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Everyone ganged up on Pete Buttigieg at the Democratic debate, and these numbers show why that was basically guaranteed

Thursday night’s Democratic debate contained some of the most compelling fireworks of the campaign so far, with South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg being the target of swipes by rivals, particularly Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

The reason for this is simple: He’s up in the polls, but really quite vulnerable. His supporters tend to really like the frontrunners, and he hasn’t been able to nail down support to his campaign quite as well as some of his rivals have.

Insider has been conducting a recurring SurveyMonkey Audience national poll for almost a year, specifically asking those who say they’re registered to vote and will probably participate in the Democratic primary who they’d be satisfied with as nominee.

You can download every poll here, down to the individual respondent data, and see the sample size and margin of error for all four of the polls we cite here. (Read more about how the Insider 2020 Democratic primary tracker works.)

This lets us supplement topline data with information about whose constituencies overlap, and if a given candidate’s supporters tend to favor a rival. Given that we’re still in the period where candidates are trying to command a lane, that’s important.

Debate Buttigeg Warren Biden Steyer Yang Biden

Foto: Democratic presidential candidates from left, entrepreneur Andrew Yang, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and businessman Tom Steyer stand on stage before a Democratic presidential primary debate Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019, in Los Angeles, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)sourceASSOCIATED PRESS

Why Pete’s got a target on his back

The thing Pete Buttigieg has going for him is lots of people like him.

The thing Pete Buttigieg has working against him is the people who like him also like a lot of other candidates, too.

Looking at the seven polls Insider conducted since mid-October, 816 respondents out of 1,625 possible Democratic primary voters said they’d be satisfied if Pete were the nominee. That’s the fourth-best in the set. But here’s the catch:

  • 76% of those people are also satisfied with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, which is 13.3 percentage points higher than she even does among Democrats as a whole.
  • 63% are also satisfied with former Vice President Joe Biden, 9.1 percentage points better than his overall performance.
  • Even 53% are satisfied with Sanders as nominee, roughly even with his overall performance. Keep in mind, Sanders and Buttigieg have significant policy differences, and still Sanders is holding his own among Buttigieg fans.

It doesn’t stop there. Compared to the typical Democratic primary voter, those satisfied with Buttigieg are even more likely to be happy with Sen. Cory Booker (13 percentage points higher than normal), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (6 percentage points higher than normal) and former Housing and Urban Development Sec. Julian Castro (3 percentage points higher).

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., right, speaks beside South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg during a Democratic presidential primary debate Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019.

Foto: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., right, speaks beside South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg during a Democratic presidential primary debate Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019.sourceChris Carlson/AP Images

The issue for Pete is that that affection isn’t mutual

It would be one thing if Pete was also doing exceptionally well among those rivals‘ supporters. It is not, it turns out, that one thing. Quite the contrary:

  • Just 42% of those satisfied with Warren would be content with Buttigieg as nominee, 8 percentage points lower than his overall performance.
  • 38% of those satisfied with Biden are alright with Pete, 12 percentage points less than normal
  • A paltry 32% of Sanders fans would also be happy with Pete, fully 19 percentage points lower than his typical performance.

Meanwhile, a candidate like Klobuchar can’t be blamed for looking at her own numbers – 74% of her supporters are also satisfied with Buttigieg as nominee, 24 percentage points higher than typical – and seeing that jumping in on this particular dog pile (and emphasizing her own considerable political and legislative experience in the process) is just plain good politics, drawing a distinct contrast for supporters whos eyes may be straying toward South Bend.

This puts Buttigieg in an unenviable position during debates like these. His approval numbers are comparatively strong, but his supporters are more than fine with any of the other frontrunners. Those frontrunners have little to lose getting in the mix with Pete, given that their own base doesn’t particularly care for Buttigieg to begin with.

And for a candidate like Klobuchar – someone who is stuck sharing a lane with Buttigieg – this will be one of the final times to really make a play for those waffling between Minneapolis and South Bend.

It was only a matter of time before someone mentioned the wine cave.

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