Our Poll Shows That Buttigieg’s Post-Debate Bump Is Still Just His Base

The past few weeks have been pretty good for South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg: His polls are on the upswing in Iowa, he’s getting more media coverage, and he even led in a New Hampshire poll. It seems that he carried this momentum through the fifth Democratic debate as well. According to our FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll conducted using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, he saw the largest increase in the number of people considering supporting him, going from 26 percent before the debate to 32 percent afterward.

But where did that 6-point increase come from?

To answer this, we looked at a few metrics in our poll, which surveyed the same group of respondents before and after the November debate. One of the indicators we considered is how support shifted among respondents who prioritized the top five issues in our poll, which were health care, the economy and jobs, wealth and income inequality, climate change, and discrimination. As you can see in the table below, Buttigieg gained potential supporters among voters who prioritized all of the top 5 issue areas — he is the only candidate for which this was true. His gains were not marginal either, mostly around 5 percentage points.

Buttigieg gained among voters who prioritize …

Change in the share of respondents considering supporting each candidate before and after the fifth Democratic debate by which issue respondents said was most important to them, per a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll

candidate Health care The economy and jobs Wealth and income inequality Climate change Racism, sexism, discrimination
Biden +1.9 +0.8 +2.4 -2.6 +3.0
Sanders +1.3 -2.9 +3.1 +0.5 +0.6
Warren +0.5 -2.3 +0.3 +2.5 -5.7
Buttigieg +5.0 +4.8 +5.7 +6.3 +3.7
Harris +5.3 +2.2 +2.2 +6.2 -3.0
Yang +1.7 +0.0 +0.8 +1.3 -0.2
Booker +3.7 +1.8 +1.6 +3.5 -0.4
Klobuchar +0.8 +1.3 +1.2 +3.1 -1.1
Gabbard +0.1 +0.6 +0.7 +0.4 +0.5
Steyer +3.8 +1.3 +0.7 +1.2 -0.3

Showing the top five issues out of a set of twelve respondents could choose from. Uses respondents’ pre-debate answer for which issue is most important. From a survey of 3,786 likely Democratic primary voters who were surveyed between Nov. 14 and Nov. 18. The same people were surveyed again from Nov. 20 to Nov. 21; 2,077 responded to the second wave.

When respondents were asked to rate candidates’ chances of beating President Trump, Buttigieg gained ground there as well, earning a post-debate average of 49.5 percent, 3 points higher than his pre-debate average. He still trails former Vice President Joe Biden (67.5 percent after the debate), Sen. Bernie Sanders (58.5 percent) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (57.8 percent), but notably, he was the only one of these four candidates who gained in this metric — the other three either lost ground or saw no change.

But if Buttigieg was hoping his high debate marks would help him diversify his base of support, that hasn’t happened yet. The demographic cross-tabs in our poll show that he mainly made inroads among groups where he already enjoyed a disproportionate amount of support, like the college-educated, white voters and older voters. He had little success winning people over among groups where he has tended to struggle, like with black and Hispanic voters.

Buttigieg’s gains were mostly confined to his base

Share of respondents considering supporting Buttigieg in a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll, broken down by demographics

Age pre-debate post-debate change
65+ 36.6% 44.5% +7.9
50-64 30.1 37.8 +7.7
18-34 19.7 24.4 +4.7
35-49 22.0 24.5 +2.4
education pre-debate post-debate change
College or higher 34.2% 41.6% +7.4
Some college 23.9 28.4 +4.5
High school or less 17.9 22.0 +4.1
race pre-debate post-debate change
White 34.5% 42.4% +7.8
Black 12.2 15.9 +3.7
Hispanic 17.4 16.3 -1.1

Only groups with a sample size of 200 or more were included. From a survey of 3,786 likely Democratic primary voters who were surveyed between Nov. 14 and Nov. 18. The same people were surveyed again from Nov. 20 to Nov. 21; 2,077 responded to the second wave.

This lack of diverse support may be a part of why Buttigieg is struggling to gain traction outside Iowa and New Hampshire and continues to sit at about 8 percent nationally, far behind the other three front-runners in the race. And if Buttigieg can’t appeal to people outside his existing base, he might have a hard time getting his numbers up any higher.

Most 2020 Candidates Have Something In Common: Their Supporters Also Like Warren

At this stage in the Democratic primary, many likely Democratic voters are still considering multiple candidates — and this was true for more than two-thirds of respondents in our poll with Ipsos. Which got us thinking, how many respondents were only considering one candidate?

FiveThirtyEight partnered with Ipsos to conduct a poll, using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel, that asked respondents who they were thinking about voting for and allowed them to pick multiple candidates (or “someone else,” or no one). And while most respondents in the post-debate round of polling were considering more than one candidate (66 percent of respondents), 33 percent only picked one candidate.2

And as you can see in the table below, about a fifth of former Vice President Joe Biden’s supporters weren’t considering supporting anyone else, a higher share of exclusive supporters than any other candidate. Likewise, 14.6 percent of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s potential supporters weren’t looking anywhere else.

