Did Mike Bloomberg’s Poor Performance on the 9th Democratic Debate Stalled His Momentum?

On February 25, 2020, Mike Bloomberg will participate in his second Democratic primary debate in Charleston, South Carolina. After his poor performance in the 9th Democratic Debate on February 19 in Paradise, Nevada, this could be a defining moment in the race.

While he will not be participating in South Carolina’s Democratic primary, the debate will be held a week before Super Tuesday, when 15 states, including California and Texas, will hold their primaries and the eight candidates will compete for 34% of all the pledged delegates.

How bad was Bloomberg’s performance in the Nevada debate? Recent evidence suggests that his momentum has stalled. This does not mean that Bloomberg is out of the race. But his path to victory may be more difficult if he has another lackluster performance in the upcoming debate. 

Before we look at two metrics that show Bloomberg’s decreasing popularity, it is important to point out that more than 33 million saw the debate. To put this figure in perspective, 11 million viewers watched each of the previous two debates.

Bloomberg’s Polling Averages

Before the Iowa caucuses, Joe Biden enjoyed a big lead in the polls, followed by Bernie Sanders. Biden’s centrist positions appealed to many Democrats but weak showings in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary raised questions about his electability and his long-term viability. 

Unsure about Sanders’ progressive policies and as a reaction to his growing popularity, many Democrats see Bloomberg as an alternative to Biden, Pete Buttigieg or Amy Klobuchar.

The following graph charts Bloomberg’s increasing popularity before the debate and also his decreasing support after. The gray vertical line depicts February 19, 2020  —  the date of the Nevada Democratic Debate. 

While his support has dropped, it is important to note that only two nationals polls were conducted after the debate. The survey conducted by CBS News/YouGov estimates his support at 13%. The Morning Consult/Politico Poll conducted before and after the debate indicates that Bloomberg’s support fell from 20% to 17%. To be sure, these two polls do not represent a trend, but they do point out that Democrats are questioning his electability.

Bloomberg’s Social Media Followers

In a post I wrote after the New Hampshire debate, I explained why political campaigns are trying to grow their social media followings. 

When I started to track Bloomberg’s following on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram at the end of November 2019, he had 2.3 million followers on Twitter and 233,891 on Instagram. Facebook provides us two measures: Page Likes and Page Follows. He had 762,190 page likes and 766,443 page follows.

Today, his Facebook measures are 891,955 and 933,644 respectively. He currently has close to 2.7 million Twitter followers and 420,262 on Instagram. 

The next graph measures the change in followers for each social media network. The gray line depicts February 19, 2020  —  the date of the Nevada Democratic Debate. 

We can clearly see sharp drops in the number of followers on Facebook and Instagram after February 19, 2020. The decrease in Twitter is less pronounced, but still noteworthy.

Can Bloomberg Regain His Groove?

While Bloomberg’s momentum has stalled, he has an opportunity to right the ship. Sanders’ overwhelming victory in the Nevada caucuses has rattled the Democratic Party’s leadership. Many moderate Democrats are still searching for an alternative to Sanders.

However, Elizabeth Warren’s attacks during the last debate undermined his credibility among women, Latinxs and African Americans. It is difficult to see how Bloomberg can win a majority of pledged delegates in the Super Tuesday contests without the support of these three voting groups. This is why a strong performance in the upcoming South Carolina debate is critical.