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Election Update: Bloomberg’s Super Tuesday Gamble May Be Paying Off

It’s been a good 24 hours for Michael Bloomberg. Early this morning, on the brink of the deadline to do so, the former New York City mayor qualified for Wednesday’s Democratic presidential debate thanks to a NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist College poll that gave him 19 percent of the national primary vote. He’s up to 16.3 percent in our national polling average — essentially tying him with former Vice President Joe Biden for the first time. However, he’s still 9 points behind front-runner Sen. Bernie Sanders, and — by Bloomberg’s own design — it will be a couple weeks before we know how much actual voter support Bloomberg has.

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

That’s because Bloomberg has decided not to contest the first four states on the primary calendar (Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina), instead focusing his massive financial resources on the 15 states and territories1 that vote on Super Tuesday. Since he declared he was running in November, Bloomberg has built out a number of impressive field organizations and has aired millions of dollars’ worth of TV ads — and on Monday, we got a handful of state polls that suggest that investment may pay off. To wit:

  • Monmouth University, one of the best pollsters in the biz, found Bloomberg in a virtual tie for first place in Virginia. He and Sanders each received 22 percent support, while Biden grabbed 18 percent. Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg got 11 percent, Sen. Amy Klobuchar got 9 percent and Sen. Elizabeth Warren got 5 percent.
  • The excellent SurveyUSA produced very similar results in a poll of next-door North Carolina for WRAL News. Bloomberg and Sanders netted 22 percent each, Biden received 20 percent, Buttigieg got 11 percent, Warren got 8 percent and Klobuchar got 5 percent. That said, SurveyUSA has some small house effects to consider, so our model interprets this more like a poll that showed Sanders and Bloomberg at 21 percent and Biden at 17 percent.
  • Cole Hargrave Snodgrass & Associates also released an Oklahoma poll that gave Bloomberg 20 percent of the vote among likely Democratic primary voters, followed by Sanders at 14 percent, Biden at 12 percent, Buttigieg at 11 percent, Warren at 8 percent and Klobuchar at 6 percent. However, the sample size was only 172 likely voters, which is smaller than we like to see; accordingly, the margin for error is very high.

But Bloomberg may not want to let his Super Tuesday expectations get too high. We also got polls of two Super Tuesday states in which he was not doing so hot:

  • SocialSphere polled Maine on behalf of Colby College and put Bloomberg at only 14 percent support; Sanders led with 25 percent, followed by Buttigieg at 16 percent. Meanwhile, Biden got 12 percent support, Warren 9 percent and Klobuchar 4 percent. When adjusting this poll for house effects, however, Sanders has a slightly smaller lead: 22 percent to 17 percent over Buttigieg.
  • Finally, Braun Research (polling on behalf of Vermont Public Radio and Vermont PBS) unsurprisingly found that Sanders has a huge lead in his home state of Vermont. He nabs 51 percent of the vote, followed by Buttigieg at 13 percent, Warren at 9 percent … and only then comes Bloomberg at 7 percent. Biden got 5 percent, and Klobuchar 4 percent.

It’s probably not a huge deal that Bloomberg trails in the two New England states; they are worth only 40 pledged delegates, compared with 246 for the three other states. But it shows that he may not run the table on Super Tuesday, and that other candidates — namely, Sanders, who also held a share of first place in the Virginia and North Carolina polls — may do even better.

That’s a big part of why our primary model still thinks that Sanders and even Biden are likelier than Bloomberg to win the most pledged delegates. While we are forecasting Bloomberg to receive a hefty 812 pledged delegates, on average, after every state and territory has voted, his chances of winning a majority of pledged delegates are just 1 in 12 (8 percent). Sanders has a 2 in 5 (40 percent) chance of doing so, while Biden is clinging to a 1 in 10 (10 percent) chance. And as has been looming for a while, there is still a 2 in 5 (38 percent) chance that no one gets a majority of pledged delegates, which could lead to a contested convention.

Footnotes

  1. Plus Democrats Abroad.

Nathaniel Rakich is FiveThirtyEight’s elections analyst.

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