Pew survey of American Democrats and their views on Biden as an “old white male”: some good news and some puzzling news

This new article by Pew Research reports a survey of American Democrats, asking them if they were bothered by the fact that the Democratic Presidential nominee (Biden of course) is “a white man in his 70s.” The results are pretty much as you expect—most people don’t care that much (especially given his opponent!), but there’s one surprising result. Click on the screenshot to read the short report:

First, as the figure below shows (it also displays the question posed to people), the people least concerned with Biden being an “old white male” are, of course, those who originally supported Biden (79% aren’t bothered). But those who backed other candidates show more concern, except those who backed Sanders—the other old white male (79% not bothered). Those who originally favored either Warren (an old white woman) or Buttigieg (a young white gay male) were, as expected, more bothered  (26% and 43% not bothered, respectively.  Overall, 59% of total Dems aren’t that bothered about Biden’s age and race.

But the good news is that regardless of whether Dems are bothered by the OWM (old white male) syndrome, they are overwhelmingly in favor of Biden when he’s put up against Trump. 89% of all Dems disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job (8% approve!), with most of the disapproval being “strong”. The disapproval is a bit stronger among those who are worried about Biden being an OWM. But there’s no difference when it comes to voting: among all Dems surveyed, 85% intend to vote for Biden or lean towards him (4% are Trump/lean Trump!), with 10% being “neither or others”. When you divide up the Dems by whether they’re concerned about Biden’s being an OWM, there’s hardly any difference between the degree to which the two groups favor Biden:

This is heartening in that it shows that Democrats have largely come together behind one candidate, even though, as I believe—many interviewees must feel the same way—that Biden is not an overwhelmingly fantastic candidate. Still, only 85% of Dems say at this point they’ll probably vote for Biden. If too many Dems stay home because they wanted Sanders or Warren to be the nominee, we’ll be screwed.

But there is one surprising result. If you break down the Democrats by race, age, gender, ideology, and education, and ask them if they’re bothered by Biden being an OWM, here’s what you get (the red box is one I’ve added):

Men and women are about the same, and, as you might expect, the younger and more educated people are more bothered by the OWM syndrome (they are more likely, I think, to be more conscious of racial equity given the climate among liberals). The difference between postgraduates on one hand and those who had some high school education but no college on the other, is huge: 58% vs 24% respectively are bothered by the fact that Biden’s an OWM.

What surprised me was the division among races. I would have expected that minorities—African-Americans and Hispanics—would have been more bothered by OWM, for no candidate represents them, though the withdrawn candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris identify as black. But while 49% of white Democrats are bothered by Biden being an OWM, only 28% of blacks and 30% of Hispanics are.

It’s clear, then, that white Democrats are more bothered by OWM candidates than are blacks or Hispanics.  That’s not what I expected.

Now I can make up post facto theories (which are mine) about why this is so. For instance, you could say that blacks and Hispanics, who are overwhelmingly Democratic, are so relieved that Biden got the nomination—he polls more strongly in those communities than Buttigieg, Warren, or Sanders—that they don’t much care if he’s an OWM. Or one could say that this reflects white guilt. I’ve heard that the most woke antiracists are in fact white, but until now I had no data supporting that.

Or perhaps there’s another explanation. If you have a theory which is yours, put it in the comments below.

h/t: cesar

59 Comments

  1. eric
    Posted April 22, 2020 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    When it comes to African American voters, I’ve heard pundits in the past mention two factors. The first is that they tend to be more pragmatic than white voters (here, that would play out as not being as easily bothered by minor details). The second is that Biden gets a lot of credit because of being Obama’s VP.

    • Richard Sanderson🤴
      Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:59 am | Permalink

      Indeed. A lot of black people can’t afford to ponder about Biden’s ‘unforgivable sins’ such as Iraq, or his not-complete compliance with all SJW grievances.

      There are quite a few regressive Far Left whites (Glenn Greenwald, Kyle Kulinski types) who are now busy throwing shade at Biden, and some even suggesting they simply can’t vote for the Dems. These people will then blame “centrists” and Liberals if Trump gets in. Exactly what Dan “The Zionists” Arel did after the last election, when he campaigned for Sanders, and was critical of Clinton.

      It is never “their” fault, of course. Even when they don’t vote Democrat, or spend 24/7 slamming the Democratic candidate, while enabling Trump.

      PS If you want an amusing example of the above – check out Mehdi “cattle” Hasan’s TL after he suggested voting for Biden was the lesser of two evils. He is getting loads of flak from the Far Left.

