Friday, March 8, 2013

The myth of Biden's common-man appeal

Is Biden actually The Working Class Whisperer? (photo: White House/David Lienemann)

Ever since Barack Obama chose him to be his running-mate in 2008, we've heard, relentlessly, that Joe Biden has a special connection with working class whites, that he connects with them in a way Obama never has.

Now that we're hitting the 2016 cycle, we're starting to hear that line in relation to his presidential hopes.

But the fact is that Biden's supposed appeal to working class whites is quite "supposed", and if you take a look at polls over the past year, you can't much evidence supporting the Working Class <3 Joe Biden hypothesis.

In fact, what passes for evidence tends to be the fact that Biden was born in gritty Scranton, PA, had a gritty childhood, fancies himself a Working-Class Whisperer, and constantly tells everyone he is.

Before jumping into the polls, the big question to ask is this -- how do you operationalize "working class whites" and how can you measure Biden's appeal with them?

There are a couple survey questions out there that seem to do a good job at it: You could poll whites without a college degree, and you could also look at the rural voters that Biden can ostensibly charm.

The hiccup is that both those groups tend to be heavily Republican, so Biden is, by virtue of being a Democrat, at a disadvantage.

But you can get around that hiccup if you compare Biden's numbers with Obama's.

In other words, if Biden has special appeal to working class whites, his numbers with them should at least be better than Obama's, right?

But they're not.

Here's a brief sampling of polls that do a good job of measuring Biden's appeal to working class whites. Unfortunately, detailed polling is limited, so we have to just go with what we've got.

In the final Fox News poll before the 2012 election, Biden's favorable rating among whites without college degrees was 39%/52% for -13%. Barack Obama's stood at 42%/56% for -14%. That's a meaningless 1% difference.

Meanwhile, Biden stood at 32%/61% among white men, while Obama sat at 37%.61% among white men. In this case, Obama's net approval rating was 5 percentage points higher.

In Quinnipiac's most recent poll, Biden's favorable rating among whites without college degrees was 35%/51%, and among white men, it stood at 37%/52%, which was only slightly better than Obama's 39%/58% rating with white men.

In August of 2012, CNN found that Barack Obama's favorable rating in rural areas of the country was 42%/56% for -14%. Meanwhile, Joe Biden's was 37%/54%, which was a net 3 percentage points worse than Obama's.

One month later, CNN put Obama's favorability rating in rural areas at 39%/61%, while Biden's was 37%/54%, which was a net 5 percentage points higher.

Biden was recently tasked with selling gun control to the working class voters who allegedly love both Biden and guns.

But in January, Pew showed that just 29% of gun owners had a favorable opinion of Joe Biden, while 60% had an unfavorable rating. Somewhat related, an August Fox News poll found Obama's rating with the tea party 11%/86%, which was nearly identical to Biden's 11%/84% rating with the movement.

I'll end on one more interesting poll. Soon after the Veep debate, a Quinnipiac poll of Biden's gritty Pennsylvania, found that, if anything, Biden's debate performance was more likely to hurt Obama among whites without college degrees than help Obama. And charming working class whites from Pennsylvania was supposed to be Biden's bailiwick.

If you can find a poll that actually shows Biden to be substantially more popular than Obama with working class whites, send it in, and I'll write an immediate update.

But the claim that Biden has a special connection with working class whites doesn't seem to have any support other than his own claims and penchant for passionate, colloquial speeches to the Democratic base.