CA tracking poll: Sanders leading; Warren, Biden close behind

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders walking in the Independence Day parade with supporters in Ames, Iowa. (Photo by Gage Skidmore, Flickr

California’s likely voters increasingly support  Sen. Bernie Sanders in the March 3 Democratic presidential primary,  with Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden following closely, according to Capitol Weekly’s January tracking poll.

Sanders, who is capturing strong support from Latinos, has taken the lead in our survey for the first time since we began polling the Democratic field in September.

Support for Sanders is not only the top in the polling, it is also the most unwavering. Nearly 60% of voters categorize their support of Sanders as “very strong”

Former Southbend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg captured the fourth spot, leaving him still within range of obtaining national Democratic convention delegates at the congressional level, even if he is falling short of the 15% threshold for earning a share of the statewide delegates.

The survey of 1,051 of likely voters in the Democratic primary was conducted from Jan. 3-9 and carries a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3%. Crosstabs can be found here.

Capitol Weekly CA120 January Tracking Poll Results (N=1051 Weighted)




Bernie Sanders




Elizabeth Warren




Joe Biden




Peter Buttigieg




Andrew Yang




Michael Bloomberg




Amy Klobuchar




Tulsi Gabbard




Tom Steyer




Cory Booker




Marianne Williamson




Deval Patrick




John Delaney




This top polling position for Sanders is driven by a base of supporters who have consistently supported his candidacy – particularly younger voters, where he is at 43% among those aged 18-to-34, compared to 17% for Warren, and among Latinos, where he is at 35% compared to 26% for Biden.

Sanders also has a strong base among those making under $50,000 a year at 29% and among those making $50-75,000 per year at 32%.  This support among lower income voters is in contrast to his 10% support among those making $150,000 per year.

This support for Sanders is not only the top in the polling, it is also the most unwavering. Nearly 60% of voters categorize their support of Sanders as “very strong” and calculate their likelihood of supporting Sanders at 81%.  This is in comparison to a candidate Biden who has only 30% of his supporters categorizing their support as “very strong” and calculate their likelihood of continued support at 68%, or Warren at 38% “Very Strong” and 72% likely of continued support.

While seeing Sanders rise to the top spot for the first time in the Capitol Weekly survey is likely welcome news to his campaign and supporters, there is reason to believe that the Sanders campaign has a ceiling, particularly as long as he and Warren are both vying for the same universe of more progressive voters. 

Among respondents who favor Sanders, 59% say that Warren would be their second choice, birth Biden and Yang tied far behind at 10%.  Among Warren supporters, 43% select Sanders as their second choice, with 17% identifying Biden and 17% Buttigeig. With both of them in the race it is unlikely that either will leave California with a commanding delegate lead that either of them could obtain if they were not in a tug-of-war over many of these same voters.

Yang and Gabbard also capture similar young, non-establishment segments of the electorate that could tend toward Sanders and Warren, with half of their second choices going in that direction. 

The other lane in the primary, a more establishment and moderate portion, is clearly solidifying behind Biden and Buttigieg, while also giving some support to Bloomberg and Klobouchar.  Biden in particular looks strong among higher turnout demographics – those who are over 65 (33%) those who make over $150,000 per year (29%) and those who turned out in 2016 and voted for Hillary Clinton (31%).

An increasing focus of the campaigns is on those non-partisan voters who have the option to vote in the Democratic primary.  As has been reported in Capitol Weekly, these voters could face challenges in just getting the correct ballot, but if they do participate, there are reasons for each of the front-running campaigns to significantly target this population.

In 2016 it was clear that the momentum among independents, particularly the younger and less-establishment voters, was with Sanders.  And this could be a factor again as the Sanders campaign has been outspoken about their organizing in California around these voters.  However, the nonpartisans in the Capitol Weekly survey appear to be up for grabs by any of the front-runners, with 20% supporting Biden, 19% with Warren, 16% for Sanders and 14% for Buttigeig.

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