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.