It’s the question I get most often these days.
We are already swimming in data, but haven’t the slightest idea who will leave Milwaukee as the nominee.
What kind of emotional connection will these candidates forge with voters? How will they differentiate themselves from one another?
Most of them have not had a tough race … well, ever — and only a couple have been in a contest this intense and this visible. How will they react under its unique pressures?
We have some data about the present, but know little about how such facts relate to victories in nominating contests.
The data come in four categories:
Let’s look briefly at each in turn.
FiveThirtyEight.com has tabulated the cable TV mentions around candidate announcements. As with all the data we’ll discuss, there are real weaknesses here, but recognizing the inherent faults, let’s see whether any kind of coherent picture emerges.
On, and just after, their announcement days, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) enjoyed significant share of voice on cable news.
Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Kamala Harris (Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) produced more modest results, while Sen. Kirstin Gillibrand (N.Y.), former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee garnered very little attention.
While these stats tell us a bit about what’s being transmitted, Google searches reveal something about what’s being received.
Sanders has generated by far the most searches, followed, at a significant distance, by Buttigieg, Harris and Booker. These patterns are similar in Iowa and New Hampshire.
Money raised is both a signal of interest, as well as a hard measure of the resources required to mount a serious campaign.
We’ll know much more about the candidates’ fundraising after their Federal Election Commission reports are filed, but in the meantime, a number of them released information about the money they took in shortly after their announcements.
Not surprisingly, Sanders and O’Rourke lead this category by miles—each of them raised about $6 million in their first 24 hours as announced candidates, with O’Rourke nosing out Sanders for the lead.
Harris ranked a distant third with $1.5 million, while Klobuchar brought in $1 million and Warren a much lesser $300,000.
O’Rourke and Sanders’s lead here is no surprise — having a big list of donors from a previous campaign is the best way to raise money fast, and both sport that asset.
FiveThirtyEight is also tracking endorsements by other politicians, which bear some relationship to primary victories past.
Again, one can quibble with the scoring system — is Walter Mondale’s endorsement really just as valuable as Barack Obama’s? Does the governor of Samoa really carry as much weight as the governor of an early state, like Nevada?
But by these measures, Booker and Harris lead the pack, with Klobuchar a fairly close third and everyone else much further behind.
At this stage, though, almost all these endorsements are from politicians representing the home states of the presidential candidates, naturally advantaging those from larger states like California and New Jersey.
Indeed, the top three endorsement magnets only have one supporter each from outside their home states.
Finally, we come to the polls.
As I’ve argued here for years, the early states, particularly Iowa and New Hampshire, have an outsize influence on the process.
Averaging the recent Iowa polls yields a slender lead for Biden over Sanders and the two of them together get half the vote in a field of over 10 candidates.
Harris and Warren stand at about 9 percent each, with Buttigieg at 6 percent, and Booker and O’Rourke at about 5 percent each.
New Hampshire and national polling tells a very similar story.
Put it all together and one has to say Biden and Sanders are current front-runners, but lots of others have real chances to knock them off that pedestal on which they’re precariously perched.
Mellman is president of The Mellman Group and has helped elect 30 U.S. senators, 12 governors and dozens of House members. Mellman served as pollster to Senate Democratic leaders for over 20 years and as president of the American Association of Political Consultants.