  2. Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Not bothered he’s old and white; bothered he has dementia

    • EdwardM
      Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:33 am | Permalink

      Concern about the natural course of aging is one thing, claiming he has dementia is quite another. I’m quite sure I know why you state as fact something you can’t possibly know.

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:38 am | Permalink

        Yes, I’m pretty sure too. I’m also 50/50 that jmerrilllynch won’t bother replying.

      • Richard Sanderson🤴
        Posted April 22, 2020 at 10:20 am | Permalink

        Well, Cenk Uyghur said he has dementia, and as we know, Cenk is never wrong.

        /s

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted April 22, 2020 at 10:56 am | Permalink

          Cenk Uyghur

          Is a perfect anagram of ‘Yuck Eurgh (…n)’

    • Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:45 am | Permalink

      It takes one to know one. There’s nothing that I’ve heard that would suggest Biden has dementia. He’s always stumbled a bit with off-the-cuff speech. Many people do. And he’s a bit older. Many of us are.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:50 am | Permalink

      Give me a mild, decent dementia (if, indeed, dementia it be) over pathological incompetence any day.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      As opposed to Trump? The guy who

      – forgets his own wife’s name
      – slurs his speech repeatedly
      – wanders off on live TV, forgetting there are cars waiting
      – forgets names of people in the room constantly, along with place names, product names, etc.
      – has been repeatedly described as displaying alarming signs of early onset dementia by WH staff off the record
      – thinks America should nuke hurricanes to throw them off course

      …?

      The Democrats could field a duck dressed in a suit and tie and they’d still have a more credible candidate than Trump.

      • EdwardM
        Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        …and that quacker would have my vote.

      • kraeuterbutter
        Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:56 am | Permalink

        Well hit, sir! A perfect knockdown. 🙂

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted April 22, 2020 at 10:04 am | Permalink

        And, let us not forget that, according to Rex Tillerson, Jim Mattis, John Kelly, HR McMaster, Gary Cohen and several other members of Trump’s original staff and cabinet, under a strict interpretation of the clinical criteria set out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Trump qualifies as a certifiable “fucking moron.”

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Biden is a professional politician. He has been in this profession for many, many years. The Black voters like him and have shown it throughout so any problem that some white voters have is mostly, who cares. Just get on the train and vote the republicans into the ditch. That is all that matters.

    If anything is a problem it is the age. Biden is a good 8 years older than myself. I know how old that is and it is too old to be taking on a job such as this. He will soon be picking his VP and that will be important.

  4. GBJames
    Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Well I sure fit the statistics…. old white guy with post graduate education, preferred Warren, concerned about OWM issue. But happily supporting Biden against the Orange Menace.

    I don’t have a theory which is mine. I share the “white guilt” theory.

  5. Historian
    Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    This poll would have been much more useful if Pew had differentiated between Biden being old and Biden being white. These are two different factors in determining what Democrats may think of him. I have stated consistently that I think Biden is too old and may have lost some of his mental acuity to run for president. Still, Biden is infinitely more preferable than Trump. I hope that Biden makes it to Election Day.

    • EdwardM
      Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:37 am | Permalink

      Do you think that distinction would have made a difference for black and Hispanic voters? Or do you think it is only white people whose opinions would differ?

    • Posted April 22, 2020 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      As for his being old – that sure does come across. I am on tenterhooks when he is being interviewed, since it really looks like he is one word away from having a senior moment. And there have been interviews where he really became an old man with glasses on his head looking for his glasses.

      • EdwardM
        Posted April 22, 2020 at 10:23 am | Permalink

        “…he really became an old man with glasses on his head looking for his glasses.”

        I resemble that remark!

  6. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    One of the open secrets in politics is that ethnic minorities often tend to be more socially conservative than the rest of society, not less. The attitudes among these communities towards homosexuality, gender equity, the death penalty, etc. is frequently pretty…old-school.

    It’s no surprise they wouldn’t be particularly engaged with the kind of woke identity politicking that you find among many liberal whites.

    I think there will come a time when the Republicans(if they still exist post-Trump) finally find a way to glom onto the default conservatism of ethnic minority communities and play on it ruthlessly. Democrats need to have good arguments when that time comes.

    • GBJames
      Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:48 am | Permalink

      That won’t happen, Saul. That leopard has been wearing racist spots, so to speak, for fifty years. It isn’t going to lose them just because tRump goes away. Republicans created the Orange Menace, not the other way around.

      • EdwardM
        Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:58 am | Permalink

        Yes, that’s right. They long ago made their Faustian deal. We will not be free from the scourge even if Trump loses.

