So far, we’ve confirmed some conventional wisdom. Joe Biden has a base with older, more moderate voters. Bernie Sanders has a base with younger, more liberal voters. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren have sunk multiple pylons, but haven’t fully built a foundation yet. If either succeeds at turning their prospects into a real dedicated base, they will be very formidable.
If you had to bet between one of the above four or the rest of the field being the nominee, and the odds were even, I’d vehemently suggest you take your chances with the above four. Off the top of my skull, there’s a 70-90% chance one of them is the pick.
But it’s not 100%. And if it’s not one of them, it will be one of the following :
Ten days ago, Mayor Pete was ahead of Harris in more polls than he was trailing her. A few weeks ago, the same was true re: Warren. He raised more money in the second quarter ($24.8 million) than any other candidate. A few million more than Biden. Several million more than Bernie. Twice as much as Kamala.
Warren is waiting until closer to the July 15 deadline to announce her haul. If I had to guess, I’d say it was $8-10 million. This puts Buttigieg in excellent financial position. He’s now ramping up his team. He’s guaranteed to make the fall debate stage. Only 11% of Democratic voters polled by CNN have a negative opinion of him, the lowest number (Harris at 12% is next) of any contestant.
Weighed against the positive above is the 4% poll result. CNN’s numbers aren’t a fluke. The current Real Clear Politics average has him at 5.2%. Where the gap was previously between him and the group below, it’s now between him and the leaders above.
The reason is Mayor Pete’s lack of a base. This begins with the individual issues. He’s positioned himself as more liberal than Biden, more measured than the others. In an ideal world, that’s a Goldilocks situation, where he’s acceptable to most of the Democratic electorate.
It’s also the worst possible way to build a foothold in a contest with this many contenders. He doesn’t have a distinct enough position or approach to most of the items that will come up in debates. The numbers show this.
Economy: 3% of voters prefer the mayor.
Health Care: 2%
Race Relations: 1%
He’s the reverse of Biden and Sanders, who score better on average on the issues than overall support. Buttigieg just announced an expansive national service plan. As a veteran, this is a good fit. If he’s able to steer this in to something the media cares about, and get a debate question out of it, it will help significantly. He’ll need to do this on several other topics.
Mayor Pete polls exactly evenly between liberals and moderate/conservatives. Not only is he the only candidate with a pulse who does this, he’s the only contestant who doesn’t do twice as well with one or the other. It both sets up the possible Goldilocks outcome and a giant barrier to getting there.
He polled better with men (5%) than women (3%). A month prior, CNN had him at 5%/5%, so think it’s too early to declare a permanent gender gap. However, he has more of a base with male voters. I went back to an Economist/YouGov poll from early June. Buttigieg polled at 10% overall, so figured this would give us a larger sample size.
He scored at 12% with men, 6% with women. The poll also asked which candidates voters were considering, with no limitations on how many they could name. Mayor Pete was mentioned by 32% of voters, and the breakdown was 34%/31% male/female. The glass half-full conclusion is he may be able to build a base with men while remaining an option for women.
When he was floating higher in polls, and before the South Bend shooting, the Mayor’s problem with African American voters was already a thing. Narrative is very powerful. There’s no evidence black voters are actually opposed to him though.
As noted above, Buttigieg has an 11% overall favorability rate among Democrats. With non-white voters, it’s 12%. White voters are more likely to view him favorably (56%/39%), but the non-white voters are unsure, not against him.
I checked other polls which distinguish between black and other non-white voters. The Mayor does run a little better among Hispanic voters. But, we can safely assume that a poll only featuring “non-white” numbers is not a case where voters of color who aren’t African American skew the data to hide a problem.
Biden has long-standing ties. Sanders has an established base with younger voters of color. Harris and Booker are African American. Warren’s economic justice message, combined with almost a decade on the national stage, puts her ahead of Buttigieg with a portion of black voters.
It’s almost 8 months until South Carolina votes. The first contests in Iowa and New Hampshire have an extremely pale hue. In and of itself, Buttigieg’s lack of immediate connection with black voters shouldn’t impair him now. However, the lack of support and resulting narrative will harm the Mayor with white voters who already see him favorably, but have several other options.
As the youngest candidate running, you might think he’d have an edge with younger voters. Depends on your definition. The CNN splits have him at 4% across the board, except for a dip to 2% among voters 50-64.
This is mostly consistent with other surveys. Where there is a breakout for 30-44, he does best. Given that he’s in the exact middle of this range (37) himself, it’s logical from an identity angle. Harris often does best with voters in the late 40s-early 60s range. She’s 54.
Bernie and Warren are resonating best with voters who are too young to run for office themselves. Biden with the oldest group. Unless you consider older Millennials + younger GenX enough to qualify as a base, Buttigieg’s potential is based on being acceptable to all ages, rather than particularly speaking to one generation.
Educated, upper income voters are Buttigieg’s home. But not his base. It’s where most of his support lives. Among Democratic/Dem leaning white college graduates, he’s 71% favorable, 8% unfavorable. Sounds great, right? It is.
Kamala Harris: 79%/9%
Cory Booker: 68%/11%
While he’s quite popular, so are Harris and Booker. The Mayor’s support is concentrated in those voters who are also $50,000+. He’s the first-choice of 2.5x as many above the line as below.
Having this as your best group is ideal for fundraising. And he doesn’t need to be their only option to get contributions. His Q2 money will buy him some time to work on locking down more of a committed audience.
Voters who think he’s the toughest competition for Trump are not part of that group yet. Only 2% of Democrats pick Pete. That’s the same as Booker and Beto, noticeably less than the double-digit numbers for Sanders, Warren, and Harris.
If voters continue losing confidence in Biden as the anti-Trump, the current numbers suggest it’s more likely the Bernie/Liz/Kamala group benefits instead Buttigieg.
