Voters have begun the process of choosing which Democratic candidate will go up against Donald Trump on 3 November. But who is leading the pack?
Joe Biden remains the frontrunner in national polls but lacklustre fundraising and a fourth place finish in the Iowa caucus suggest his star is fading.
Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, are on the up after finishing in a virtual tie in Iowa and topping polls in New Hampshire, the next state in the primary process.
We’ve taken an in-depth look at the polls, the fundraising numbers and a few other things that can help shed some light on the current state of play.
There were nearly 30 Democrats running just a few months ago, but the field has narrowed to just 11 candidates now – and only a handful of them have a real shot at winning.
No consensus amid Iowa chaos
Only twice since 1976 has the Democrat who won the Iowa caucuses not gone on to become the party’s presidential nominee, so the state usually offers a clue as to how the race is shaping up.
This time, however, just 0.1% separated the top two candidates – Democratic socialist Bernie Sanders and moderate millennial Pete Buttigieg (it’s pronounced boot-edge-edge, by the way).
The results in Iowa took several days to emerge, with party officials blaming the delay on a coding error in an app that was being used for the first time to report the votes.
Even now, there are questions over the validity of the results with The Associated Press, a news organisation that traditionally verifies election results, yet to declare a winner.
Biden ahead nationally – but for how long?
If you look at the national polls, there is a clear top tier of candidates: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Biden’s lead was pretty steady throughout 2019, hovering between 25-35% apart from a short jump to 40% after he officially announced his candidacy last April. Warren very briefly overtook him in October, but her numbers dropped after that and she soon fell back behind Sanders.
We don’t have much data to go on yet when it comes to assessing how the Iowa results have changed things, but it does appear as if Sanders is the one with the momentum at the moment.
His numbers were on an upward trajectory even before Iowa, suggesting that a very public disagreement between him and Warren about whether he did or didn’t say a woman could not win the presidency hasn’t hindered his chances.
One other notable thing is how quickly Michael Bloomberg has risen. The billionaire only joined the race in November, but he is well positioned to gain if Biden continues to lose support.
Turbulent few weeks ahead
If you look at the chart below, it shows the latest average for candidates in five states that vote in the next month – New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina, California and Texas.
Of those five contests, Joe Biden leads in three and Bernie Sanders is ahead in two.
Elizabeth Warren’s best hope is in California, where she is currently second in the polls, but she’s a long way off the top in the other states at the moment.
Michael Bloomberg doesn’t feature in the next three states as he’s chosen to focus on Super Tuesday on 3 March, when more than a dozen states, including California and Texas, cast their votes – but even there, his current numbers are low.
Pete Buttigieg, meanwhile, looks set to give Bernie Sanders a fight in New Hampshire after the bounce from his performance in Iowa. But unless he gets a surprise victory there and receives another bounce, it looks unlikely that he’ll have a shot in the other four states.
Of the others, only hedge-fund billionaire Tom Steyer is showing any sign of challenging the top tier candidates, sitting in second place in South Carolina and fourth in Nevada.
Sanders campaign in good shape
The amount a candidate raises is no firm sign of their eventual success – Jeb Bush, for example, led the Republican money race in 2016, but was still beaten by Donald Trump.
It is, however, a useful guide to how much enthusiasm there is for their candidacy and in Bernie Sanders’ case, there is still an awful lot of energy behind him.
As the chart above shows, he raised the most money from individual donors last year, and his $34.4m haul in the fourth quarter was the highest quarterly total of any candidate. Joe Biden, by comparison, raised $23.2m.
Much of Sanders’ power comes from the network of supporters he built during his battle with Hillary Clinton in 2016. A detailed analysis by the New York Times showed that network stretched right across the US – whereas most candidates get the majority of their support from the areas they have represented.
The other thing to note is just how well Pete Buttigieg has done up to now. He raised $76m last year, $5m more than Elizabeth Warren and over $15m more than Joe Biden – although the former vice-president entered the race after the first quarter.
Can Bloomberg’s cash change the dynamic?
Michael Bloomberg is not accepting donations to his campaign – hence why he’s at the bottom on $0 in the chart above – but that isn’t affecting his spending power.
Along with Tom Steyer, the other billionaire in the race, he has spent huge sums of money on an advertising campaign that included a 60-second ad during the Super Bowl that reportedly cost around $10 million.
The bad news for Joe Biden is that both men are targeting his supporters and not those of Bernie Sanders.
There are signs the Bloomberg campaign is having some success, most notably his climb in the national polls mentioned above, but it’s still hard to imagine him winning enough delegates to become the Democratic nominee.
If, however, we get to July and there is still no clear winner, there would be a “contested” convention where “superdelegates” could break the deadlock. Many of these delegates are senior party officials past and present and they may look kindly on a centrist candidate like Bloomberg who has donated millions to the Democratic Party in the past.
The party convention is a long way off yet though.