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Bernie would beat Buttigieg if 2020 Democratic race were narrowed

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  • Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg are both surging in the 2020 race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
  • We ran a polling model that tells us what would happen if everyone except for them dropped out.
  • The results show that Bernie would be the clear winner.
  • But at the same time, Buttigieg has some room to win Bernie’s  supporters over.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

There are still a lot of delegates to go. But with New Hampshire and Iowa behind us, it’s clear that the 2020 Democratic race now has two frontrunners.

In the lead is Senator Bernie Sanders, with a New Hampshire win and 21 delegates. Close behind is former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, who ran close to him in both states and has even more delegates, at 23.

Both candidates represent two distinct wings of the Democratic party, one of which is poised to shape the party’s message in the general election against President Donald Trump in November.

Buttigieg is a centrist, alongside candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. And Bernie is at the vanguard of the more progressive wing of the party, closer to Senator Elizabeth Warren.

But all those other candidates are crowding out the polls, which makes it harder to tell whether Bernie or Buttigieg are ultimately garnering more support across the party.

So what if we just got rid of them?

Insider’s polling method, conducted on SurveyMonkey, lets us do that. Unlike other polling methods, which ask voters for their preferred candidate, we ask intended voters whether they would be “satisfied” or “unsatisfied” with each candidate if they were to become president. As a result, rather than knowing the state of people’s first choices at any given time, we instead know the overlapping indications of support.

bernie sanders

Bernie Sanders.

Joshua Lott/Getty Images


Using that model, we ran an analysis that would show what it would be like if Bernie and Buttigieg went head-to-head.

To be fair, this is a totally unfair exercise. Biden — though his supporters are panicking about his campaign — is second only to Bernie in national polling averages. Warren and Bloomberg also remain formidable nationally, even polling above Buttigieg.

But the analysis still tells an important story. While an analysis we ran earlier in February shows that Biden and Bernie would split the party nearly down the middle if they were running head-to-head, the story is different with Buttigieg.

As the numbers show, Bernie would rip him apart.

Bernie’s supporters are much more loyal

If every candidate except for Bernie and Buttigieg dropped out today — meaning Biden, Bloomberg, Warren, Klobuchar, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and plutocrat Tom Steyer — here’s how the support of the Democratic electorate would shake out:

  • 1/3 of voters would be happy with Bernie as the nominee, but would not support Buttigieg.
  • 1/6 would be happy with Buttigieg, but not Bernie.
  • 1/3 haven’t indicated they’re satisfied with either of them.
  • 1/6 have said they like both Bernie and Buttigieg, and would still need to choose between them.

If you poll Bernie supporters’ opinions about Buttigieg — and vice versa — it’s clear that Bernie remains in a stronger position.

While 33% of Bernie’s supporters would be satisfied with Buttigieg as the nominee, 56% of Buttigieg fans would be fine with Bernie as the nominee. He’s simply got more appeal with Buttigieg’s fans than Buttigieg has with his.

Bernie Sanders Feb 11



Business Insider


However, the silver lining from Buttigieg is that he has some room to amass support from Bernie’s fans.

Only 16% of them specifically said they would be unsatisfied with Buttigieg as the nominee, compared to the 27% of Buttigieg fans who would be unsatisfied with Bernie. And 50% of Bernie’s fans still haven’t formed an opinion on Buttigieg, compared to the 80% of Buttigieg fans whose minds are made up on Bernie, who ran against Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primary.

This also tells us that voters aren’t totally ideological when it comes to picking a candidate. In a similar analysis we ran with Bernie and Biden against each other, the race was much closer, even though Buttigieg and Biden’s policies are largely viewed as similar compare to Bernie’s

Pete Buttigieg Feb 11



Business Insider


Worth noting is the third of Democrats who would no longer have a candidate preference if the race would be down to these two men alone.

As it stands with eight candidates in the race, 8% of respondents were not satisfied with any of the candidates. Removing all but Warren, Biden, Buttigieg, and Sanders increases that by mere six percentage points, indicating that about 20% of Democrats are satisfied with Warren or Biden but not Buttigieg or Sanders.

In this exercise, those Democrats would have considerable sway over the eventual nominee. 

Walt Hickey contributed reporting.

You can download every poll here, down to the individual respondent data. (Read more about how the Insider Democratic primary tracker works here).

SurveyMonkey Audience polls from a national sample balanced by census data of age and gender. Respondents are incentivized to complete surveys through charitable contributions. Generally speaking, digital polling tends to skew toward people with access to the internet.

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