A new Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll from Iowa shows South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg with a clear lead among potential Democratic caucus-goers. Buttigieg has the support of 25 percent of likely caucus participants while Senator Elizabeth Warren has 16 percent and Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are tied with 15 percent.
Buttigieg has gained 16 points since the September survey.
Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, told the network the news was encouraging and his campaign felt growing momentum in the farm state, but there was “still a lot of work to do” in increasing his name recognition there.
Buttigieg also led Democratic presidential candidates in Iowa in a Monmouth University poll released on Tuesday.
A New York Times/Sienna poll released earlier this month also showed Buttigieg’s support surging in Iowa, but still behind Warren and Sanders. Nationally, he does not fare nearly as well, averaging around 8% in polls.
So what happened? Voters in Iowa and New Hampshire are different than voters just about anywhere else. They take their “First in the Nation” status very seriously and make a genuine effort to weigh the qualifications and pluses and minuses of each candidate. And they take their time making up their minds.
It’s still two and a half months until the caucuses in Iowa, leaving a lot of time for another candidate to impress. But Buttigieg has made the most of his opportunity and has impressed Iowans with his relatively moderate approach to governing. He has made a massive investment in the state, with more than 100 staffers. It is the largest operation on the ground in Iowa among all candidates and he has coupled that with a big ad budget and well-planned events.
Buttigieg for many seems to offer a more moderate approach than the radical policy proposals of Warren and Sanders, and unlike Biden, he does not have to fight many concerns about his age or past voting record. Among Iowa caucusgoers, 63 percent say Buttigieg’s views are about right, while only seven percent say they are too liberal and 13 percent say they are too conservative.
According to the CNN/DMR poll, Buttigieg excels with caucusgoers with incomes over $100,000 (32 percent) and self-described moderates (also 32 percent) but underperforms with union households (17 percent) and those who call themselves very liberal (12 percent).
Buttigieg performs poorly with minorities — a deficiency he is going to have to improve upon if he wants his campaign to take off nationally. Otherwise, it’s clear that the heart and soul of the Democratic Party are on the far left.
Among the candidates vying for second in this poll, Sanders has the most variation when it comes to demographic groups. His support among those who describe themselves as very liberal (34%) is nearly 20 points higher than his overall standing. Like Sanders, Warren does better with that group (32%) than her overall standing.
Sanders also does better with younger likely caucusgoers, getting 27% of those under the age of 35, compared to Buttigieg at 20%, Warren at 18% and Biden at 9%. Meanwhile, Buttigieg (28%) and Biden (27%) run about even among the oldest caucusgoers — those 65 and older — a group the former vice president had led with by more than 20 points in September. For Buttigieg, his support among the oldest likely caucusgoers marks a significant jump from his 7% standing in September.
Buttigieg can’t match the enthusiasm of Sanders and Warren supporters, and in Iowa, that might be critical. Attending a caucus is a dreary exercise in democracy and coming out in the dead of winter in Iowa to participate and hang around for several hours takes real commitment. It’s why, despite the polls, Sanders and Warren are far from being out of it and may yet turn the race on its head.