WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Defying the coronavirus threat to cast ballots, a majority of voters in Democratic presidential contests in three states on Tuesday trusted front-runner Joe Biden more than Bernie Sanders to handle a major crisis, Edison Research polls showed.
The polls also found about half of voters in Illinois, one of the three states holding primaries, were “very concerned” about the potential effects of the outbreak, which caused Ohio to cancel its planned nominating contest on Tuesday.
Gloved poll workers and hand sanitizer dispensers met voters in the Florida, Illinois and Arizona nominating contests amid a health crisis that has upended the campaign and shut down much of American life as in other parts of the world.
Biden, the former vice president, hopes big victories in the primaries will help him amass an unassailable advantage over Sanders in the race to choose a challenger to Republican President Donald Trump in the Nov. 3 election.
Biden leads Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, in opinion polls in all three states.
Because of the coronavirus, Edison Research, which normally conducts exit polls, spoke by telephone to early voters and others who planned to vote.
The polls found seven of 10 voters in Florida and six of 10 in Illinois and Arizona trusted Biden more than Sanders in a crisis.
There were signs coronavirus concerns had hurt turnout on Tuesday, though officials also noted that early voting and voting by mail had surged. That could still boost overall turnout above the levels in the Democratic primary in 2016, the last year Americans voted for president.
Ohio also had been scheduled to vote on Tuesday, but Governor Mike DeWine said public health concerns made in-person voting too dangerous and postponed the election to June 2.
“Our goal is that no one will have to choose between their constitutional rights and risking their health,” DeWine told a news conference on Tuesday, adding that going ahead with the vote would have been “a real, real disaster.”
Biden has taken command of the Democratic race in the past two weeks, scoring victories in 16 of the last 21 state contests and building a lead of roughly 150 delegates over Sanders in the chase for the 1,991 delegates needed to clinch the nomination at July’s Democratic convention.
(GRAPHIC-Calendar of each state’s Democratic nominating contest and its allocated delegates link: here)
Reporting by John Whitesides in Washington and Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey; Additional reporting by Chris Kahn in New York, Brendan O’Brien in Chicago, Jason Lange and Doina Chiacu in Washington, Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia and Trevor Hunnicutt in New York; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Howard Goller