Former Vice President Joe Biden is far and away the favored candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination among black Americans, boosted by his personal popularity, his service in the Obama administration and perceptions that he is best equipped to defeat President Trump, according to a national Washington Post-Ipsos poll.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., occupies second place in the Democratic field among African American voters, easily outdistancing the remaining candidates in the race. Sanders is leading among black voters under age 35, replicating his success with younger white voters in other national polls. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., runs third.

The survey finds meager support for former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is among the leaders in polls in the predominantly white states of Iowa and New Hampshire but stands at 2 percent among Democratic black voters nationally. A lack of familiarity with him and concerns about his experience and sexual orientation appear to be contributing to his current standing. Buttigieg has said that as African Americans get to know him, he will gain more support, but the poll undercuts that assertion. He receives only 3 percent support among black voters who are familiar with him.


Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., is leading among black voters under age 35. Cheryl Senter/Associated Press file

The results, highlighting the views of a group that historically has played a significant role in determining the outcome of the Democratic nominating contest, help to explain the enduring strength of Biden’s candidacy. Despite questions about his age, his past positions on forced school busing and his relationships with Southern segregationist senators, the poll shows that 48 percent of black Democrats favor him for the nomination – a 28-point advantage over Sanders.

Biden “is the candidate that can try to get this country back on track, because we are way out of control,” said Eula Woodberry, a retired school district budget analyst in Dallas, where she still lives. “He’s levelheaded. I think he’s experienced, and I think he will look at the big picture. … He’s the type of person who can serve as the nucleus to bring people back together.”

Edward Phillips, 52, a former legal assistant who lives in New York City, called Biden a “known face,” adding, “You know he was vice president under (President Barack) Obama. You know his experience. I trust him. I believe him. I think he’s the only person among the Democrats who can defeat Trump.”

The survey, conducted by The Post and the nonpartisan research firm Ipsos, is one of the most extensive studies to date of views on the 2020 campaign among black voters, who, like other minority groups, are often represented by only small samples in customary national polls. It was conducted among 1,088 non-Hispanic black adults, including 900 registered voters, drawn from a large online survey panel recruited through random sampling of U.S. households.

More than 8 in 10 African American adults say the outcome of the 2020 election is important to them, and 79 percent say it is important to them personally that Trump not win a second term, with 66 percent saying that is “extremely” important to them.

Trump performs poorly among black voters when matched against any potential Democratic nominee. He wins just 4 percent or 5 percent of black voters when tested against eight Democratic candidates individually. But there is a 25-point variation in the levels of support for individual Democrats in these hypothetical contests against the president, an early measure of which candidates could more easily consolidate black support and who might struggle to turn out black voters in November.

In the competition for the Democratic nomination, Sanders is at 20 percent among black Democrats, followed by Warren at 9 percent. Buttigieg’s 2 percent support ties him with wealthy businessman Tom Steyer but slightly behind Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg at 4 percent each and the entrepreneur Andrew Yang at 3 percent.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who is looking for a breakthrough in Iowa, receives less than 1 percent support among black voters, as does former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, the other African American candidate tested along with Booker.

When second choices are combined with first choices, Biden stands at 64 percent, Sanders at 42 percent, Warren at 28 percent and Booker at 12 percent. No other candidate rises to double digits in the combined first- and second-choice rankings of African American voters.

The Post-Ipsos survey’s large sample size illuminates the contours of Biden’s support among different subsets of the black electorate.

Age is the sharpest dividing line among black Democratic voters. Though Biden leads his rivals by more than 2 to 1 overall, he trails Sanders by 42 percent to 30 percent among black Democrats ages 18 to 34.

Sanders’ support falls to 16 percent among black Democrats ages 35 to 49, far lower than Biden’s 41 percent support in this group. Biden’s support strengthens among older Democrats, rising to 68 percent among those 65 and older.

Elizabeth Warren

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at a campaign stop at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds on Sunday in Davenport, Iowa. A Post-Ipsos poll finds Warren is favored third as the nominee among black voters at 9 percent. Andrew Harnik/Associated Press

While Democrats boasted the most racially diverse field of candidates in history at the start of the presidential campaign, all six of the candidates who have gained enough support in polls and campaign donations to qualify for the next candidate debate, set for Tuesday in Iowa, are white. If a white candidate wins the nomination, 27 percent of black Democrats say it is “very” or “fairly” important that the person choose a vice presidential running mate who is black, while 35 percent say this is “not so important” and 38 percent say it is “not at all important.”

But Caroline Bivins, a teacher in her 40s in the Atlanta area, said a ticket that includes a black candidate would motivate African Americans. “Let’s just say Elizabeth Warren chooses (Georgia’s) Stacey Abrams, I think more blacks would go to the polls,” she said.

The survey offers insights into the ideological diversity of the black community, which has long been a core element of the Democratic base but is far from uniformly liberal in a party that has shifted leftward in recent years.

Six in 10 black Democratic voters identify as moderate or conservative, and Biden gets 58 percent support among this group, compared with 14 percent for Sanders and 8 percent for Warren.

Biden is favored by 53 percent of black Democratic voters in the South, a region where the concentration of African Americans helped both Obama and Hillary Clinton amass delegates in their successful nomination campaigns and could do the same for Biden if his support holds.

A majority of Democratic-leaning blacks (57 percent) say the most important thing they are looking for in a Democratic nominee is a likelihood of beating Trump. One-third say they want someone closest to them on issues, and 9 percent say they are looking for the candidate who has the strongest personal character. Biden leads on all of those.

On the question of which Democrat has the best chance to defeat Trump in November, Biden is cited by 53 percent of African American Democrats, compared with 18 percent who name Sanders. All the other candidates are in single digits. Biden has a large lead as well on the question of which Democrat would unite the country, cited by 43 percent of black Democrats compared with 19 percent for Sanders. The other candidates are in single digits.

Biden’s service as vice president under the country’s first black president also gives him entree to many black voters. Fifty-six percent of African American Democrats say that fact makes them more likely to support him for the 2020 nomination, and 61 percent say the next president should generally continue Obama’s policies.

(The Post-Ipsos survey was conducted Jan. 2-8. Overall results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The error margin is plus or minus four points among the sample of 769 Democratic-leaning registered voters.)

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.