Buttigieg Pulls Ahead

By Jim Ellis

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg

Nov. 14, 2019 — As more potential Democratic presidential candidates, like former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, ex-Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, and even Hillary Clinton begin to re-emerge on the campaign’s outer horizon, the party nomination contest is moving into a sustained state of flux.

It is obvious that the potentially returning candidates are flirting with a new effort because they don’t perceive any of the active contenders as being in position to win the nomination outright or who can successfully oppose President Trump in the general election.

Now, we see a new complicating factor as an Iowa poll released Tuesday finds South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg grasping the lead away from both former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

According to the new Monmouth University survey (Nov. 7-11; 451 likely Iowa Democratic caucus attenders) Buttigieg claims first place with a 22 percent preference factor. Biden and Warren follow with 19 and 18 percent, respectively. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) secures fourth position with 13 percent.

The Monmouth poll is attracting headlines because it produces a new leader, and thus a new story line for a media horde always looking for a different narrative or angle. It may, however, be premature to suggest this one poll is the beginning of a new trend in the Democratic battle especially when it is the only survey drawing such a conclusion.

Two other pollsters ran surveys in a similar time frame and arrive at entirely different results. The Morning Consult large sample online survey (Nov. 4-10; 16,400 likely Iowa voters) projects a ballot test standing like we saw when the campaign was in its early stage: Biden 32 percent; Sanders 20 percent; Warren 19 percent; Buttigieg eight percent.

The University of Iowa also ventured into the field but slightly earlier than both Morning Consult and Monmouth. According to the local university’s study (Oct. 28-Nov. 10; 465 likely Iowa voters) Sen. Warren places first with 23 percent, while Sanders (18 percent), Buttigieg (16 percent), and Biden (15 percent) all follow in consecutive order. This poll, it is worthy to note, has a long sampling period in which to interview a relatively small number of respondents. Therefore, this could be the least accurate of the three studies, yet it did produce numbers and an order closer to what we were seeing from other data throughout much of October.

Two other pieces of information are interesting in the Monmouth poll. First, only 30 percent of the respondents say they are firmly committed to the candidate they named as their first choice. This is a very low number, again suggesting the race is very fluid. A full 16 percent said they could well change their minds even on caucus night, a situation that is relatively common in these types of local precinct gatherings where voters have the opportunity of listening to others in a meeting format before actual votes are taken.

Additionally, Monmouth also asked the second-choice question. In combining the first and second responses together, the University pollsters find that Mayor Buttigieg and Sen. Warren are the strongest candidates in the Iowa field with both Biden and Sanders running significantly behind.

Combined, Buttigieg records a 37 percent combined first and second position vote, while Sen. Warren is close behind with 35 percent preference. Biden sees that 29 percent of the respondents named him as either their first or second choice, while Sen. Sanders scores a combined 25 percent. This tells us that any of the top four candidates have the opportunity of winning the Iowa Caucus now within 12 weeks of ballots actually being cast.

Whether this poll is an anomaly or the beginning of a push to the front for Mayor Buttigieg remains to be seen. He has, however, rebounded from a series of single-digit performances in national and Iowa polls and, at least for now, has again seemingly made the Democratic nomination campaign a four-way contest.

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