A polling place worker adjusts gloves as she tends to a reception table during the Florida primary election at the First United Methodist Church, Tuesday, March 17, 2020, in Jupiter, Fla. As Florida officials try to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, the state's voters headed to the polls to cast ballots in the Democratic presidential primary. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

AP VoteCast: Biden chips away at Sanders coalition

March 17, 2020 - 9:33 pm

WASHINGTON (AP) — Joe Biden on Tuesday chipped away at Bernie Sanders' coalition of young, liberal and Latino voters, securing solid victories in Florida and Illinois in unsettled times.

The contests on Tuesday — along with one in Arizona — came amid growing concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus and a national mobilization to contain it. Not surprisingly, voters in all three states ranked health care as a top issue — and in Florida more said they trusted Biden over Sanders to handle the issue, according to AP VoteCast surveys of thousands of Americans voting in the presidential primaries.

In just a few weeks, the coronavirus has upended that race, the global economy and Americans' daily routines, as government officials have closed schools, warned against travel, shuttered restaurants and advised millions of workers to stay home.

Ohio chose to halt in-person voting on Tuesday and delay its primary to avoid the risk of spreading the virus. Illinois, Florida and Arizona went ahead, instituting some new safety measures for voters and poll workers.

AP VoteCast surveys are designed to capture voters' views regardless of when or how they voted, accounting for the many voters in Florida and Arizona who voted early. Here's a snapshot of voters' priorities and concerns as they cast their ballots:

SANDERS' LATINO SUPPORT ERODES

Sanders has enjoyed a foundation of support from voters under 30 and Latinos, but that foundation showed some cracks in Florida.

Latinos were roughly 20% of the state's Democratic voters — 21% of them identified as Cuban, 33% as Puerto Rican and the rest had family ties to other countries. Not only did Biden win Latinos in Florida overall, he got 66% of Puerto Ricans and 57% of Cubans, taking away a pillar of strength from Sanders. The senator may have alienated many voters of Cuban descent for praising the literacy program of Fidel Castro's regime despite human rights abuses in that country.

In Illinois, Latinos were closely divided between the two leading candidates.

Biden also pulled about even with Sanders in Arizona, where Latinos made up 28% of the state's Democratic primary voters. The two candidates were competitive in Arizona's cities, while Biden had a modest edge in other communities.

BIDEN'S BIG TENT

Biden, 77, preserved his strength among African Americans in Florida and Illinois. But across those two states and Arizona, he also won women, voters over 45 and moderates and conservatives, groups that make up majorities of Democratic primary voters.

It was close to a demographic sweep, with Biden also drawing support from suburbs and small towns; Protestants, Catholics and Jews; and voters with a college degree and those without. In Florida, he even won liberals, getting 53% to Sanders' 37%.

Young voters stand out as still somewhat wary of Biden. Sanders, 78, maintained a modest edge among young voters in Florida, where about half of those under 30 supported him.

Sanders got at least two-thirds of those voters in Illinois and Arizona.

HANDLING HEALTH CARE

About 4 in 10 voters in Florida and roughly a third in Arizona and Illinois said they are “very” concerned that they or a family member may get infected with COVID-19. About 40% of voters in each state felt somewhat concerned.

Distress about the coronavirus was spread evenly across gender, education and income levels. But voters under 45 were somewhat less likely than their older counterparts to worry about getting infected.

The outbreak feeds into pre-existing concerns about the health care system in the U.S. Democratic voters have for weeks named health care as a top issue of concern and that remained true in Arizona, Florida and Illinois.

Democratic primary voters in Florida, a state with both a large population of retirees and many younger tourism and service sector workers, believe that Biden would be better than Sanders at handling health care issues, 56% to 34%. Arizona and Illinois voters are closely divided between the two candidates on the issue.

ECONOMIC CONCERNS

The full brunt of the economic damage from the coronavirus hasn't hit, but the surveys reveal most Democratic voters already felt on shaky ground. Few — only about 10% in Arizona, Florida and Illinois — said they were getting ahead financially in what has been the longest expansion in U.S. history.

Roughly two-thirds in each state think they are “holding steady,” while about a quarter describe themselves as falling behind.

Overwhelming majorities in all three states — 80% in Arizona and about 70% in Florida and Illinois — describe the country’s economic system as unfair. Roughly 40% in Arizona, and about a third in Florida and Illinois, called it “very unfair.”

POISED FOR NOVEMBER

Biden is widely seen as the strongest contender against Trump.

About 80% of voters in Arizona, Florida and Illinois think the former vice president could definitely or probably win the general election. Smaller majorities in each state — roughly 60% — have the same confidence in a Sanders victory.

Opposition to Trump is a defining trait of Democratic primary voters. In Florida and Illinois, around three-quarters said they would vote for whomever the party nominates to take on Trump. That figure is somewhat more, 81%, in Arizona.

Some in each of the states — 8% in Arizona, 13% in Illinois and 16% in Florida — say they would vote for Biden, but not Sanders. Somewhat fewer in Illinois and Florida, and about as many in Arizona, say they would vote for Sanders, but not Biden.

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AP VoteCast is a survey of the American electorate conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago for The Associated Press and Fox News. The surveys were conducted for seven days, concluding as polls closed.

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