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The most important number in the CNN 2020 poll isn’t the one you think it is

Joe Biden is ahead! By a lot! And by a lot more than he was just a few months ago!

That’s the obvious takeaway from a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS examining the 2020 Democratic primary. The former vice president stands alone in first place with 34% followed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 19% and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at 16%. None of the other 15(!) candidates in the race made it into double digits.

That’s very good news for Biden. As is the fact that he has jumped 10 points since a CNN poll done in September while support for both Warren and Sanders stayed generally static over the same time.

But, that’s not the real story here. The real story is how Biden is ahead in this poll. And that answer is the key to understanding whether or not Biden will ultimately be the party’s nominee.

Since I’m a good guy, I’ll tell you the answer: Biden is ahead because he is consolidating his support among non-white voters, a key voting bloc among whom he already had a very clear edge over his primary rivals.

Here’s how the numbers by race break out in the new CNN poll:

Whites

Biden 27%

Warren 23%

Sanders 15%

Non-Whites

Biden 42%

Sanders 16%

Warren 13%

That’s striking stuff. And while Biden has long led among non-white voters, his support has surged since earlier this fall when he was taking just 28% of their vote in a hypothetical Democratic primary ballot.

Why is his support among non-white voters — and the suggestion that support is increasing as actual votes near — so important for Biden and his chances? Because non-whites have been the decisive voting bloc in each of the recent contested Democratic presidential primaries. In 2008, Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton because of his massive edge over her among black voters. Eight years later, Clinton beat Sanders because she crushed him among African Americans and Hispanics.

And that process starts in South Carolina, the fourth state to vote in the nominating process — the primary is set for February 29, 2020 — and the first one where blacks have historically comprised a majority of voters.

Polling done in the Palmetto State produces similar data to the CNN national poll. A Fox News poll conducted in early October showed Biden cruising with 41% compared to 12% for Warren and 10% for Sanders. Again, the breakdown of the vote by race is instructive:

Whites

Biden 24%

Warren 20%

Sanders 13%

Blacks

Biden 50%

Sanders 9%

Warren 8%

Biden’s path to the nomination starts with a win in South Carolina. If he can’t win there, the race is over for him. What remains to be seen is whether black voters will stay with Biden if/when he loses Iowa and/or New Hampshire and Nevada in the days leading up the the first-in-the-south primary. If they do — and there are no signs right now of any sort of erosion (in fact, quite the opposite!) — and he wins South Carolina, Biden has an even money (and maybe better) chance at being the nominee.

Given all of that, it’s not an exaggeration to say that non-white voters hold Joe Biden’s fate in their hands.

CNN