Michigan voters back Biden as best bet to beat Trump

Christine MacDonald
The Detroit News

Michigan Democratic voters have more faith in former Vice President Joe Biden's chances of beating President Donald Trump in November than U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders', helping him win the state's Democratic presidential primary, voter survey found. 

Nearly 82% of Democratic primary voters said Biden could unseat Trump compared with 63% who said Sanders could, according to AP VoteCast, a survey of more than 2,400 voters in Michigan conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden meets with attendees during a campaign event, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020, in Spartanburg, S.C. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Dwight Harris, a 66 year-old Detroit retiree, said Biden earned his support in part because he's confident he'll beat Trump in the fall. 

"Biden is more well rounded," said Harris, who voted by absentee ballot. "He is more of a people person ... a lot of people will go with Biden."

"Sanders is more of a socialist." 

Ousting Trump was a clear motivator for voters. Eight-five percent of voters reported it was "very important", according to the survey.

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But the enthusiasm doesn’t appear overwhelming. While a wide majority of Democratic voters in Michigan said they are at least somewhat enthusiastic about voting for their chosen Democrat, only about half are “very enthusiastic," according to the AP survey. 

More than a third reported they decided how to vote in the last few days. 

Lee Woelmer, 34, of Warren, held his nose to vote for Biden because his choice, Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren dropped out last week. 

“It frustrates me since I’ve been 18, I’ve voted in every primary but it hasn’t mattered because by the time it gets to us, my choices have been taken away,” Woelmer said after he left his polling place in Warren. “Last time around I wanted to vote for a different Republican.”

“I wanted Warren because she’s got plans,” he said.

Biden may not get his vote come the fall. "I don’t think I’d be able to support him in the general," Woelmer said adding it will depend on Biden's running mate.

“I don’t like his creepy Joe past and…he’s old," the Warren resident said.

Biden won overwhelmingly among racial groups. He won the black vote over Sanders 63%-27% with 5% for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had endorsed the former vice president after dropping out of the race a week ago. Biden won white voters over Sanders 54%-34% with 5% for Bloomberg.

There were stark differences of voter support by age. Biden led Sanders among voters 45 years and older 65%-22%, while Sanders took voters 44 years and younger 54%-37%.

Voters ranked health care as the most important issue facing the country, well above climate change, the economy, race relations, foreign policy and other social issues. Forty-one percent placed health care as the most pressing issue, compared with 19% who reported climate change and 17% who said it was the economy and jobs. 

Voters want changes in health care and are unhappy with the country's economic system. 

Most Michigan voters polled — 62% — also favor changing the U.S.private health care system to a single government plan, according to the survey. Sanders backed a Medicare for All nationalized government system while Biden backed a public option that would allow residents to choose a government plan over private insurance.

Democratic voters who said there should be a single government health plan were evenly split between Biden and Sanders. But of the 38% who oppose a single-payer nationalized health care system, Biden led 71%-15%.

And a wide majority — roughly three-quarters — said they think the country's economic system is unfair. That includes nearly a third describing it as “very unfair.” 

Xylia Hall, a 68-year-old lifelong Detroiter, said she voted for Sanders, in part because she feels the Democratic Party has "turned its back" on Detroiters and the issues most important to them, like better jobs and education. Sanders policies will help "level the playing field," she said.

"Bernie is the right person right now," Hall said. "Detroit has gone through so much. The Republican Party is not treating us right now and neither is the Democratic Party."

Hall admits that Biden would likely have a better chance at beating Trump than Sanders. She said she'll support Biden if he is the Democratic nominee. But she said she was motivated to vote for Sanders because "we needed to send a message."

AP Votecast is a survey of 2,444 Michigan voters that was conducted for seven days and concluded as the polls closed Tuesday. The survey combines a random sample of registered voters as well as self-identified registered voters selected from online panels. The margin of error is a plus-minus 3.4 percentage points. 

Staff Writer Leonard N. Fleming contributed