If a New Poll Is to Be Believed, There Are Some Interesting Dynamics Afoot in California’s Democratic Primary

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The age divide among California Democrats is obliterating other factors.

One of the things we all know about the Democratic nominating contest is that Hillary Clinton wins nonwhite voters and Bernie Sanders wins white voters, right? That’s the way it’s played out in state after state. 

California, however, could break the mold, or at least that’s what a highly regarded Golden State poll from Public Policy Institute of California finds.

A new PPIC survey shows Bernie Sanders leading among nonwhite Californians by a 47-46 margin. He must be winning big overall, eh? Nope: He actually trails Clinton among likely voters by a 46-44 margin. Why? Well, Clinton leads among white voters 47-41. To make the puzzle even more complicated, Clinton leads among Latinos 52-43. Turns out PPIC’s subsamples of African-Americans (a relatively small group in California) and Asian-Americans (usually about 15 percent of the Democratic vote) are too small for a statistically valid finding. But you’d have to guess Asian-Americans in California are really feeling the Bern.

I spoke with the very helpful president of PPIC, Mark Baldassare, about these numbers, and his basic take was that, in California, at this moment at least, age outweighs race and ethnicity in candidate preferences. Because white people in California skew older than they do in much of the country, they skew towards Clinton as well. Similarly, nonwhite voters in California are relatively young, and as we all know, Bernie’s on fire with under-35 voters. The number of those voters is boosted by the fact that California Democrats (unlike California Republicans) decided to let indies (disproportionately represented among younger voters everywhere) participate in their primary, although a lawsuit is pending charging that the notice given to indies of this opportunity is insufficient.

This is just one poll, and we still have 12 days until Primary Day (though by then probably at least seven of ten voters will have already cast ballots by mail). As it happens, despite pretty good news for Sanders from PPIC, he’s only made up five net points against Clinton since their last poll in March. Sanders needs a big win on June 7, but Clinton has led in all eleven public polls of California released this year. 

Team Bernie probably wishes the primary electorate resembled those stereotypes of the Golden State in the 1960s, when everybody seemed to be young and the big division was between the beachgoers in SoCal and the hippies of the Bay Area. As it is, those very Baby Boomers, all grown up, could still save Clinton’s bacon.