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Our political polling shifts into high gear for 2020

Attendees at a 2018 political rally in Santa Ana. (Photo: Juan Camilo Bernal, via Shutterstock)

In the 2016 and 2018 election cycles, Capitol Weekly conducted several surveys for the primary and general elections. We examined voters’ opinions on the contests for president, U.S. Senate, governor, Legislature and Congress, as well as on ballot measures before California voters.

In total, we heard from over 100,000 voters, providing us with a significant dataset of voters and their preferences.

In California, you don’t hear of major campaigns using “random digit dialing” methods or pre-crafted online panels that are more common in much of the rest of the country.

These surveys were put together using data and tools from Political Data, Inc., which markets political information to campaigns, and Paul Mitchell, PDI’s vice president and the founder of Capitol Weekly’s CA120 political column.

The surveys’ primary methodology was a little untested at the time: Rather than using phone calls or pre-set internet panels, this polling was based upon the responses to questions that were emailed to voters on California’s official voter registration file.

Since our first survey, we have seen a widespread adoption of this methodology by the industry, including the dean of California political polling, Mark Di Camillo. He penned an article about the change – one he has seen from the perspective of 40 years at the esteemed California Field Poll, including 20 as its director.

DiCamillo currently directs the Berkeley IGS poll, which relies heavily on PDI’s voter file and email-based online surveys.

We are working to maintain a sample electorate that is similar to the expected turnout based on age, ethnicity, partisanship (Democrats and eligible Independents), and regions of the state.

The work of private pollsters has also shifted.

The state’s largest polling firms, those doing the internal polling for candidates and ballot measures, utilize multi-modal samples that include traditional land lines, cell phones and emails — all targeting the voter file.

In California, you don’t hear of major campaigns using “random digit dialing” methods or pre-crafted online panels that are more common in much of the rest of the country.

Starting in April, we quietly restarted our polling operation with a year-long project, reaching out to Californians each month in hopes of building a deeper understanding of preferences going into the 2020 primary.

Specifically, we’re looking at the 2020 Democratic primary election, which is currently the most dynamic.

To provide a better understanding of the race for CA120 readers, we are publishing and maintaining an extensive and growing presidential polling infographic with all the raw polling results.

These are unweighted survey responses based on likely voters from the PDI Voter File. We are working to maintain a sample electorate that is similar to the expected turnout based on age, ethnicity, partisanship (Democrats and eligible Independents), and regions of the state.

These monthly surveys provide tracking over time, with particular emphasis on the way that candidates’ support might fluctuate as the months pass.

A breakdown of the total population in the surveys is available on the last page of the infographic, which can be found here.

With six months until ballots are mailed to California voters, there are a whopping 24 candidates in the field. This seems a dizzying number of candidates to track, but in our polling we see that eight in 10 likely primary voters already favor one of the five front runners: former Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Sens. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

These monthly surveys provide tracking over time, with particular emphasis on the way that candidates’ support might fluctuate as the months pass, with some candidates becoming front-runners and others gaining or losing support as events and media coverage shapes voter opinions.

The tracking infographic also allows a user to zero in on selected variables, like identifying support based on just those voters who said they supported Bernie Sanders in 2016, or identifying voters that placed a greater emphasis on electability. There are dozens of options and combinations that can be used to filter the results.

Click here for a graphic of monthly tracking, which shows that the support for each of these top five candidates (the only ones to break more than 5% in any month’s polling) has fluctuated.

The initial survey in April was done right at a peak for Buttigieg, with his support seemingly coming at the expense of Biden. As Buttigieg settled in at around 8%-to-9% Biden grew, but quickly saw a rise from Harris and Warren, who currently lead him the monthly tracking.

On this metric, we see Harris and Warren consistently at the top of the rankings.

While the initial vote is the most watched metric, there are underlying measures that can also be extremely valuable to track over time.  One of these is the “second choice” of voters – those candidates who are consistently viewed as a backup option for voters as their primary choice might falter later in the process.

On this metric, we see Harris and Warren consistently at the top of the rankings.

Within the CA120 tracking infographic you can actually select any candidate to identify whose voters are likely to support as a second choice.

Harris is the second choice of backers of every single candidate in the poll (including the recently exited Congressman Eric Swalwell) except for those who prefer Sanders, whose support goes to Warren as a second choice.

A similar metric within this tool is the question of which candidates voters would like to learn more about, something that could signify a candidate who is emerging and could be someone to watch for the future.

Our polling will strive to complete 1,000 surveys a month with a base of questions that will be used throughout the entire life of the poll.

We also track preferences about “electability.” And in this tracking, Biden leads more significantly among voters who place high importance on which candidate “would be the most electable (could win the primary, beat Donald Trump, or win in the swing states)”.

At the other end of the spectrum, among those who don’t consider that at all, Sanders and Warren are leading the pack.

One additional feature is a strength measure identifying how strongly a voter feels they are to stick with their initial vote.  On this metric, you can see that among the top five candidates, Sanders voters are the most strongly supportive, while Biden’s supporters appear more weak in their convictions. Click here to view.

Overall, the tracking infographic should give some interesting insight to these contests beyond the simple horse race, and give users an ability to dig into specific areas of interest, like the Latino vote, vote preferences by age, income, vote preferences in 2016, etc.

Our polling will strive to complete 1,000 surveys a month with a base of questions that will be used throughout the entire life of the poll.

These polling results will be updated automatically, so you can check back anytime to see how things might be changing.  We will also introduce new elements to the polling based on several questions that aren’t currently exposed in the infographic, like which domestic and foreign policies are most important.

Until then, please send any comments or feedback to info@capitolweekly.net or follow CA120 on twitter at http://twitter.com/CA_120 to receive immediate updates.

Editor’s Note: John Howard is the editor of Capitol Weekly.


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