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Tracking poll: Warren leads, but California field still in flux

Elizabeth Warren addresses Democrats earlier this year at a state party convention in San Francisco. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Our November tracking poll for California’s 2020 presidential primary election shows some significant changes in the field, with the national field gelling around four major candidates and the potential havoc of new candidates entering the race.

The poll, in the field since April, has now surveyed over 7,500 likely voters, utilizing data supplied by Political Data, Inc. It uses an online survey emailed directly to voters deemed likely to vote in the March Democratic primary.  These voters are also screened for their own interest in voting in order to ensure a sample that is most representative of the kinds of voters likely to cast a ballot between Feb. 3, when voting in California begins via mail, to March 3, Super Tuesday.

Warren has been pulled back down to the set of top-four candidates that have formed in California and national surveys.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was at 27%, down eight points from October;  Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at 21%, former Vice President Joe Biden at 18% and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 14%.

But beyond the basic horse race, this month’s poll is marked by three significant findings:

–A shift of voters back to Sanders, drawing from Warren’s recent gains.

–The rising stock of South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigeig

–The continued decline of California Sen. Kamala Harris.

Click here  to see the crosstabs of the last three months of Capitol Weekly polling.  You can also view here the raw, unweighted data in a fully-interactive infographic that allows you to slice and dice the polling to date, and hone in on specific demographics.

The Sanders/Warren dynamic
Sanders appeared to take a temporary hit in the polling after his heart attack in early October, losing 6 points in that month’s poll, with a segment of his voters clearly moving to Warren, who grew by an equal amount.

Now, with Sanders showing energy at the most recent debate and on the campaign trail, he has started a resurgence and Warren has been pulled back down to the set of top-four candidates that have formed in California and national surveys.

More than a third of Biden and Warren supporters want to learn more about Buttigieg.

The Sanders support is still very polarized by age, with 45% support among 18-to-24-year-olds, and single-digits among voters over 55.  Among Latinos he leads his nearest competitor by 20 points and he leads Warren by 7 points among voters making less than $50,000 a year.  These are assets in the polling, but put a lot more organizing onus on his campaign as his supporters are, in multiple measures, often less likely to vote.

A surge for Mayor Pete
As we have seen from the weekend’s Des Moines Register poll, Buttigeig is on the rise and it doesn’t appear to be just a regional thing.

Far away from the television ads, field offices, staff hires and ground organizing, Buttigieg has returned to double-digits in our polling – a strength that he hasn’t shown since his surprise momentum when he first entered the race and captured the attention of the country in April.

His support lagged for all of the summer, but he has been building since the last debate.

A telling factor is the high “second choice,” where he is right behind Warren, and “like to learn more about” numbers where he leads. He is strongest as a second choice among current former Vice President Joe Biden’s supporters, and more than a third of Biden and Warren supporters want to learn more about him.

Harris retains solid fundraising, endorsements and an appeal to a number of key Democratic demographics, but her campaign isn’t realizing its potential.

One finding that runs counter to the national narrative is Buttigieg’s relative strength among non-white voters in California.

His support in the November poll was 15% among Latinos and White voters.  Also, it is interesting to note that his youth — he’s 37 — isn’t translating to younger voters, where he is at single digits, while he is at 20% among seniors and 22%, in second place just behind Elizabeth Warren among voters making more than $150,000 per year.

Harris refocusing
Harris once appeared to be in a strong position to compete in the California primary.  In July, she was tied for second with Joe Biden, just three points behind Elizabeth Warren.  At that point, she was also the top ranked “second choice” with nearly half of Warren supporters designating her as their second choice, and 35% saying she was the candidate they wanted to learn more about.

However, since this summer the race has seemed to coalesce around two decidedly progressive candidates, Sanders and Warren, and two more moderate candidates, Buttigieg and Biden.

Her campaign has been put in a position of refocusing on Iowa and cutting staff.  While she retains some key fundamentals in solid fundraising, endorsements and an appeal to a number of key Democratic party primary demographics, her campaign isn’t realizing its potential.

At this point the best strategy for Harris, or someone like New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker who also appears to be stagnating, might be to just hang on as long as they can.

If the race comes down to an all-white, four-person Democratic field, one of them could become an appealing alternative. If new candidates like Massachusetts Gov. Patrick Deval and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg are right, and the the race is still wide open, then there’s likely a future opportunity to gain traction if voters give another look.

One challenge could be finding an off ramp if the presidential contest isn’t looking promising.

Booker can run through the Super Tuesday elections and other early states like Florida on March 17, then decide if he wants to stay on the ballot in New Jersey as a presidential candidate, or switch to his U.S. Senate re-election as he is up in 2020.

Sen. Harris was elected in 2016, so doesn’t have to worry about re-election until 2022.

But she has just another six weeks before the Dec. 26 deadline to remove herself from the California ballot if she doesn’t see a path to the nomination and wants to avoid an embarrassing loss in her home state.

The December poll could have a new shakeup with the candidacy of Patrick and likely entrance to the race by Bloomberg, which is expected to come with a massive expenditure in TV time targeting early primary states like California.


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