Election 2020 Politics

A skeptical party warms to a party-switching billionaire New Yorker, take two

If you fell into a coma at that precise moment and awoke from it at this precise moment, man, do I have some news for you.

As it turns out, Republicans very quickly warmed to Trump, prodded by his aggressive, atypical approach to promoting his candidacy. By the time of the Iowa caucuses, his net favorability (favorability minus unfavorability) was well into positive territory. And then, of course, he won the nomination and the presidency.

It seems likely that former New York mayor Mike Bloomberg was aware of this shift when he announced his own candidacy last November. A billionaire who had only recently joined the party and was viewed skeptically by the establishment suddenly thinks he can win over Democratic primary voters? Well, yes, I guess I can see that happening.

When Quinnipiac University asked voters how they felt about Bloomberg in December, he was barely above water with members of the party whose nomination he sought. By which I mean his net favorability was only slightly positive; only a bit more Democrats viewed him favorably than unfavorably. Just past the Iowa caucuses, though, the shift has been made: he’s now viewed more positively on net than Trump was by Republicans in Quinnipiac’s polling between his own announcement and the caucuses four years ago.

What’s more, Bloomberg is also more favorably viewed overall than Trump was (by about 14 points on net) and is more favorably viewed by Republicans than Trump was by Democrats.

More importantly, Bloomberg’s net favorability is now much closer to the leading Democrats still in the race. He still trails them, but his spike from December to February is obvious. That’s a function of his gaining more in favorability (jumping from 31 percent to 58 percent) and less because of a significant drop in his unfavorability.

The remaining gap is also a function of his still not being very well known. If we look at net favorability just among those who have an opinion of Bloomberg, his numbers nearly match former vice president Joe Biden’s. Former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), both of whom are still not very well known, see bigger jumps in their adjusted net favorability.

On another metric, measured in polling from the Economist and YouGov, Bloomberg’s seen improvement. The percentage of Democrats who say they would be disappointed in having Bloomberg as their nominee fell slightly since December, but since the percentage who say they’d be disappointed in a Biden nomination spiked, Bloomberg no longer trails the leading Democrats on this metric. While 23 percent of Democrats say they’d be disappointed if Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) were the nominee, the figure for Bloomberg is only 28 percent.

Part of this is a function of Bloomberg’s ability to spend literally unheard of amounts of money to promote his candidacy — messaging so pervasive that it can drown out a lot of criticism. Part of it, too, is simply that Democratic voters aren’t actually as hostile to Bloomberg’s candidacy as they might have seemed to be on paper.

This, again, is something we could have predicted had we been paying attention four years ago.

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