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted April 22, 2020 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        I hope it doesn’t happen. But I think there is enormous capital to be made there by any conservative party with the cunning to act on it.
        There is a fundamental unease between liberals and many immigrant communities when it comes to subjects like sexual and gender equality, secularism, etc. That tension has never been resolved, it’s just bubbled away below the surface, and both sides have tried to ignore it while remaining allies.

        And there might be a completely different right-wing party in the US if the Republicans don’t survive this nadir. The ‘conservative modernisation’ that was touted by Rubio or whoever it was post Obama’s victory never happened; the pivot towards being more inclusive towards emerging ethnic demographics never happened, it was too much effort, and not enough fun. But things change. The American right will have to if Trumpism capsizes the GOP.
        The UK Conservatives touted something similar under David Cameron; a more friendly, happy clappy, moderate Conservative party. And they were arguably successful in rebanding themselves as such.

        • revelator60
          Posted April 22, 2020 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

          I suspect that if Trump loses in 2020, the Republican party might eventually divide into two parties: an ultra-hard-right group and a more moderate, Tory-style party. In which case the the moderate-but-conservative party could indeed make inroads with socially conservative minorities.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 22, 2020 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      I think there will come a time when the Republicans(if they still exist post-Trump) finally find a way to glom onto the default conservatism of ethnic minority communities and play on it ruthlessly.

      Ain’t gonna happen so long as the GOP clings to the white nationalism that’s been part of its post-1964-Civil-Rights-Act DNA since Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy.”

      To realign the interests of urban and southern black voters with those of white voters in the mostly empty interior US red states, the GOP would need a transformative leader on par with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Such leaders appear in the US political firmament about once a century.

      The Republican Party performed an “autopsy” in 2012 after Mitt Romney lost (with 47.2% of the popular vote) to Barack Obama. That autopsy said the Party’s continued viability depended on its reaching out to minority voters. Instead, in the next presidential cycle, it nominated Donald Trump (who got just 46.1% of the popular vote) — the last tortured cry of a dying breed.

      • Saul Sorrell-Till
        Posted April 22, 2020 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        “The Republican Party performed an “autopsy” in 2012 after Mitt Romney lost (with 47.2% of the popular vote) to Barack Obama. That autopsy said the Party’s continued viability depended on its reaching out to minority voters.”

        Yes, that’s the one I was referring to(to which I was referring, gah) in my reply to James.

      • Posted April 22, 2020 at 10:44 am | Permalink

        “the last tortured cry of a dying breed.”

        My fingers are crossed.

  7. Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Dems haven’t nominated a white male for president in 16 years, which takes a little steam out of the outrage. The stats suggest that blacks and hispanics see through the divisive nonsense better than those snooty white (and probably over-educated)liberals.

  8. Ken Kukec
    Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    “Bother you” seems an inexact measurement standard. I’m not sure how I would’ve answered that question had a pollster asked me.

    I mean, I don’t see Biden’s being an OWM as a BFD. But given my druthers, I’druther have a younger candidate. It’s also way the hell past time for the US to have a woman president. And, all things being equal, I’d like to see another Brother (or Sister) or some other president-of-color in the Oval Office.

    So, I dunno, count me “a teensy bit bothered,” I guess.

  9. Matt
    Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    Older white man Trump vs. Older white man not Trump –> Older white man not Trump for the win.

  10. Desnes Diev
    Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    “The difference between postgraduates on one hand and those who had some high school education but no college on the other, is huge: 58% vs 24% respectively are bothered by the fact that Biden’s an OWM”

    The College and Postgrad results could be due to a kind of “woke effect” if more Democrats from humanities answered the survey than from other fields of employment.

  11. Richard Sanderson🤴
    Posted April 22, 2020 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    It isn’t a surprise to see that a higher proportion of white people find Biden’s “old white man” profile more problematic.

    Regressives and SJWs find whiteness and old age awkward and problematic. They can’t do much about the latter, but they try all sorts of tricks to get out of the former. Check out the number of white people who desperately try to find some non-white ancestry (a la Elizabeth Warren), and “self-define” themselves as something other than white (a la Rachel Dolzeal, Shawn White), because it makes it socially and politically easier for them to operate in today’s enviroment.

    Strange times, but this has been obvious for a decade, now.

    • EdwardM
      Posted April 22, 2020 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      Does it make it easier though? Warren’s Native American claims (and she DID make them) have been widely derided and even many Democrats cringe when it’s brought up (it is rightly seen, in my view, as part of her lamentable tendency to pander). Rachel Dolezal is a racial pariah, liked and respected only by the looniest of the left. Let’s not get carried away here.

