Sure, the gap between Trump and Buttigieg is only 5 points, but that’s because 7 percent say they “don’t know” or are “undecided.” That’s likely because Buttigieg is relatively unknown to a whole bunch of voters. In the latest Morning Consult poll, even 31 percent of Democratic primary voters say they have never heard of him, while another 16 percent have heard of him but don’t yet have an opinion. Having a gay mayor of a midsize city on the ballot doesn’t make Trump any more likely to win; it might, however, require a whole lot more work for Buttigieg, who is in the early stages (still) of introducing himself to voters.
And what about those “risky” female candidates? Harris gets 49 percent to Trump’s 41 percent in the Quinnipiac poll; only Biden drives Trump lower. Her handicap is that, like Buttigieg, a chunk of voters don’t know her or don’t have an opinion (6 percent). In the Morning Consult poll, 36 percent of Democratic primary voters haven’t heard of Harris or have no opinion. Similarly, in the Quinnipiac poll, Warren beats Trump 49 percent to 42 percent, although she might have a lower ceiling than other candidates given that fewer voters have yet to figure out who she is or what they think of her. (Among primary voters, that figure is 26 percent; only Sanders and Biden have higher name-ID.)
Buttigieg, Harris and Warren, of course, will move toward 100 percent name recognition if they get the nomination. Based on available evidence, there is no reason to believe that their numbers wouldn’t look much like Biden’s or Sanders’s currently do in a match-up with Trump.
All caveats about early polls apply, but one thing we know about Trump is that voters’ views of him are very consistent. More than 50 percent in most polls say they won’t even consider voting for him. His most devoted supporters will never leave him, but their numbers have shrunk well below the numbers needed to sustain an electoral plurality (let alone a majority).
And that brings us to the “electability” fetish. The only one among the major candidates with a severe electability problem is the nearly 73-year-old, out-of-shape, unindicted co-conspirator currently residing in the White House. (And if he does lose by double digits, you can be sure a slew of Republicans will go down with him.) If electability is a non-factor for Democratic candidates, then primary voters should feel free to pick the brainiest one, the policy maven, the political veteran or anyone else they like. No one should strain to divine whom other Americans will and will not vote for. (“I’m fine with a woman, but all those other people won’t be.”)
Primary voters should pick the one who will unify their own party, drive turnout and govern effectively. This doesn’t mean that voters should not consider whom Trump will find the easiest to shred because of their individual flaws and foibles (so far, Trump seems to be rooting for the self-described socialist Sanders), but they need not exclude entire categories of candidates (e.g. women, mayors). Pick the best leader, the one best able to govern. Wow — what a concept.