Joe Biden has more foreign policy experience than any other candidate in the sprawling 22-person Democratic primary field, but his 2002 vote in favor of the invasion of Iraq is already providing fodder to his rivals — and could pose problems with younger voters.
Sen. Bernie Sanders is using the former vice president and senator’s Iraq vote to draw a contrast between their congressional records, as the Vermont lawmaker repeatedly points out that he voted against the war.
Story Continued Below
Democrats view Biden’s terms in the Senate and White House as his greatest asset, according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll out Wednesday. But his vote on Iraq could cost him support, the poll showed.
Seventy-three percent of Democratic respondents said Biden’s experience in the Senate and as President Barack Obama’s No. 2 makes them more likely to back him in the primary. But nearly 3 in 10 Democrats said they were turned off by his Iraq War vote, and more than 40 percent of participants between the ages of 18 and 29 said his record on the issue made them less likely to support him.
“Joe Biden’s 2002 vote in favor of authorizing military force against Iraq could hurt his support among the crucial younger voting bloc in the Democratic primary,” said Tyler Sinclair, Morning Consult’s vice president. “Notably, 42 percent of young voters 18-29 say they are less likely to support Biden because of his vote for the Iraq war, compared with 14 percent who say they are more likely and 18 percent who say his decision makes no difference at all.”
Democratic voters were more troubled by Biden’s Iraq War vote than by other controversial lines from his resume that have become campaign-trail issues, the poll found. Only 13 percent of Democratic respondents said they were less likely to support Biden because of his role in passing crime legislation in the 1990s that has come under criticism recently, and just 9 percent said his vote for trade deals such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and Trans-Pacific Partnership — frequent targets of President Donald Trump’s — made them less likely to back him.
Only his treatment of Anita Hill, who testified before Biden’s Judiciary Committee that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her, bothered Democratic poll participants nearly as much as the Iraq War vote — 28 percent of Democrats said it made them less likely to back him.
The Biden campaign declined to comment on the poll results.
Thirty-two percent of respondents in the Morning Consult poll said the war vote makes no difference to them, and 18 percent said they don’t know whether it will influence their choice or that they have no opinion. Twenty-one percent of participants said it made them more likely to back him.
“I don’t think the vote will be the kind of flashpoint as it was in 2008 or even 2016. Democrats seem more interested in looking toward the decades ahead of us than relitigating the ones behind us,” said Jesse Lehrich, a Democratic strategist who was a foreign policy spokesman on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. He noted that it was the Obama-Biden administration that brought troops home from Iraq. “The longer Biden remains the front-runner, the more attacks on his record he’ll face,” he said. “But I would be shocked if this particular issue is the one that erodes his support.”
A former Senate Foreign Relations Committee aide with knowledge of the process said Biden voted for the Iraq resolution in hopes that President George W. Bush could engage in “tough diplomacy” through the United Nations.
“Unfortunately, that vote was misused for an unnecessary and crazily costly war,” the aide said.
Sanders has highlighted the issue, telling ABC’s “This Week” earlier this month that “Joe voted for the war in Iraq. I led the effort against it.” Sanders’ campaign declined to comment on the new poll.
Trump in 2016 employed the Iraq War as a cudgel against Clinton, even though there was little evidence the New York businessman had opposed the invasion beforehand. He used the Democratic nominee’s vote in favor of the war to argue that he was the candidate best positioned to keep a war-weary United States from getting bogged down in foreign entanglements.
And his campaign has pointed to comments from former Obama Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who in an interview Sunday with CBS’ “Face the Nation” said he stood by a statement in his memoir that Biden has “been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director, criticized Biden for recommending against the raid during the Obama administration that led to the death of Osama bin Laden and for recent comments in which Biden made light of the idea that China is a major competitor to the U.S.
“Being right on foreign policy is a foreign concept to Joe Biden,” Murtaugh said.
Now, with the administration seemingly on a march toward conflict in Iran, with Trump reportedly considering a plan to send 120,000 troops to the Middle East, the Iraq War — and Biden’s role in it — could emerge as a bigger issue in the Democratic primary.
“Anytime you’ve got a record that long, there will be things that don’t age well,” Lehrich said. “But I think his gravitas will prove to be more of an asset than a liability…The gap between Biden and Trump when it comes to expertise, statesmanship and moral clarity is overwhelming.”
The POLITICO/Morning Consult poll surveyed 1,995 registered voters from May 10-12 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.
Morning Consult is a nonpartisan media and technology company that provides data-driven research and insights on politics, policy and business strategy.