      • Richard Sanderson🤴
        Posted April 22, 2020 at 10:17 am | Permalink

        Ultimately, it backfired on Warren, in the wider scheme of things, especially given how tenuous her ancestry claim was.

        The fact is, is the environment Warren inhabits, making such claims is seen as advantageous. But people don’t ever think ahead to work out if their SJW signalling will reflect badly in the future, as long as it plays well in their immediate bubble.

        • pablo
          Posted April 22, 2020 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

          In Warren’s defense, I think she was told by her family that she had Cherokee ancestry when she was growing up in Oklahoma. Her mistake was running with it.

          • GBJames
            Posted April 22, 2020 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

            This is an exceedingly common element of family traditions among Americans. Usually wrong, of course. It was true in my family and I believed it until I did genealogy research which turned up zero evidence for it. DNA analysis also showed it to be absent. My my dad had heard from his dad that…

            • Posted April 23, 2020 at 6:08 am | Permalink

              How true this is. And many who have been told they are part Cherokee are also thought to be very high status (royal, if you will.) It has been a long time since I last read how many people apply for being acknowledged as members of the Cherokee tribe, but my limited memory is that many apply but are found wanting.

              An OWM with a tired brain, but who continues to be humane, in my opinion is far superior to our current president, an OWM who is inhumane (and dumb.)

      • Richard Sanderson🤴
        Posted April 22, 2020 at 10:26 am | Permalink

        Re. Dolzeal.

        Same as Warren, her initial approach worked well for her, in her immediate bubble. She got gigs, promotions, places on organisations, etc. She was a very much accepted SJW activist.

        Only when people outside the SJW bubble cottoned on (initiated by a TV journalist challenging her on the issue), the pressure cooker lid blew off, and suddenly, [some of] her comrades turned on her, and argued she was “actually white” and taking up the spaces of POC. Which was true.

        But she initially had the support and confidence of a lot of people in that environment.

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted April 22, 2020 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      ” Check out the number of white people who desperately try to find some non-white ancestry (a la Elizabeth Warren), and “self-define” themselves as something other than white (a la Rachel Dolzeal, Shawn White)”

      Okay, that’s three.

      I think you might be overestimating the extent to which this is a problem.

      • Richard Sanderson🤴
        Posted April 22, 2020 at 10:30 am | Permalink

        Didn’t say it was a problem.

        It is reflective of the environment that produces the above polling data…

        Oh, and I could name many more.

        • Saul Sorrell-Till
          Posted April 22, 2020 at 10:45 am | Permalink

          I don’t think people claiming to be black when they’re white is a widespread problem*. And if it’s not a widespread problem then I don’t see that there’s much reason to get het up about it.

          *apart from Vanilla Ice and Eminem

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted April 22, 2020 at 11:06 am | Permalink

            My recollection of l’affaire Dolezal is that older black folk — the ones for whom Jim Crow and the “color line” were a living memory — weren’t nearly as upset about it as the younger ones involved in campus race studies. If anything, they saw it as a sign of progress that, at long last, “passing” had become a two-way street.

    • CF
      Posted April 22, 2020 at 10:25 am | Permalink

      …”white people who desperately try to find some non-white ancestry (a la Elizabeth Warren)” seems a bit hyperbolic. When I was younger, I laid claim to remote Cherokee ancestry on my paternal grandmother’s side because it caught my imagination. Granted, I didn’t put it on a college application, but I don’t see laying claim to that or the European elements in my ancestry as mutually exclusive. People sometimes make mistakes; grown-ups apologize for their mistakes, as Warren did. Strange times indeed.

  12. Posted April 22, 2020 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    I’ve had comments on the media that people of color are just used to it. There is also a strong sense of trust in Biden among the black community.
    A bit rides on his choice as running mate. I am personally hoping for a younger person who can enliven minority voters.

  13. CF
    Posted April 22, 2020 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    I agree with most of the above comments. As an oldish white female, I’m not particularly surprised that blacks and Hispanics are not as concerned about OWM as whites. Sanders received substantial Hispanic and younger black voter support in the primaries; Biden garnered that of older black voters. I’m a Warren fan, and from what I’ve seen, her and other candidates’ supporters (with the exception of a very few Sanders folks) now overwhelmingly rally behind Biden. While he was not the first choice of many democrats, he is infinitely better than the alternative. Also– how can anyone leaning toward the “alternative president” remotely identify as a democrat??

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted April 22, 2020 at 11:16 am | Permalink

      Also– how can anyone leaning toward the “alternative president” remotely identify as a democrat??

