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.

After the New Hampshire Primary: Who is Leading the Democratic Race for the 2020 Presidential Nomination?

In this year’s Democratic presidential nomination, the candidates will compete for the support of a majority delegates in 57 contests — the 50 states, the District of Columbia, the five unincorporated territories and Democrats Abroad. There are two types of delegates: 3,979 pledged delegates and 771 automatic delegates, more commonly known as superdelegates. The last contest will be held in the U.S. Virgin Islands on June 9, 2020. 

Who is leading the Democratic race now? The simple answer is that the candidate who has won the most pledged delegates is in the lead. But, at this time, this is not a great measure. Iowa is re-canvassing some of its vote and New Hampshire’s “first-in-the-nation” primary only represents 0.6% of the pledged delegates. 

Assuming Iowa’s first count was correct and adding the New Hampshire primary’s results, Pete Buttigieg enjoys a narrow lead over his rivals. 

Even though we should not dismiss Buttigieg’s strong performance, Iowa’s and New Hampshire’s populations are not very diverse. Polling data indicates that he has not connected with African American and Latino/a voters. This is a problem for Amy Klobuchar too. We need to question their long-term ability to win the necessary 1,990 pledged delegates to clinch the nomination. 

Bernie Sanders’ support among non-White voters seems to be higher than in 2016, but there are still questions whether he can broaden his coalition. Joe Biden’s and Elizabeth Warren’s poor showings in New Hampshire have raised questions about their electability. And then there is Michael Bloomberg’s self-funded campaign, which is gaining traction in national polls. 

Until Super Tuesday, when 15 states hold their primaries representing 34% of the available pledged delegates, we should pay little attention to the delegate count. At this time, national and state polls are a better measure of who is leading the race. Figure 2 summarizes the candidates’ polling averages for the last few weeks. 

Looking at these trends closely, we can see three important patterns. First, as Sanders’ popularity increases, Warren’s decreases. It looks like he is consolidating the progressive vote at her expense. Second, Biden’s declines are matched by the rise in Bloomberg’s and Buttigieg’s support. While Klobuchar did win a surprising third place in New Hampshire, her performance has not really affected her popularity at the national level. Thus, we can assume that moderate voters are divided. Finally, the last polls show that Buttigieg’s surge seems to have stalled. 

Because I think that social media matters in political campaigns, we should also consider the number of people following the candidates’ Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Figure 3 provides the percentage increase in followers in the three platforms from January 20, 2020, to February 14, 2020. 

The graph shows why Warren and Biden should be concerned. These numbers also suggest that Bloomberg is doing the best, followed by Buttigieg and Klobuchar. But, it is important not to exaggerate their growth in followers. While Sanders’ numbers are not as strong as some of his rivals, he has the most followers — as Table 1 shows. But, as Bloomberg spends more on television and online advertisings, we should expect that he will gain more followers.

Similarly, Buttigieg’s strong performance in Iowa and New Hampshire as well as Klobuchar’s surprising third place in the Granite State has boosted their number of social media followers.

Which of these measures is the best to determine who is leading the race for the Democratic presidential nomination? At this time, polling data is the best. But metrics on candidates’ social media followings can help us contextualize the race. Sanders is clearly in the lead and strong performances in Nevada and South Carolina will further cement his lead. But Bloomberg’s rise in the polls and social media reminds us that this race is just starting, a problem for Buttigieg, who leads — for now — the count of pledged delegates, but nothing else.

Which Candidate Earned the Most Social Media Followers after the New Hampshire Democratic Debate?

I did not have a chance to see the New Hampshire Democratic Debate and it seems that the candidates did not make any major mistakes. FiveThirtyEight, working with Ipsos, interviewed, voters before and after the debate and the results are quite interesting. Respondents were asked to rate each participants’ debate performance. Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar were at the top of the list, followed by Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden. At the end of the list were Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang – in that order. 

The goal of the debates is to help voters decide who to support in the upcoming primaries and caucuses. The FiveThirtyEight/Ipsos survey can help us understand whether the candidates’ debate performance affected respondents’ voting choices. Figure 1 summarizes these findings. 

Most of the candidates’ performances convinced some voters to give them a second look. Yang’s numbers were basically flat, while Biden’s decline should be seen as one more signal that his campaign is in some trouble. 

For the past year, I have been collecting data on each candidates’ number of followers on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Campaigns need to build their social media followings to accomplish at least four important goals: (1) communicate their ideas, (2) promote their events; (3) request financial support; and (4) to get out the vote. More savvy campaigns also analyze followers’ comments to evaluate the effectiveness of their social media strategies.

Even though social media platforms are not representative of the United States public, the Pew Research Center finds that at least 72% of Americans use “some type of social media” and Facebook is currently the “most-widely used” platform.

Thus, I assume that political campaigns want to grow their social media followings and noteworthy events, such as debates, should help these campaigns attract new followers and keep existing ones.

Which of the candidates who participated in the debate attracted the highest number of new followers? 

I collected the number of followers on each platform a few hours before the debate and 14 hours after. Rather than reporting each candidate’s number of new followers. I calculate the increase as a percentage of their post-debate total. Figure 2 summarizes the Facebook statistics, which includes two measures “page likes” and “page follows”.

Figure 3 describes the percent increase in Instagram followers and figure 4 summarizes the statistics for Twitter followers. 

Although the growth patterns in each social media platform are different, the graphs echo some of the FiveThirtyEight-Ipsos’ survey. Klobuchar is the big winner in the three platforms, while Buttigieg comes in second. While it seems unlikely that Klobuchar will win the New Hampshire primary, her growing popularity may weaken Biden’s support and halt Buttigieg’s gains. Yang’s and Steyer’s increasing followers, especially on Twitter and Instagram, suggest that people want to learn more about their views.

While it is difficult to make sense of Sanders’ and Warren’s modest growth, the figures indicate that Biden’s campaign is in trouble. He lost followers on Instagram, while his gains in the other two platforms were at best anemic. Biden is no longer the front-runner and his presidential hopes seem to be fading.

Can the number of each candidates’ social media followers tell us something about their popularity and their campaign’s strength? This is one of the questions that informs my current research. But it seems that at first glance the findings of the FiveThirtyEight-Ipsos’ survey are in line with the amount of followers each of the participants gained 14 hours after the debate.

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