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Bloomberg’s Super Tuesday Strategy Might Be Working

One candidate you likely won’t be hearing about next week, but who still has a chance to pick up some delegates in later contests? Michael Bloomberg.

[Our Latest Forecast: Who Will Win The 2020 Democratic Primary?]

The former New York City mayor entered the race late in November and has a bit of an unorthodox strategy: He is skipping the early-voting states (he won’t even be on the ballot for the New Hampshire primary) and is instead focusing on Super Tuesday and beyond. It’s unclear just how far his strategy will take him, but on Jan. 23, the billionaire jumped from fifth to fourth place in our national polling average. Bloomberg now sits at 8 percent, putting him one point above former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is now in fifth with 7 percent support.

So where exactly has Bloomberg been gaining momentum? Not surprisingly, in Super Tuesday states and beyond (meaning those states where the primary is later). According to a recent Monmouth University national poll, Bloomberg polls at 12 percent among Democratic voters whose state primary is after March 3 — Super Tuesday — but just 5 percent among respondents whose state primary is earlier.

And in many Super Tuesday states, or states with even later primaries, Bloomberg is now polling in the top four. Many of these states don’t have enough polls for us to calculate a reliable polling average, but in those that do, Bloomberg has shown signs of improvement in recent weeks. In Texas and North Carolina, for instance, Bloomberg has overtaken Buttigieg and sits in fourth with between 8 and 9 percent support. He has the third-highest polling average in Florida (ahead of Sen. Elizabeth Warren) and fourth-highest in Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, whose primaries all fall after Super Tuesday. In California, however, he remains in fifth place with 6 percent. And in states where we don’t have polling averages yet, recent polls suggest that Bloomberg could finish in the top tier. In the past week, individual polls have Bloomberg tied for second in New York and trailing only former Vice President Joe Biden in Missouri. He was also fourth in a Suffolk University poll of Utah, at 13 percent.

So what explains Bloomberg’s polling bump so far? And what do we know about Bloomberg’s base of support?

Well, the first question can probably be summed up pretty neatly.

Bloomberg has spent a lot of money on TV ads. In fact, he’s spent more than any other candidate running for president, including billionaire Tom Steyer, who’s also dropped a significant amount of money in some of these states. According to data from Kantar/Campaign Media Analysis Group, Bloomberg has spent an estimated $224 million on TV ad spots since entering the race, much of it concentrated in Super Tuesday states. In Texas, for instance, he has spent an estimated $24 million. And in all the Super Tuesday states combined, Bloomberg has spent about $91 million, which is four times more than what Steyer has spent (about $23 million) and more than 13 times what the rest of the Democratic candidates have spent — about $7 million.

Bloomberg is all in on Super Tuesday states

Estimated TV ad spending by Bloomberg, Steyer and the remainder of Democratic president candidates in early and Super Tuesday states

Early states Bloomberg Steyer Field
Iowa $406,320 $11,472,110 $27,335,610
New Hampshire 115,510 2,867,390 3,522,280
Nevada 1,650 9,725,830 218,710
South Carolina 1,218,310 10,610,040 866,690
Super Tuesday Bloomberg Steyer Field
California $29,830,340 $9,748,850 $0
Texas 24,090,200 168,970 0
North Carolina 6,244,540 44,160 0
Viriginia 2,682,220 50,730 0
Massachusetts 4,165,310 12,131,210 3,753,590
Minnesota 5,770,930 102,390 1,399,400
Colorado 4,092,850 20,250 1,640
Tennessee 3,411,500 63,030 0
Alabama 3,174,910 94,140 0
Oklahoma 1,988,050 28,530 0
Arkansas 1,527,530 39,700 0
Utah 1,846,650 16,520 0
Maine 1,424,920 22,770 788,330
Vermont 348,650 8,060 691,870

Data includes ads aired through Jan. 29. Candidates who dropped out are not included in the field.

Kantar/Campaign Media Analysis Group groups ad airings by state, but because media markets do not follow state boundaries, ads listed as airing in one state may have also aired in adjoining states. The data includes ads that have aired on local network television, national network television and national cable television.

Source: Kantar/Campaign Media Analysis Group

That money seems to be paying off in both the polls and the endorsement primary. Bloomberg is hardly the most popular candidate among party elites, but he has picked up some key endorsements in recent weeks: He now has the same number of endorsement points as Buttigieg. On Monday, Rep. Scott Peters from California voiced his support for Bloomberg, making that his fifth congressional endorsement. His endorsers are geographically diverse, too, which potentially indicates his strategy is successful in building a broad base of support.

As for who exactly makes up Bloomberg’s burgeoning base, it is mostly older, wealthier and more moderate Democratic voters. This is perhaps not that surprising, considering Bloomberg has consistently branded himself as an alternative moderate candidate. For instance, per a recent national Echelon Insights poll, Bloomberg was the second-most popular candidate for moderate or conservative likely Democratic primary voters, picking up 20 percent support. Only Biden, at 23 percent, picked up more support among these voters.

But there are also signs that Bloomberg might be able to attract more support among voters of color (who make up almost half of Democratic primary voters) and those without a college degree (about 38 percent of primary voters). In December, a national Monmouth University poll found that 3 percent of nonwhite Democratic voters said they supported Bloomberg. But that figure had grown to 8 percent in its January poll. The pollster also found Bloomberg’s support among voters without a college degree grew from 4 percent in December to 10 percent in January. Fox News and SurveyUSA polls also found signs of Bloomberg diversifying his base: Fox News’s latest poll shows a 5-point uptick in support among nonwhite Democratic primary voters (5 percent to 10 percent) and a 4-point bump (2 percent to 6 percent) among non-college educated white voters since December. SurveyUSA, meanwhile, found a 5-point gain among black voters (2 percent to 7 percent) and a 6-point gain among voters with just a high school diploma since late November.

Spending hundreds of millions of dollars on Super Tuesday states and beyond has put Bloomberg on the map, but the still unanswered question is whether he can maintain his front-runner status while skipping the first four contests. If he can, some of the later states are very delegate rich, so skipping the first four could pay off for Bloomberg. But it would also be unprecedented for someone to enter the presidential race this late and win the nomination. Then again, Bloomberg’s whole strategy is kind of unprecedented, so maybe being out of sight and out of mind in the first four states won’t sink his campaign, and he can instead focus on his advantage in the states that come next. Either way, we’ll be keeping track of state and national polls to see if Bloomberg continues to gain momentum or if he hits a ceiling.

Likhitha Butchireddygari was a politics intern at FiveThirtyEight.