Which candidates’ supporters are considering only them?

Share of each candidates’ supporters who are only considering voting for that candidate, according to a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll

candidate Exclusive* Total Share
Biden 218 996 21.9%
Sanders 100 683 14.6
Gabbard 11 83 13.1
O’Rourke 29 245 11.7
Warren 107 917 11.6
Yang 14 187 7.4
Buttigieg 27 437 6.2
Castro 6 105 5.7
Harris 23 433 5.2
Klobuchar 8 180 4.2
Booker 4 201 2.2
Steyer 1 84 1.4

*Only considering one candidate

From a survey of 1,761 likely Democratic primary voters who were surveyed from Oct. 15 to Oct. 16.

So what do we make of the fact that such a high share of Biden’s and Sanders’s potential supporters were only considering them? It’s definitely a good sign for their campaigns, as it might be harder for other candidates to win these voters over. But it’s also not the only way to understand the strength of someone’s campaign, especially at this early stage in the primary. If you’re a candidate, getting a lot of voters to at least consider supporting you is important, too, as it means you’re still in the hunt for their vote, and the other candidates on a voter’s list tells you something about what parts of the party your message is appealing to.

Overall, more respondents were considering Biden than Sen. Elizabeth Warren (56.5 to 52.1 percent), but Warren actually shares a lot of potential supporters with the other candidates. Take the rest of the top five candidates — Biden, Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. The lion’s share of voters who were considering each of those four were also considering Warren — even though Biden had more total potential supporters. Sanders was also being considered, but the percentage of respondents who also chose him wasn’t as large.

And it isn’t just among the top five candidates whose potential supporters were also thinking about Warren. For all but three candidates — Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sen. Amy Klobuchar and billionaire Tom Steyer — the person they were most likely to share potential supporters with was Warren. (Gabbard shares the most potential supporters with Sanders and businessman Andrew Yang, while Klobuchar and Steyer share the most with Biden.)

It’s clear Warren appeals to a wide range of Democratic voters, which puts her in a good position to gain supporters if another candidate drops out of the race. But she’s not alone in that position — just as many potential supporters of other candidates are considering Warren, many of Warren’s potential supporters are considering other candidates. So if Warren’s campaign were to run into trouble, candidates like Biden, Sanders, Buttigieg and Harris could stand to benefit.

The October Democratic Debate In 6 Charts

Last night, 12 candidates duked it out in Westerville, Ohio, in the fourth Democratic debate. Sen. Elizabeth Warren built on her past debate successes, receiving high marks from both voters who care more about defeating President Trump and voters who care more about a candidate whose positions they agree with. But she was not the only winner in the FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll conducted using Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel. Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar had strong performances, too, and used the debate as an opportunity to push back on whether Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders’s progressive policies are realistic.

We will be keeping an eye on the polls to see if Warren’s solid performance will help her pull ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden, or if Buttigieg and Klobuchar will manage to shore up more support. But for now, here’s a look at how the candidates performed, summed up in six charts:

Which candidates performed the best?

First, we wanted to see which candidates impressed the viewers we surveyed. To do this, we compared each candidate’s pre-debate favorability1 to debate-watchers’ rating of their performance to see if any well-liked candidates disappointed during the debate or if any less-liked candidates received good ratings. By this metric, Klobuchar and Buttigieg were the two candidates who exceeded expectations given their pre-debate favorables, though Warren still received the highest debate grade overall.

Warren performed well among voters who care about defeating Trump

In our poll, about two-thirds of Democratic voters said they value a candidate who has a good chance of beating Trump over someone who agrees with them on the issues — and that didn’t change after the debate. So with “electability” central to the election thus far, we wanted to see whether there was a difference in debate performance evaluations from respondents who said they cared about electability and respondents who said they cared about issues. Differences were small, but there are a few things that stand out.

First, even though Warren has pitched herself as the “issues” candidate — and she did do well among voters who care about the issues — her performance also appealed to respondents who said they prioritized defeating Trump. In fact, they rated her performance higher than that of any other candidate. Sanders also got high ratings from both voters who care more about defeating Trump and voters who care more about the issues, which means candidates making more issued-based appeals can still do well among voters who care about defeating Trump. But it’s a tricky balance. Buttigieg and Biden, for instance, did not do quite as well among voters who cared about the issues, but they did almost as well as Warren among voters who care about beating Trump.

How voters who care about the issues, defeating Trump rated the candidates

How well debate-watchers thought candidates performed in the fourth Democratic debate, by which type of candidate they prefer

Type of candidate preferred
candidate Similar issue positions Able to beat trump
Warren 3.1 3.3
Buttigieg 2.9 3.2
Sanders 3.1 3.1
Biden 2.7 3.1
Klobuchar 2.7 2.9
Booker 2.6 2.9
Harris 2.7 2.9
Yang 2.8 2.7
O’Rourke 2.5 2.7
Steyer 2.4 2.6
Castro 2.5 2.6
Gabbard 2.4 2.3

From a survey of 3,360 likely Democratic primary voters who were surveyed between Oct. 7 and Oct. 14. The same people were surveyed again from Oct. 15 to Oct. 16; 712 responded to the second wave and said that they watched the debate.

