By the time you read this, Iowa may have finally reported all results from all precincts. At the moment I type this, 96% are in, and Pete Buttigieg is still leading Bernie Sanders by a narrow margin in State Delegate Equivalents, the official currency for declaring a caucus winner. He’s going to hold on. Neither his victory speech on Monday, nor my victory conclusion yesterday will prove false.
The conventional wisdom is another story. For near 48 hours, we’ve heard how the failures of caucus tabulation stole Buttigieg’s chance to make a traditional victory speech before much of America was asleep (though the past two Democratic caucus nights have had a self-declared winner jump the gun on waiting for official data, so maybe this is how it’s done now–neither were wrong) and how the confusion would prevent him from getting the much needed post-Iowa polling bounce.
Two pollsters (Emerson and Suffolk) are running daily tracking polls in New Hampshire. These work on a rolling basis. Emerson is three days, Suffolk two. Tonight, Emerson’s results show respondents from 2/3 to 2/5, while Suffolk’s are for the 4th and 5th only. So, each day Emerson swaps out one-third of it’s results, while Suffolk tosses a half. At last half of the current Emerson survey, and a chunk of Suffolk were taken before the first batch of results were announced yesterday. These voters only had Buttigieg’s confidence to go on. No voter has heard him officially declared the winner yet.
At the time reporting would/should have begun in Iowa on Monday night, his numbers were:
Emerson: 12% (tied for 4th with Klobuchar, 1 point behind Biden)
Suffolk: 11% (4th, 5 points ahead of Klobuchar, 7 points behind Biden)
Buttigieg trailed Sanders by 13 points according to Suffolk, 20 via Emerson. Flash forward two days later, and voila!
Emerson: 21% (2nd, 9 up on Biden, 10 on Klobuchar)
Suffolk: 19% (2nd, 7 ahead of Biden, 13 more than Klobuchar)
He’s cut the gap with Sanders in half. Ten behind according to Emerson, 6 if you believe Suffolk. This wasn’t because Bernie dropped. He went from 32% to 31% (Emerson) and 24% to 25% (Suffolk). For those who think Biden was somehow helped by the delayed bad news, he went from 18% to 12% in the Suffolk poll (though his Emerson drop was a smaller 13% to 12% dip.)
Warren: Before (13%, 13%), Now (12%, 11%)
Klobuchar: Before (12%, 6%), Now (11%, 6%)
Yang: Before (5%, 3%), Now (4%, 2%)
Gabbard: Before (4%, 5%), Now (5%, 5%)
Steyer: Before (5%, 4%), Now (1%, 4%)
It looks like Pete took support directly from Biden in the Suffolk poll, while grabbing voters from Steyer and Undecided on the Emerson side. Either way, and however it’s happened, his support has almost doubled in 48 hours. So I’m thinking this couldn’t have turned out much better for him thus far.
Back in December, Buttigieg was regularly in the 20% range in New Hampshire. Much like Iowa, the voters have taken to him, and it didn’t take much to get them back on board. Unless he has his first truly bad debate moment, or a shakier than normal performance, Mayor Pete should hold what he has now.
But that won’t get him the first place trophy. Sanders is still ahead of him. The 31% he has with Emerson is out of 97% given to a specific candidate. The 25% from Suffolk is out of 84%, which works out to 30% of voters who have made up their mind. Buttigieg’s Suffolk conversion would take him to 23% of decided voters.
I wouldn’t bet on Bernie losing much ground. Perhaps down to 28%, but there’s no indication Warren is going to start surging and pull voters back from him. Her campaign is already taking as though they aren’t expecting much, mentioning another 55 states and territories vote after New Hampshire. Yang didn’t get the momentum out of Iowa that would turn a Bernie Bro into a Yang Gang member.
Five percent of New Hampshire Democratic primary voters are all about Tulsi Gabbard. Data shows many of them voted for Donald Trump in November 2016. They’re not moving. Her audience is limited, but dedicated.
Depending on what poll you prefer, Tom Steyer might have a few voters to donate to Buttigieg. We don’t have any data on who else Steyer voters like, but some must have jumped to Mayor Pete in Iowa or he wouldn’t have picked up as many votes as he did on the final alignment. They won’t go to Bernie if they haven’t already done so.
Where does this leave us?
In pretty good shape if you’re the Buttigieg campaign. Catching Sanders isn’t that hard, and it feels like a 50/50 shot right now. All he needs is to convert some of the remaining undecideds, pull a couple percent from Klobuchar, a couple percent from Biden, and a percent or two from Warren. We already know from Iowa that those voter groups are willing to choose him if necessary. As popular as Sanders is in New Hampshire, there are still plenty of voters who think he’s far too left to win and/or far too left for their tastes if he did win.
The best arrow in Buttigieg’s quiver is the John Kasich vote. In previous years, John McCain benefited from these same individuals. Roughly a third of New Hampshire voters are Democrats, a third Republican, a third Independent. Unlike Iowa, where you need to change your registration at the caucus door to participate if not already a registered Democrat, New Hampshire Independents can do whatever they want.
And in 2020, that’s probably not casting a protest vote for Bill Weld in the GOP primary. I don’t mean to suggest the whole lot of non-affiliated voters are pro-Pete. This includes some Sanders supporters who, like him, think Democrats are too conservative. Gabbard voters are in here too. But there’s a good chunk of centrist support, and these voters regularly decide New Hampshire primaries.
The other candidates are going to make him earn this. Buttigieg will get more incoming during Friday’s debate than all the previous episodes combined. Joe Biden is fighting for what’s left of his political life, and he’s not going to let some kid take his place without a tussle. Klobuchar has no margin for error. She’ll unload on him too. But if you had asked him a year ago if he’d take this positioning today as a guaranteed outcome, or take his chances, he would have grabbed this in a millisecond.
Even a victory won’t make him the nomination favorite. A strong showing in Nevada is necessary before he’s truly taken seriously as a front-runner. But a 38-year-old, openly gay, ex-mayor of a small Indiana city is on the doorstep of becoming a back-to-back winner. There were many casualties of the Iowa meltdown, but Pete Buttigieg wasn’t one of them.