CA120: A crucial look at voters’ second choices

Presidential contender Elizabeth Warren at a 2019 rally in San Diego. (Photo: John Hancock, via Shutterstock)

For the past year, Capitol Weekly has conducted over 10,000 surveys of likely Democratic Primary voters. These surveys were emailed to Democratic and nonpartisan voters each month, asking them to complete a survey. We tracked their responses back to their voter registration to allow us to analyze candidate support by ethnicity, age, partisanship, and other factors.

Through this period we have seen some lanes develop. We saw voters who are more likely to be selecting between Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, or Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg. We have seen a strain of anti-establishment support for Andrew Yang, Tulsi Gabbard, and Marianne Williamson.

We have also seen some candidates drop out – most notably the exit of California Sen. Kamala Harris, even though she earned a significant share of the polling results, particularly in the spring and summer of 2019.

These surveys also asked respondents three additional questions: Who are their second choices? Who are they were most interested in?  Who would hey would support if “electability” weren’t a concern?

These questions became signals of which candidates may be gaining support in the coming months.

For example, in September, Elizabeth Warren lead on all three measures in California, followed by an October poll where she reached 35% — the high water mark of any candidate in our 10 months of polling.

With these completed surveys in hand, we decided to go one step further and re-survey all our 2019 respondents to see where their votes went.  Do voters who said in June that they’re supporting Elizabeth Warren still feel that way? (63% of them still do.) What about women who supported Cory Booker? (They favor Klobuchar.)

You can see all the results in an interactive tool here, but these are some of the biggest takeaways:

Everyone is getting a piece of the Kamala Harris vote
This graphic shows where early Kamala Harris supporters from 2019 have landed in January of 2020.

Where 164 Harris poll respondents from 2019 landed in 2020


The biggest chunk is going to Elizabeth Warren, with Amy Klobuchar, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg each picking up equal shares of the remnants. Of the 164 re-surveyed, these three candidates — one from the more progressive lane and the others more moderate — absorbed about three-quarters of the vote.  They are trailed by Mike Bloomberg who takes a little more than Bernie Sanders.

The monthly figures show how this has changed over time, and there hasn’t been a significant shift, other than among the August voters, 26% of whom have shifted to Buttigieg.

Deeper in the graphic, which is available here, breakdowns for partisanship, gender, age group and ideology can be found.  This includes findings like 51% of younger Kamala Harris supporters going to Warren, but seniors trending more toward Klobuchar.

Sanders Voters aren’t budging
Of the 226 early Sanders voters surveyed, 89% are still supporting him, with second place, Andrew Yang, pulling away only 3% of his support.  This is true across each month, with 94% of his November supporters, 92% of his December supporters and 100% of his August supporters holding.

Where 226 Sanders poll respondents from 2019 landed in 2020


This finding, plus his current lead in the Capitol Weekly and PPIC Surveys, the extensive field organizing they are doing in California, and the fact that they’ve run a California campaign before, understanding the intricacies of our elections, could add up to a strong result in the largest of Super Tuesday contests. 

Biden Supporters are still moving around
The locked-down support for Sanders is in contrast to the Biden supporters who appear much more easily drawn to other options.  Just 60% of his 331 supporters from 2019, resurveyed this month, have stuck with him.  The biggest chunk has gone to high-spending former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, eating up 14% of early Biden supporters, and Buttigieg peeling away 7% of his early support.

Where 331 Biden poll respondents from 2019 landed in 2020


This 60% figure for Biden is similar to the topline retention numbers for the other frontrunners.  Warren is at 61%, with a higher 66% among self-proclaimed liberals.  Buttigieg is at 60%, with a bit of gender gap, holding 63% of men, and just 51% of women.

And, if we’re looking for potential signs for the future, voters appear to be giving Klobuchar a significant look.  She’s in second place for supporters of Harris, Buttigieg, and Booker.

And, one final bonus polling result.  We asked these voters who beyond their preferred candidate they are still supporting.  You can see those results here.

This really shows how voters for each candidate are viewing the rest of the primary field.  And, attitudes will likely shift as we see the results of early primary races, those winners get more media coverage, and voters see images of their second or third choice candidate showing electability.

As an example, if Buttigieg falters in the early states, Biden, Warren and Klobuchar appear ready to split up those votes.

If not Pete Buttigieg, who would you consider supporting?
Conversely, if Warren falters in the early states, those votes go strongly to Sanders, with Biden and Buttigieg capturing some of her more moderate supporters.

If not Elizabeth Warren, who would you consider supporting?


These infographics will stay online as we develop additional polling heading into the March Primary.  For more updates follow us at @ca_120

Editor’s Note: Paul Mitchell, a regular contributor to Capitol Weekly, is the creator of the CA120 column, vice president of Political Data and owner of Redistricting Partners, a political strategy firm. 

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