Despite that, Bloomberg has yet to lead any national polls in the race so far. Indeed, he remains behind former vice president Joe Biden’s struggling campaign and barely ahead of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) allegedly faltering effort. He remains more than 10 points behind the leader, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
The gap between the media attention and the polling results is huge, and it does not disappear at state-level polls. Bloomberg leads in only two polls of the 14 Super Tuesday states voting on March 3, and that is in tiny Oklahoma and Arkansas. He is tied for first in two others — Virginia and North Carolina — and he trails in the two largest states, California and Texas. Again, that’s not what you would expect given the media attention over the past week.
It’s not hard to figure out why Bloomberg’s bark exceeded his bite. Message, not money, is what produces victory, and so far Bloomberg’s has been lacking. His ads hit President Trump, tout his accomplishments as mayor and align him with standard, center-left Democratic Party viewpoints. This has been enough to attract some voters unhappy with the alternatives, but it isn’t appealing enough to excite most voters. Bloomberg is not offering Democrats anything significantly different from what others already present.
His chances, such as they are, rest on being able to quickly drive all other centrist Democrats from the race and consolidate their support behind him. But why would they drop out? Biden and former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg also poll well and are as likely as Bloomberg to win a large number of delegates on Super Tuesday. They can’t match Bloomberg’s money, but they can probably raise enough to keep going. Politicians who have invested years of their lives and millions of their backer’s donated dollars don’t suddenly abandon ship just because they face strong competition.
Nor is it a certainty that these candidates’ voters would fall in line behind Bloomberg. A recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that Sanders would demolish Bloomberg by a 53-38 margin if they were matched up head to head. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll finds that a plurality of Warren’s supporters and a quarter of Biden’s voters would switch to Sanders if their first choice dropped out. Bloomberg and the Democratic establishment might think that Sanders is too liberal to beat Trump, but loads of Democratic voters disagree.
Given all these data, it’s hard to see how Bloomberg wins. Democrats award their delegates proportionally to the share of the vote a candidate gets. Bloomberg won’t get a one-on-one contest with Sanders by Super Tuesday, and once those states have voted, nearly 40 percent of all the delegates will be awarded. He would have to beat Sanders decisively in almost all the remaining contests in a one-on-one contest to win a majority of delegates. No public data supports the idea he can do that.
Nor would a contested convention play to Bloomberg’s strengths. The Democratic left would be apoplectic if the establishment steered their votes to him because of his billion-dollar war chest. Sanders backers already feel the establishment rigged the 2016 contest to defeat their man. They would howl with rage if an open deal were made to make Bloomberg the nominee. Wise party leaders will know this and surely try to find a compromise candidate that all party factions could support.
All this means that Bloomberg is much less likely to win than the current media frenzy would suggest. To use an analogy from the financial markets, his candidacy is much more like a political version of Tulip Mania than a sound investment. So you can ignore all the signals to buy into his nomination chances coming from TV analysts. The smart play on Bloomberg is to sell short, now.