Staff Columnist

Is Bernie or Biden the answer?

Survey of non-voters shows fondness for Democratic duo

Young Iowans cheer for Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders at the DoubleTree Convention Center in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. The Vermont Senator made a stop in Cedar Rapids before continuing to Iowa City in his last weekend of campaigning before the Iowa Caucus. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
Young Iowans cheer for Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders at the DoubleTree Convention Center in Cedar Rapids on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016. The Vermont Senator made a stop in Cedar Rapids before continuing to Iowa City in his last weekend of campaigning before the Iowa Caucus. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Despite the hype of the past two years, about two-thirds of eligible voters will likely sit out the midterm election in November. A new poll suggests Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders may be best positioned to dispel the apathy.

The poll, released last week by USA Today and Suffolk University, attempted to paint a picture of American adults unlikely to vote in November due to being unregistered or otherwise not interested. The result is a study in abstract: Swathes of contrasting colors.

For instance, about 56 percent believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, but disagree on why. When given a list of possibilities — political gridlock, the economy, taxes, immigration, health care, etc. — the category most often picked (18.4 percent) was “other.”

Most (26.8 percent) are undecided about what television news they trust most, although 38.7 percent describe themselves as frequent news consumers who primarily receive information from cable networks (49.1 percent).

The group also can’t decide on President Donald Trump. About 11 percent said Trump was an idiot, jerk or ass. The next highest group at 9.4 percent said they liked him or viewed him favorably.

According to the poll, most of those not likely to vote are white, have household incomes under $60,000/year, aren’t invested in the stock market, don’t have union ties or a firearm, and say religion is important in their lives.

So, where does Vermont’s senior senator and the former vice president fit into this? When non-voters were asked to give a favorable or unfavorable ranking to various politicians and organizations, only three were viewed more favorably than not: The Federal Bureau of Investigation (54 percent), Joe Biden (47.4 percent), and Bernie Sanders (43.5 percent).

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Trump had the largest unfavorable ranking with 54.6 percent, but was fourth in overall favorability (33.8 percent). Go figure. Also on the losing end were “the news media,” Hillary Clinton and Congress.

I’m not certain what this says about the American electorate — or, I guess, in this case, non-electorate — but it does remind me of prevailing sentiments in Iowa before Biden ruled out a 2016 presidential run.

There was excitement for a Biden candidacy and, later, for that of Sanders. A few Biden supporters lamented his absence throughout caucus season and into the general. And Sanders’ organization ultimately altered the political landscape in the Hawkeye State — a process that remains underway, final product yet to be determined.

What stands out particularly for Sanders is that the excitement he generated was often from people similar to those participating in this survey — politically dejected and disenchanted. Not all, but a good number were new recruits to the caucus process and to voting.

What was lacking, harsh as it may be, is what still is lacking: rhetoric that translates into achievable public policy; an ability and willingness to accept and even pursue compromise.

So, is Bernie or Biden the answer? Perhaps in the confused abstract. Notwithstanding 2016, the folks who actually take time to cast a ballot prefer realism.

• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8613, lynda.waddington@thegazette.com

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