Buttigieg is an interesting case in the Democratic primary thus far, and it should be equally interesting to see how pundits handle him going forward.
Mostly because while he’s got pretty solid appeal among moderates and moderate liberals, he’s weak on the progressive end of the spectrum, and he’s got one other key area of weakness as demonstrated thus far.
Specifically, nonwhite voters.
In Nevada, for example, the biggest and most diverse sample size we’ve had yet, Buttigieg struggled to get even 10% of the Hispanic vote, and came in with something in the neighborhood of half that among African-American voters.
Biden, on the other hand, took a significant lead among African-American voters in Nevada, possibly because of his association with Obama, while Sanders garnered an absolutely crushing percentage of the Latino vote.
With South Carolina being the next primary, this… does not bode well for Buttigieg, given how poorly he’s polling there.
Consider a hypothetical where, of the 54 delegates for South Carolina, Biden takes 25, Sanders takes 20, Steyer (who is polling 3rd in SC) takes 5, and that leaves… four delegates to divvy up between the rest of the field. Sanders would maintain his lead, Biden would kick Buttigieg down into 3rd, and Steyer would finally be on the board.
You can tweak those numbers, obviously, but it seems extremely likely that Buttigieg will slip into third before Super Tuesday arrives, and Sanders will maintain his lead.
We’ll see how things play out in tonight’s debate, of course, since that could easily skew the numbers, but on the whole, things don’t look particularly good for Buttigieg’s current second place position.
Back to the pundits.
Buttigieg is weak among minority voters. His strong showing in Iowa and New Hampshire, therefor, can largely be chalked up to the fact that those states are 90+% white.
This is a problem for Buttigieg, and it’s particularly a problem for pundits wanting to push him as the moderate alternative to Bernie Sanders. Because for a long time, the Democratic Party has harped on the importance of the minority vote, and how they need it to be successful; that was part of the angle they played in the Hillary vs Bernie primary in 2016, after all, that Bernie wasn’t popular enough among minority voters, specifically African-American voters, to carry the general election.
So what’s the angle going to be if Buttigieg keeps his current racial demographic going forward? Because given the delegate and demographic breakdowns of the states coming up on the 3rd, just a week from today, it looks like Buttigieg might wind up getting utterly clobbered. And after Super Tuesday is when the pressure starts to mount on candidates to end or at least suspend their campaigns.
Buttigieg was positioned as something like the backup to the backup candidate for the DNC as the primary season kicked off; Biden was the clear favorite before his decline became more obvious, Warren was the close second before her star started to tarnish, and Buttigieg was… well, he was the backup to the backup: relatively few skeletons, excellent stage presence, probably the best public speaker out of the field, and while he had two glaring weaknesses, specifically a relative lack of experience, and, to be completely frank, being openly homosexual in an age where there’s still a very strong homophobic streak in the American populace at the best of times, his youthful energy largely offset his inexperience, and sexuality could well increase his popularity among progressives.
But if he slips to, say, fourth place after Super Tuesday…
The prognosis is not good.
Electability goes out the window if he can’t earn a significant percentage of the minority vote, and no matter how good of a politician he may be, the pressure will be on him to either produce results soon or drop out immediately so that the DNC can start pushing moderates to coalesce around one candidate.
Because there’s no way in hell that the DNC is going to be pushing people to coalesce around Sanders unless he actually wins the primary, and in all likelihood they’re going to be trying to spike his wheel as best they can, and as often as they can, until after the convention.
The DNC can make frustrated noises at Bloomberg, but they have relatively little control over him. Steyer is similarly resistant to DNC pressure, for much the same reasons. Gabbard already knows that she’s done, so her best bet is to stay in as long as possible and raise her visibility for an attempt at a different position on a later date. Biden is… Biden, so he’ll likely come out of Super Tuesday in second place, Warren quite possibly in third, and if that leaves Buttigieg and Klobuchar at the bottom of the pack, it’s safe to assume that some strongly worded emails will be sent and possibly knives sharpened in back rooms, pushing them to suspend their campaigns.
And given what the DNC did with Tulsi Gabbard, it’s safe to assume that anyone who wants a future in the party is likely to comply.