Source: Ipsos/FiveThirtyEight

Who made a positive impression?

We also wanted to see how viewers’ opinions of the candidates changed as a result of the debate. So, to see who made a positive (or negative) impression, we calculated the candidates’ net favorability (favorable rating minus unfavorable rating) before and after the debate.

Although both Buttigieg and Klobuchar were on the attack, their net favorability increased by 2.6 points and 3.2 points, respectively. That said, even with her modest bump, Klobuchar is still not viewed as favorably as candidates like Buttigieg, Sen. Cory Booker and Sen. Kamala Harris. And not every candidate made a positive impression: former Rep. Beto O’Rourke lost the gains he made in the last debate and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s return to the stage did not impress viewers either.

More people like Klobuchar; O’Rourke took a hit

Change in net favorability for candidates in a FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos poll taken before and after the fourth Democratic primary debate

Net favorability
candidate before debate after debate change
Klobuchar +11.8 +15.0 +3.2
Buttigieg +30.9 +33.5 +2.6
Warren +52.1 +54.3 +2.2
Sanders +43.1 +45.2 +2.1
Biden +47.4 +48.6 +1.2
Steyer +0.8 +2.0 +1.2
Yang +14.2 +14.5 +0.3
Booker +26.3 +25.3 -1.0
Harris +30.8 +28.4 -2.4
Castro +11.6 +8.2 -3.3
Gabbard -2.3 -6.8 -4.5
O’Rourke +22.6 +16.9 -5.7

From a survey of 3,360 likely Democratic primary voters who were surveyed between Oct. 7 and Oct. 14. The same people were surveyed again from Oct. 15 to Oct. 16; 1,761 responded to the second wave.

Who spoke the most?

Warren got her first taste of being the race’s front-runner, and spent much of the debate deflecting other candidates’ attacks. She spoke almost 3,700 words — more than any other candidate and 600 words more than the second-most-prolific talker, Biden. This is a notable change from the September debate, when Warren was third in words spoken behind both Biden and Booker. Impressively, O’Rourke and Klobuchar — who were both near the bottom for words spoken in the last debate — clocked in at third and fourth in words spoken, respectively. They surpassed Booker, who after being second in words spoken last time spoke the fifth-most words last night.

Who held the floor?

Number of words candidates spoke in the fourth Democratic debate

Candidate Words Spoken
Elizabeth Warren 3,695
Joe Biden 3,064
Beto O’Rourke 2,584
Amy Klobuchar 2,559
Cory Booker 2,267
Pete Buttigieg 2,266
Kamala Harris 2,256
Bernie Sanders 2,085
Andrew Yang 1,791
Julián Castro 1,666
Tulsi Gabbard 1,497
Tom Steyer 1,318

Source: Debate Transcript via ABC News

We also compared the number of words candidates spoke to their polling average, to see if higher-polling candidates spoke as much as expected or if lower-tier candidates managed to steal the mic. (The polling average is based on nine debate-qualifying polls released since the third debate on Sept. 12.)

O’Rourke and Klobuchar way outspoke their lower polling averages. Warren, Buttigieg, and Harris also outperformed their averages, but not by as large of a margin. On the other hand, Sanders and Biden held the floor less than we might expect considering their standing in the polls.

Harris led the pack in calling out Trump

In addition to tracking who spoke most, we also counted how many times the candidates mentioned the president by name:

Who talked about Trump?

How often Trump’s name was mentioned by candidates in the fourth Democratic debate

Candidate Trump Mentions
Kamala Harris 11
Andrew Yang 9
Pete Buttigieg 8
Amy Klobuchar 7
Tulsi Gabbard 6
Elizabeth Warren 5
Cory Booker 4
Bernie Sanders 4
Tom Steyer 4
Joe Biden 3
Julián Castro 3
Beto O’Rourke 3

Source: Debate Transcript via ABC News

As a group, the candidates mentioned Trump’s name almost twice as often as in the previous debate — perhaps because the first question asked about impeaching the president. Once again, though, Harris mentioned Trump the most. Candidates who barely mentioned the president by name in the last debate — like Klobuchar (0), Buttigieg (1) and Andrew Yang (2) — name-dropped Trump more often, too, trailing only Harris in number of mentions. After saying Trump’s name the second-most number of times in the previous debate, former Cabinet secretary Julián Castro dropped to the bottom of the group. The candidates who held the floor the longest, such as Warren, Biden and O’Rourke, didn’t mention Trump as much as the other candidates who spoke less.

While the September debate — the first one-night event — was watched by about 15.3 million viewers, preliminary ratings indicate that this debate drew just over half of that, a mere 8.3 million people, despite featuring two more candidates. Interest may be dropping, but the debates will go on: The next debate is scheduled for Nov. 20, and so far eight candidates have qualified. We will be here live blogging and analyzing the debate, so stay tuned!