His debate performances didn’t help him recover either; in fact, his most recent performance seemed to have hurt him. After the October debate, O’Rourke’s net favorability among Democratic primary voters fell by about 6 points in our post-debate poll with Ipsos, the biggest decline for any of the 12 candidates on stage. His place at future debates was in serious jeopardy, too. O’Rourke was two qualifying polls shy of making the November debate and had yet to register a single qualifying survey for the December debate.
But O’Rourke might always have struggled to attract a large enough base of support in the primary given the makeup of the Democratic electorate. As a moderate three-term congressman, he won over many suburban white voters in his Texas Senate bid, but as editor-in-chief Nate Silver wrote back in July, a base of white moderates, particularly younger ones, wasn’t enough. As you can see in the table below, only about 12 percent of 2016 Democratic primary voters fit all three descriptors — young, white, moderate — based on data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study.1