Anatomy of a political comeback: How Joe Biden earned nomination

Biden will be the Democratic Party candidate to the US presidency

joe biden ap Joe Biden | AP

It seemed easy to write off Joe Biden. The former vice president came across as easily blindsided at debates. The crowds at his presidential campaign speeches were far from stadium size.

Other Democratic candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg each had moments of radiating a kinetic energy, while Biden appeared to be conserving his resources.

But Biden had name recognition. He is able to connect on an emotional level with people who have experienced personal loss, as he has.

And as Barack Obama's wingman for eight years, Biden was a reminder to many Democrats of what a president should be.

The opening contests in the 2020 nominating race in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada were humbling losses for Biden.

Then came a commanding victory in South Carolina with help from African American voters.

Rivals departed the race, and within days his coalition expanded to make him a lock for the nomination that was officially secured Friday night.

This is how Biden won.

It's an account drawn directly from more than 40,000 people from AP VoteCast surveys in 17 states who voted between February 3 and March 17.

The result is a rich portrait of a diverse Democratic electorate eager to oust President Donald Trump.

The issues confronting the nation intensified since Biden took an overwhelming lead in the primary as the United States now faces a pandemic, a recession and civil unrest due to racial inequality.

A majority of Democratic voters wanted to put a moderate with practical policy proposals in office over a liberal with bold ideas. This should not be a surprise, given that 58 per cent say they are moderate or conservative. At the same time, the surveys show a slim majority (53 per cent) of voters say they prefer a dramatic overhaul of Washington, compared with 45 per cent who want a return to a pre-Trump era.

Voters who wanted to restore the political system went for Biden over any other candidate, whether they wanted a liberal or a centrist.

Sanders, a Vermont senator who is a self-described democratic socialist, had an advantage over Biden among those who wanted fundamental change and a liberal candidate.

But even among those who support a sweeping transformation and centrist policies, 38 per cent backed Biden.

A solid 61 per cent of primary voters were older than 45, a group that firmly supported Biden.

His advantages among this group offset his weakness with younger voters. The demographic composition of Democratic voters was a barrier for Sanders.

Voters under 30 were a key component of Sanders' coalition but made up just 15 per cent of the electorate.

The pattern is similar among self-described liberals and people who saw themselves as falling behind in the economy.

The opening contests failed to set the tone for the rest of the country. Biden finished fourth in the Iowa caucuses on February 3 and fifth in the New Hampshire primary about a week later.

While those states got the bulk of attention from candidates, the results failed to sway voters elsewhere.

Iowa and New Hampshire were whiter and much more supportive of sweeping change than the states that followed on the election calendar.

More important, the moderate vote was fractured in those places.

Before South Carolina, no candidate had earned more than one-third of this group.

In New Hampshire, for example, about 6 in 10 voters identified as moderate or conservative. Roughly 3 in 10 went for Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

About one-quarter backed Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Only about 1 in 10 supported Biden. By contrast, Sanders enjoyed a relatively clear advantage among liberals, with Massachusetts Sen. Warren well behind vying for those votes.

South Carolina's February 29 primary gave Biden a much needed comeback.

It was the first heavily African American state to have a say, and 64 per cent of African American voters supported Biden.

The state's voters were more enthused about restoring the Obama era compared with voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

About 7 in 10 considered themselves to be moderate or conservative. More than half were nonwhite, unlike the roughly 9 in 10 white voters in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The delegate count was high enough in South Carolina that it shook up the field. Within 72 hours, Buttigieg, Klobuchar and billionaire Tom Steyer decided to set aside their presidential ambitions, clearing the way for Biden to build out his coalition