      Those Trump supporters are “Democrats” in the same sense that the Japanese soldiers discovered in the hinterlands of the Pacific theater decades after the War’s end were still part of the Imperial Japanese Army.

    • Posted April 22, 2020 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

      I liked Warren too. So what do you think of Warren as VP? Good reasons for it; good reasons against it for me.

  14. dd
    Posted April 22, 2020 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    The results were not too surprising to me.

    It’s been clear that perhaps the iconic attribute of progressives (not liberals) is, to put it bluntly, white self-hatred.

    This is what white fragility, etc. (B. D’Angelo) and the worshiping of Ta Nehisi-Coates is at its core. Also checking your privilege (which seems so yesterday), etc etc.

    To be a good white progressive is to seek constant redemption for your white skin/whiteness from those who are not.

    Alot of non-whiteness people know this and know how to manipulate it.

    (BTW, I am gay and an immigrant whose parents never ever came anywhere close English fluency…in fact they never learned despite their 40 years here. They took a job when they came, were already in their early 40s, never had the opportunity to learn. English is not an easy language.)

  15. Posted April 22, 2020 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    “It’s clear, then, that white Democrats are more bothered by OWM candidates than are blacks or Hispanics.”

    The people who can best afford the luxury of indulging in woke identity politics are either whites, or blacks at liberal-arts colleges (who are thus really quite privileged).

  16. pablo
    Posted April 22, 2020 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    The only thing that bothers me about Biden’s age is that the odd behavoiral ticks, verbal gaffes he’s been making his making all of his life suddenly look like dementia, and you know that the Republicans will go there.

  17. Charles A Sawicki
    Posted April 22, 2020 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    “I would have expected that minorities—African-Americans and Hispanics—would have been more bothered by OWM, for no candidate represents them, though the withdrawn candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris identify as black.”
    This not a surprise, tRump hates minorities and snuggles up to white supremacists. Biden is friendly and supportive of minorities. As people should, they are going to vote for a candidate that supports their interests.

  18. Posted April 22, 2020 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I’d be interested to know what the figures for being bothered by OWM syndrome would be if Bernie Sanders had won the nomination. I suspect that, in some cases, “bothers you” would be lower than for Biden in spite of the fact that Sanders is white and about the same age.

    For the record, I am bothered by Biden’s oldness – and Sanders and Warren’s and also Trump’s although Trump’s oldness is way down in the list of things about hime that bother me.

    • Posted April 22, 2020 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      Bernie seems slightly more “ethnic” than Biden, right?

    • GBJames
      Posted April 22, 2020 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

      “Bothers you” is a fairly fuzzy measure of a somewhat fuzzy attribute. Personally I did not want Biden to run, nor did I want Bernie to run because of their age. Warren is similarly aged but has the good luck to be female which gives her extra potential mileage so her candidacy was less “bothersome” to me.

      But as Mick Jagger told us, we don’t always get what we want. I was a Warren supporter. I voted for Sanders, and now I’m a Biden supporter. Old White Guy Biden is orders of magnitude better for humanity than Old Orange Guy tRump.

  19. Harrison
    Posted April 22, 2020 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    Dems can say they’re “bothered” by OWM but it sure isn’t reflected in how they vote.

    Personally my lack of enthusiasm for Joe Biden is predicated entirely around his being Joe Biden. If you dunked him in the Fountain of Youth it wouldn’t make me any more enthused about being forced to pull the lever for the guy.

  20. Ullrich Fischer
    Posted April 22, 2020 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    When you’re running against the worst person currently living in the world, you don’t have to be a saint.

  21. Jon Gallant
    Posted April 23, 2020 at 2:03 am | Permalink

    All the discussions of white guilt, of whites pretending to be black, of Warren or others looking for Indian ancestry—all of these episodes remind me of “Solomon Gursky Was Here”, a wonderfully funny novel by the great Mordecai Richler. The novel involves the issues confronting a group of Jewish Eskimos, such as whether seal blubber is truly kosher. Their affiliation is the result of their tribe’s rescue of the title character, the sole Jewish member of the Franklin expedition. He lives thereafter among them, and fathers children who are of course part Inuit and part lansleit.

  22. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted April 23, 2020 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    I’m relieved that Biden is so popular! Hopefully his vice president candidate will increase that further.

    But what is the case with Democrats willing to vote across the party lines!? Are Republicans as willing? Or is this, given the bipartite US voting market, a problem? (Re Trump and US/global safety during the pandemic and climate crises, you need to “Vote Him Away!”)


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