Except a new poll shows it’s not just that.
The Washington Post/Ipsos poll shows Buttigieg with the highest unfavorable rating among black voters — 21 percent — of any major Democratic candidate except Mike Bloomberg (25 percent), despite having the third-lowest name recognition. (Bloomberg, you might recall, was responsible for the highly controversial stop-and-frisk policy as New York mayor — a policy for which he has now apologized.) Buttigieg’s favorable rating is 30 percent.
In the near term, that negative rating could surely damage Buttigieg’s chances in the primaries; black voters are a disproportionate share of Democratic voters, after all. But the numbers suggest it could be an issue in the general election too, for a few reasons.
The first is that Buttigieg performs worse with black voters against President Trump than any candidate — albeit within the margin of error of a couple of them. While former vice president Joe Biden leads Trump 82 percent to 4 percent with black voters and Bernie Sanders leads 74-4, Buttigieg leads 57-4. Nearly 4 in 10 black voters say they would either not vote or vote for someone else if Buttigieg were the nominee.
Buttigieg’s numbers are similar to Amy Klobuchar’s, at 58-5, but Klobuchar is even less well-known than he is. Bloomberg notably does marginally better in the general election among black voters — 62-4 — despite his stop-and-frisk issues.
And Buttigieg’s drop-off doesn’t just owe to name ID. If you look just at voters who are familiar with both Trump and each Democrat, he leads Trump 66 percent to 4 percent, making up less than half the gap between his support and Biden’s 82 percent. By contrast, Cory Booker garners 78 percent support among black voters who are familiar with him, and Andrew Yang takes 72 percent. All the other candidates do better than Buttigieg, as well.
And lastly is his potential ceiling with black voters. The poll tested a series of characteristics and asked whether they mattered to voters. The biggest dealbreaker? Being a gay man. The poll showed 21 percent of black adults said they would be “very uncomfortable” supporting one, with another 20 percent saying they’d have reservations. About half of black adults would be “comfortable” voting for a gay man, while 8 percent say they would be “enthusiastic.”
That doesn’t mean Buttigieg can’t turn it around with black voters, of course. There’s a lot of time left in the campaign, and victories in either Iowa or New Hampshire, both in which he’s neck-and-neck with the leaders, may force skeptical Democrats to reevaluate their feelings about him. Buttigieg could take some solace in Sanders’s relatively strong performance among black voters in the poll, given four years ago Sanders struggled mightily to win their support in his primary against Hillary Clinton.
In the general election, black voters would also be faced with a choice between Buttigieg and Trump, whom they seem to very strongly disapprove of, according to other polls, with as many as 8 in 10 saying he is racist. Would they really sit that one out or go third party?
There’s no question Buttigieg would wind up with well more than the 57 percent of black voters’ support he has today. But black voters are such an important part of the Democratic coalition that there’s danger in really any drop-off from the level of support enjoyed by Barack Obama (93-95 percent) and Clinton (89 percent).
The poll was conducted by Ipsos Knowledge Panel, an ongoing survey panel recruited through random sampling of U.S. households. It surveyed 1,088 black adults, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.