We’ve talked about the irony of the oldest candidate, Bernie Sanders, doing best with the youngest voters and worst with the oldest. His numbers drop with each age bucket. Knowing when a voter was born is far more predictive than finding out their ideology.
The self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist runs better with 28-year-old moderates than 68-year-old extreme liberals. Bernie now has his bizzaro version in the form of Pete Buttigieg. The 37-year-old mayor has surged in to contention in Iowa and is showing more than a pulse in New Hampshire on the strength of voters 65 and over.
Mayor Pete has generally strong favorability ratings with the Democratic electorate as a whole. As does Sanders. However, he’s off the chart with Medicare-eligible voters, scoring at +60% in a recent CNN/UNH New Hampshire polling. In the same survey, Sanders was +68% with voters 18-34.
Among the other contenders, Elizabeth Warren’s appeal is very balanced between age groups, while Joe Biden is heavily dependent on older voters. We’ve known for months that much of Biden’s strength is with African American voters, while that’s a noticeable weakness for Buttigieg.
So in a place like South Carolina, the young upstart is far less of a threat to the former Veep. But voters in Iowa and New Hampshire are almost entirely white, especially if they’re older. Given the order each contest takes place, this puts Biden at extreme risk.
While he’s doing just fine nationally, re-opening a several point lead on Warren over the past couple weeks, Biden has finished fourth in the two most recent Iowa surveys, and third in the most current New Hampshire poll.
It could get worse. Buttigieg has a large favorability lead on Biden in both states in virtually every demographic group. The reason Biden leads him in New Hampshire and doesn’t trail him by much in Iowa is perceived electability.
Of the four leaders, Biden is still considered the safest bet by the most voters, though his advantage on Sanders and Warren is narrowing. He still has the best national numbers in a matchup against President Trump, though again, his liberal competitors are not far behind.
Buttigieg doesn’t have anywhere near the same volume of head-to-head polls, and perhaps due to less name recognition (but maybe not), he’s not as strong in surveys against Trump. The new NYT/Siena College Iowa poll indicates voters are much less confident the Mayor can beat Trump.
If Biden is already narrowly trailing Buttigieg in a survey where most voters are skeptical Pete can go the distance, what happens if some of those fears are allayed?
This isn’t over yet. Yes, Buttigieg has plenty of momentum in Iowa now and he’s a good candidate with a lot more money than Biden. But he’s also avoided much scrutiny. As the Warren campaign would tell him, as poll numbers advance, so does critical attention.
Other candidates will attack him in the next debate. He’ll catch heat from Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar from below and Warren and Biden from above. Booker needs votes wherever he can find them and Klobuchar has very similar breakdowns to Buttigieg, just at a lower level. Plus Iowa is make-or-break for her.
In the October debate, they were a tag team against Warren. The incentives have changed now. It’s possible Klobuchar could do well, without injuring Buttigieg. That would harm Biden further. There are several possible outcomes, and a bunch of them are not great for Joe.
We’ve heard a lot about Biden having the moderate lane to himself and others struggling to dislodge him. It appears the path is even more based on age than ideology and he doesn’t have the seniors locked down anymore. After slumbering through the past few months, the race is getting interesting again.