Poll: Sanders Leads in Close California Primary Race

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – Less than a month before voters begin returning their mail-in primary ballots, a poll released Monday shows Californians essentially split between Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren.

Vermont Senator Sanders is favored by 27% of likely Democratic primary voters in a new Public Policy Institute of California poll, just in front of former Vice President Joe Biden (24%) and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren (23%). According to the nonpartisan institute, support for Sanders spiked 10% since a November poll but stayed the same for Biden and Warren.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., leads in a new California poll. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The California survey comes on the eve before the trio and other remaining Democratic candidates take the debate stage for the last time before the Iowa caucuses. A separate poll of Hawkeye State voters also released Monday has Biden in front, with Sanders, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Warren fighting for second place.

Biden’s support from Californians may have stagnated over the last two months but there was a silver lining for the 77-year-old in the California poll. When asked who has the best chance of defeating President Donald Trump, 46% answered Biden, compared to 25% for Sanders and 10% for Warren.

Biden, who leads in many polls nationally, picked up an endorsement last week from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti that could boost his image with Californians. Though Biden has recently skipped prominent Democratic events in the Golden State, including the Democratic Party convention last November, he has vowed to make the state more of a focus as the campaign continues.

California figures to play a larger role in the Democratic nomination process after moving its primary up to Super Tuesday on March 3 and will begin mailing ballots to voters on Feb. 3, the same day as the Iowa caucuses. Early voting is immensely popular in the Golden State and many counties now send every registered voter a vote-by-mail ballot.   

A lurking factor in the battle for delegate-rich California will be the Democratic candidates’ ability to court independents, as more than a quarter of voters are now registered without a party. Independent voters are eligible to vote in the Democratic primary but they are required to take the added step of requesting a ballot.

Trailing the top three candidates in the California poll were Buttigieg at 6%, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar at 4% and Andrew Yang at 3%. The results were pulled from interviews with 530 Californians that said they were likely to vote in the Democratic primary, with a sampling error of 6.5%.  

When respondents were asked who their second choice is for the Democratic nomination, it was again a close call: Sanders garnered 23%, Warren 22%, Biden 20% and Buttigieg 12%.

Sanders is the most popular with male voters (35%) and Latinos (38%), and also led among non-college graduates and those from households with annual incomes between $40,000 to $79,000. Meanwhile 30% of homeowners favored Biden.

According to the poll, Sanders is picking up ground with a younger audience as he collected 45% of those surveyed between the ages of 18 to 44, compared to 25% for Warren and Biden 12%. 

Poll interviews were conducted between Jan. 3-12 and respondents were asked to choose from the five candidates that had already qualified for Tuesday’s debate. Respondents were additionally able to choose “someone else” and 7% said they were undecided. 

“The Democratic presidential primary remains a close contest between Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “Biden is seen as the candidate with the best chance of defeating Trump, while Sanders has strong support among younger voters.” 

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