Where Pete Buttigieg fits into the Democratic presidential race

June 19, 2019, 12:00 PM GMT+0

Who is Pete Buttigieg?

For many, he remains an unknown. Forty percent of Americans and more than a third of Democrats in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll don’t have an opinion of him. But among those Democrats who do know him, most like him: four times as many have a favorable opinion of him as have an unfavorable one.

Still, when Democratic primary voters are asked for a word to describe Buttigieg, the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, “unknown” is the most common response. But Buttigieg is also seen as someone young, smart and nice. A smaller number note another characteristic that sets him apart from other Democratic presidential candidates past and present – he is openly gay.

Youth may come with inexperience, and some Democratic voters think of that when they think of Buttigieg. Despite his youth (at 37, he is the youngest candidate in the field), Democrats generally view him as qualified for the job. Older Democratic voters (those 65 and older) are even more convinced Buttigieg is qualified: 60% say he is, and just 11% disagree. This reflects a more general belief that youth may be an advantage over age when it comes to the White House.

Buttigieg may have moved into the top tier of candidates, but he still trails several who are older. Among the older candidates, there has been movement. In this week’s poll, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren has moved ahead of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders when Democratic voters are asked to name the candidates they are considering, as well as to name their top choice. Warren is the only candidate a majority of liberals (who make up a majority of Democratic voters) say they are considering, and is their first choice.

Just as Buttigieg’s age is seen as an advantage by some, Warren (though significantly older than Buttigieg) may be helped by concerns voters raise about an older president. Although she will turn 70 later this month (just before the first Democratic presidential debates), Sanders will be 78 in September.

Former Vice President Joe Biden remains in the lead among all the candidates that Democratic primary voters are considering. He is also ahead among the 25% of Democratic voters who say they are only considering one candidate, and by a wide margin. A third in that group are considering only Biden. Ten percent name Warren, 13% Sanders and 7% Buttigieg.

However, those considering only one candidate are paying less attention to the race: less than half, 44%, say they follow what goes on in government and politics most of the time. Far more Democratic primary voters overall (59%) are attentive to politics most of the time. That suggests many of those with only one choice may not yet have begun to follow the current contest.

When Democratic voters make up their minds, they focus on electability, not issues. Sixty percent say it is more important to them that a nominee be able to win than it is that he or she agrees with them on policy. Liberal Democrats agree. Four out of five older Democrats prioritize electability, while younger Democrats are divided.

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