The combination of very low negative ratings, but equally low amounts of locked down support give Mayor Pete the largest gap between floor and ceiling of any candidate. He’s got a legit path to the nomination. And a legit path to zero delegates.
There are the four candidates who have separated themselves in polling. Then there are another three who have shown a pulse at some point in 2019. Buttigieg, Booker, & Beto. Two weeks ago, Harris was another candidate who’s past numbers were more interesting than her current. One good debate and she’s residing with the lead dogs. This is exactly what Booker is telling his donors right now.
Of the trio, Booker’s polling peak was both the lowest and furthest in the past. He topped out at 9% in an Emerson survey taken around Valentine’s Day. Still, less than a third of the contestants have ever scored this high in a national survey. Most of the candidates ahead of him are still unproven as presidential competitors.
He scored at 3% in the CNN poll. He’s at 2.2% in the RCP average. Booker doesn’t have a base. Where can he reasonably locate one before voting begins?
On the issue side, it’s with race relations. Booker was the first choice of 9% of voters. Given his overall position, that’s a big number. He placed ahead of Warren (6%). Right now, Harris is the big leader in this area. This is based on a single debate moment. If she stumbles, Booker is the most logical recipient.
There’s an even more specific angle. He registers at 11% on the issue among white voters, and 15% with white college graduates. Combined with being one of only two African American candidates, he has the chance to appeal to both suburban coastal white and southern black voters. Harris is clearly ahead now. But as we saw above, this is an easier combination for Booker than Buttigieg.
Despite moving visibly leftward over the past 12-24 months, it looks like his ideological opportunity is with the moderate/conservative group. While only the first choice of 1% of liberals, he’s at 4% among more centrist Dems, equal to Buttigieg.
There’s more opportunity on the moderate side. Biden is the only one of the four leaders who does better there. Even if Harris weakens with voters who don’t know her very well, Sanders and Warren are very entrenched on the left. Given how far to the left candidates are moving as they answer debate questions, Booker won’t need to correct much to the center-left to seem slightly less scary to more moderate voters.
He’s running better with women (4%) than men (1%) in this survey. I don’t think that would scale the same way the liberal/moderate split would. First, he’s a guy. There are multiple prominent female candidates who would likely make it difficult for Booker to build a female-specific base. If he attracts more women, it’s likely due to attracting more voters in total.
Second, the data. CNN asked which candidates voters were interested in hearing more about. 17% mentioned Booker, fourth of all the options. Men were more curious than women (21%/15%).
There isn’t a sizable ethnic gap either. 16% of white voters wanted to know more, 19% of non-white voters. There’s a path to Booker doing well with African American voters, if Biden continues to falter and Harris doesn’t become the primary choice. He’s could also swap places with her as the alternative to Biden if she loses ground while Uncle Joe hangs in.
Nobody has stepped forward with Hispanic or Asian voters yet. Some candidates do better, but that’s more linked to their overall performance. There are reasons to believe Booker could do well with either. Many Asian voters fit his strength with more educated, higher income individuals. Some Latinx voters might appreciate his background as an urban mayor. He’s part of the Spanish-speaking Squad of candidates. But these are suppositions not confirmed by data.
Like Mayor Pete, Booker doesn’t have a noticeable age separation. His current support is older. 1% of voters under 50, 4% among everyone else. Like his pseudo-gender gap, it’s an illusion based on low overall standing. On the curiosity measurement and his favorability numbers, it’s consistent across all age groups.
While Booker’s actual first level support is split mostly evenly between less/more educated and lower/higher income, with a slight edge in the direction of less & lower, his favorability, interest level, and issues ratings indicate his potential base is more educated/higher income.
He scores better by a 2:1 ratio in most measurements. So I’m comfortable saying that’s where his home is now. Like Buttigieg, it’s definitely not a base, just an opportunity.
Where does this leave us? Only 2% of voters said he was best to combat Trump, but that matches Booker’s overall support. He’s one of the few non-Biden candidates to score as well on electability as he does as a first choice.
Of all candidates, he’s the most demographically similar to Barack Obama. This helps and hinders. Voters know a candidate with his profile can be elected. He’s literally the only candidate with any polling support who would not be a first, or first in an incredibly long time.
Biden and Sanders would each be the oldest president in American history on their first day in office. Warren and Klobuchar would be the first women. Harris the first woman of color. Buttigieg the youngest, the first mayor of a small town, and first openly gay. O’Rourke the the first who last served in the House since James Garfield (1880). Julian Castro the first Latino. You get the idea.
What works for Booker in terms of potential safety, works against him in not being a first. It’s possible many voters like him as much or almost as much as some of the above mentioned, but want to make a statement.
He also suffers in comparison to Obama. Booker is similar to Obama, but not on the same level. His predecessor was a generational talent as a politician. One of only two Democrats to win multiple terms since FDR. The other one, Bill Clinton, gives us a good analogy.
Booker is to Obama as Al Gore was to Clinton. Similar, but more awkward, nerdier, and less appealing to young voters. Not only is he not the first, he’s not the best. However, Gore got nominated. Had a few votes in Florida gone differently, the comparison might be a compliment of sorts to Booker.
As long as Democrats are feeling confident in their chances against Trump, and many of the top-tier contenders are doing well, Booker will languish. But if the others stumble and/or Trump starts looking strong—his approval numbers are already edging into the mid 40s—there are a number of voter groups who can turn to him as safe harbor.
Originally, I’d planned to cover Beto, Castro, and perhaps Klobuchar in this third, and originally final, piece in the series. Buttigieg and Booker took more time and words than I’d expected. Writing and reading about possibilities takes more time than reviewing actualities.
So let’s take a break here, and we’ll return to the others soon.