Joe Biden: The Electability Trap


Nina Lavezzo-Stecopoulos

Is Joe Biden truly the most electable candidate? Or could that thinking lead to general election struggles?

Rhys Holman, Executive Website Editor

With Elizabeth Warren recently dropping out, it means that the Democratic primary for president of the United States is down to two viable candidates: Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. While Sanders has mostly focused on ideas and trying to inspire more voters, Biden’s main pitch has been a return to normalcy after Trump and the claim that he’s more electable than Bernie. But this reliance on electability, and even using the phrase at all, has some potential issues.

First of all, the term “electability” is rather ambiguous. Does it mean getting more people out to vote? Does it mean being the best in contested states? Is it about popularity or a specific match against Trump? Conceivably, all of these things could contribute to a candidate being more likely to be elected, but the ambiguity is exactly the problem with the phrase. Candidates aren’t inherently “electable;” their campaigns have to take actions which make winning more likely and the effect of those actions determines electability. So if electability includes all of the things listed above, then Bernie would be electable because of him turning out young voters and appealing to Latinx voters, while Biden would also be for his appeal to older and African American voters. So, if this term can be used so broadly in regard to any of a candidate’s strengths, then what’s the point in using the term? 

When people use the phrase “electability,” it is most commonly referring to the idea that Bernie is too far left to appeal to lots of voters, so Biden will be able to court a wider range of voters on the political spectrum. However, even given this definition, the idea that Biden is more electable has serious flaws. 

Though Biden has shown strength among older voters, that enthusiasm and support has not extended to younger voters. Biden failed to crack 25 percent in any of the early states and those issues were not significantly fixed on Super Tuesday, despite other wins. This is because young voters are more likely to be further left and more against establishment candidates, leading to them being less likely to support Biden. If Biden is unable to spur youth vote in the general, that could severely undermine his ability to win the general election, thus his electability as well. If that’s the case, Biden’s ability to potentially appeal to moderate voters could be countered by his lack of support from younger voters.

This is not to say that Biden can’t win the primary or the general elections. It’s simply to say that support based only on the idea that a candidate is “electable” is flawed. There are so many different factors which can affect whether or not a candidate will be able to win the general election that using whether or not they will win as your condition for support in the primary is flawed. So when deciding who to support, do so based on the merit of the candidate themselves, not because of a fruitless attempt to predict the future.