Pete Buttigieg surges ahead of fellow candidates in Iowa, new poll shows

Edward Helmore in New York
Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Support for Pete Buttigieg, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and millennial mayor of South Bend, Indiana, has surged among Democrat primary voters in Iowa, according to a new poll that puts him around 10 points ahead of his nearest rivals.

The poll, released by CNN, the Des Moines Register and Mediacom on Saturday, placed Buttigieg’s support at 25% of likely caucus-goers in the key early voting state, with fellow candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and former vice-president Joe Biden in a three-way tie for second place at 15%.

The new poll, conducted with 500 likely Democratic caucus-goers and has a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points, shows a consistent improvement in support for Buttigieg, 37, who was a relative unknown when he announced his candidacy earlier this year.

Given its role as the first state to vote in the presidential primaries, Iowa is key to most Democratic candidates’ strategies, and is set to vote on 3 February. Since 2000, every Democrat who has won the Iowa caucuses has gone on to win the presidential nomination of their party.

Related: Can Pete Buttigieg's moderate message win over purple Iowa?

A Monmouth University poll last week that also showed Buttigieg leading in the state, through by a lesser margin of three points. In that poll, Buttigieg stood at 22%, Biden at 19%, Warren 18% and Sanders at 13%. None of the other candidates reached double digits.

Prior polls have shown Buttigieg, Biden, Warren and Sanders levels of support essentially even.

Buttigieg described the latest numbers as “extremely encouraging, obviously. At the same time, there’s a long way to go”.

Speaking after the poll came out at a democratic convention in Long Beach, California, the t37-year-old military veteran said his campaign had felt “a lot of momentum on the ground”.

Ann Selzer, president of Selzer & Co., which conducted the latest poll, said the latest figure pointed to a “new status” for Buttigieg who, at 72%, showed the highest favorability of all the candidates.

“There have been four candidates that have sort of jostled around in a pack together, but he has a sizable lead over the nearest contender – nine points,” Selzer told the Des Moines Register.

Since June, Biden, Warren and Buttigieg have all taken turns atop the poll. Though never top among Iowan Democrats, Sanders has been consistently in the top four.

In the latest poll, 63% of Iowans said Buttigieg’s views are about right. Only 7% said his views are too liberal, while 13% felt they’re too conservative.

The new poll came a day after former president Barack Obama warned the crowded field of Democratic White House hopefuls not to veer too far to the left because it would alienate voters.

Related: Democratic candidates reject Obama’s warning of going too far left

Though Obama did not mention anyone by name, the message he delivered before a room of Democratic donors in Washington on Friday was a clear word of caution about the candidacies of Warren and Sanders, who are seen as two of the top-tier candidates in the crowded field. Buttigieg and Biden are considered more moderate candidates.

In the “about right” category, Buttigieg was trailed by Biden at 55%, Warren at 48% and Sanders at 37%. But a majority (53%) found Sanders views “too liberal.”

But Buttigieg’s surge of support in predominantly white, early-voting states like Iowa maybe be hard to translate in more diverse states where he is still relatively unknown.

Political commentators said Buttigieg’s numbers underscored at how fluid the race for the Ddemocratic nomination remains.

“This is still a very fluid race,” congresswoman Mia Love, the only black Republican woman in Congress, told Jake Tapper on CNN’s State of the Nation. “You don’t have to look far to see each of these candidates being at the top of the polls and a month later they’re down because that makes them the one to attack.”

“He’s more than just a Goldilocks,” the Utah congresswoman continued. “People are seeing something they like in how he presents himself and how he’s trying to reach across to a broad part of the electorate. One of his opportunities is that people are still getting to know him.”

Joan E Greve and the Associated Press contributed to this report