in Texas.

I think most people will take a win any way they can get one, but perhaps progressives would prefer Sanders to Biden if they’re both equally likely to win. To understand if they’re actually equally likely to win, we’d have to have more granular analysis of where they’re pulling their support, because I doubt it’s all from the same voters. I suspect Biden is doing better with older voters and probably also among affluent white collar professionals. Both have their own draw with white working class folks, although I don’t think they get the same people there either. Biden definitely does better with the black population, and Sanders is probably stronger in college towns, although I doubt they will diverge there in the general election. Sanders definitely has more pull with the youth vote.

If I add that all up, Biden would seem to be in a much better position to win states like Ohio and Pennsylvania (the latter being almost an adopted state for him) because they have older populations with large urban centers. Biden would probably also do better in the Sun Belt which has very very few small towns and small rural populations and is dominated by suburbs. But Sanders will pull from more traditional Democrats, especially unionized workers and those who see the Republicans as the party of fat cats. He could jack up youth vote participation, helping him do better in some states that have a lot of college towns. He might struggle to maximize the black vote, especially relative to Biden.

Neither one of them is really leaning into the future of the party to get their votes, but each has their own partial claim either through Sanders’s ability to turn out young people, or the strong minority support for Biden. Yet, Biden will do best among older minorities and perhaps not so much of the urbanized variety as the rural southern variety.

Looking at it from the perspective of the Electoral College, I see Biden as stronger because I think he locks down Pennsylvania, runs stronger in the Sun Belt, and has at least a chance to swing southern states with large black populations like North Carolina and Georgia. But Sanders could be a better bet to win in the Upper Midwest, which is a really critical part of the map.

They do seem like the two strongest candidates for the Rust Belt, each for their own unique reasons, but there are other ways to win. Other candidates might ultimately be stronger in states like Florida, or better able to mobilize the youth vote by virtue of not being older than dirt. Neither Biden nor Sanders are optimal for turning out women, especially crucial suburban women.

Whoever the candidate ultimately is, the shape of their electorate will have an impact not only on which states they win, but on what kind of House of Representatives is created in the process. So, this will have to be explored in more detail as the pre-primary period provides more data.

I should also mention that Biden and Sanders are beating Trump in Texas by identical margins, but Biden is winning the Democratic primary there and Sanders is in third place behind Beto.

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Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at