Sanders, Biden lead in Iowa. Is Buttigieg a buy?

Biden, Sanders nipping at the heels …

The latest Real Clear Politics poll has former U.S. vice-president Joe Biden garnering 20.7% of the nod among likely voters in the Iowa caucus.  U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders is nipping at Mr. Biden’s heels with 20.3% of likely caucus participants supporting the independent senator from Vermont.

While Mr. Sanders continues to draw on the support he had during the 2016 campaign for the Democratic nomination, Mr. Biden has been able to maintain his front-runner status based on a more centrist approach to policy and political capital built up among black voters given his eight years as vice-president in the Barack Obama administration.

Buttigieg rising …

Meanwhile, Real Clear Politics polling data sees former South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg still in the hunt polling at 18.7%. A relative unknown two years ago, Mr. Buttigieg has been able to leverage, according to Axios, $2.3 million in television advertisements, 100 staff on the ground, and 20 field offices in Iowa to put him in striking distance of a win in Iowa.

Mr. Buttigieg’s third place status behind Messrs Biden and Sanders exposes his unknown factor.  He has done well nationally given that he was not known outside of South Bend until recently.  Whether he can raise his media profile in the next three weeks enough to get him over the top remains to be seen.  Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders receive much more mentions from media, thus taking up needed oxygen for Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign to fuel itself on.

In addition to media, the philosophical space that Mr. Buttigieg seems more inclined to occupy has been taken up by Mr. Biden.  Mr. Biden moved to the middle immediately on his decision to run, his centrist approach being of no surprise to many observers.  Mr. Sanders, on the other hand, has stuck with his progressive policy rhetoric, positions that have endeared him to voters occupying the far left including a significant number of young and college-aged voters.

Mr. Buttigieg, while recognized as a moderate, cannot dominate the middle among Iowa voters and will seem less than genuine should he move left.

What may also be weighing on Mr. Buttigieg’s ability to leap ahead of Messrs Biden and Sanders is the view of black Americans toward his candidacy.  Although blacks are waning demographically, they still comprise a significant voting block within the Democratic Party.  Mr. Buttigieg has very little support among black voters and expression of this lack of support will manifest itself on 29 February when voters go to the South Carolina primary.  The specter of this onslaught may be looming over the polls in Iowa as Iowans who are more concerned about selecting the candidate best situated to beat Donald Trump decide to make a perceived securer choice in either Mr. Biden or Mr. Sanders.

The prediction markets …

The political prediction markets are giving Mr. Sanders the highest probability of winning one day after the last debate prior to the Iowa caucus.  PredictIt is pricing an affirmative on a Sanders’ victory at $.46 while pricing an affirmative on a Biden victory at $.32. Mr. Buttigieg’s chances at victory as determined in the prediction markets looks more in line with his poll numbers where PredictIt is pricing his chances of winning at $.17.

Is Buttigieg a buy?

Locking in Mr. Buttigieg at $.17 with the hope of a 500% return on the chances of a Buttigieg win would require two things.  First, Mr. Buttigieg will have to increase his media exposure by continuing to message via broadcast media, social media, and newspapers.  Second, he would need monumental gaffes on the part of both Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders.  While Mr. Biden is known historically for misspeaking, Mr. Sanders has been very disciplined in his messaging.  This week’s allegations that Mr. Sanders shared with Senator Elizabeth Warren in 2018 his doubts about a woman beating Mr. Trump in 2020 seems not to have had much of an impact on his campaign.

What could cause some disruption in the Biden campaign is any testimony offered during the Senate’s removal trial of Mr. Trump where such testimony describes any impropriety on the part of Mr. Biden in his son’s service on an energy company’s board in Ukraine.  Even so, we believe that such testimony would only serve to secure Mr. Sanders’ lead.

Conclusion

We don’t see Mr. Buttigieg winning Iowa.  Iowans want to increase the chances of selecting a candidate that can go toe to toe with the President.  While the payoff would be substantial, the chances of a Biden or Sanders fall in Iowa are not high enough.

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