Joe Biden easily prevailed over Bernie Sanders in trust to handle a crisis and electability alike in telephone surveys in advance of Tuesday’s Democratic primary elections in Arizona, Florida and Illinois. With the coronavirus pandemic disrupting the world, health care was a high-level concern.
Given the pandemic, exit polls were not conducted in these states; instead telephone surveys were fielded March 9-15 in Arizona and Florida and March 13-16 in Illinois. The surveys covered early voters (who predominated in Arizona), and people who said they intended to vote in person Tuesday (a large share of the electorate in Florida and Illinois). The departure from customary exit polls in Florida and Illinois requires caution in interpreting the results.
Survey respondents overwhelmingly picked Biden over Sanders as the candidate they trusted more to handle a crisis, by 73-20% in Florida, 63-32% in Illinois and 63-31% in preliminary results in Arizona. (A telephone survey in Ohio was canceled after the primary was halted there.)
The numbers who called health care the top issue in their vote (out of four issues listed) reached 47% in Arizona and 43% in Florida and Illinois – far and away the top mention in these results, which were analyzed for ABC by Langer Research Associates.
Respondents broadly picked Biden as having a better chance than Sanders to defeat Trump in November, by 75-18% in Florida, 67-26% in Illinois and 69-26% in preliminary results in Arizona. These views on electability mattered: Sixty-six percent in Florida, 65% in Arizona and 60% in Illinois said they’d rather see the party nominate the candidate who can beat Trump rather than the one who agrees with them on major issues.
Ideology was a differentiator as well. In Arizona, 59% called Biden “about right” ideologically, vs. far fewer, 41%, who said the same about Sanders. In Florida, the gap was even wider: Sixty-six percent called Biden about right in these terms, vs. 34% who said the same of Sanders. Instead, nearly half in both states called Sanders “too liberal.” (The question wasn’t asked in Illinois.)
Biden showed an advantage in Florida on other measures. He beat Sanders in trust to handle Social Security (by 61-34%) and gun policy (by 65-25%), two issues covered in their most recent debate. (The questions weren’t asked in Arizona or Illinois.) Further, 83% in Florida expressed a favorable opinion of Biden overall, much better than favorable views of Sanders, 66%.
There was no such gap in Illinois, where about seven in 10 saw both candidates favorably. In Arizona, 74% expressed a favorable opinion of Biden overall; a bit fewer, 68%, saw Sanders favorably.
Again, the Florida and Illinois results, in particular, may be different from the views of actual voters, especially if large numbers of people who intended to vote in person end up staying home because of concerns about the new coronavirus. (Forty-one percent in the Illinois survey and 30% in Florida said they’d vote in person Tuesday.) In Arizona, with the vast majority voting by mail, a telephone survey rather than an exit poll was planned all along.
A direct question on the coronavirus was asked only in Illinois, where 87% said they were very or somewhat concerned about the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, including 53% very concerned. Last week in Washington state – an epicenter of the original outbreak in the United States – fewer, 38%, were very concerned about the virus.
Related to the pandemic, a question the economy's direction also was asked in Illinois. Eighty-two percent were very or somewhat worried about the economy’s direction in the next year, including 47% very worried. The economic question wasn’t asked in Arizona or Florida.
Among other results:
While Biden’s broad victories positioned him clearly for the nomination, a warning note emerged from the Illinois results, as it did in exit polls last week: While 72% there said they would be either enthusiastic or satisfied with Biden as the nominee, that included only 33% who expressed enthusiasm for his candidacy.
Analysis by Gary Langer, Allison De Jong, Sofi Sinozich and Christine Filer.