‘Gold Standard’ Poll Shows Clinton and Sanders Neck and Neck in California

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Sanders's young support has brought him to near-parity with Clinton, but he won't get the landside he really needs.

The tale of the California Democratic presidential primary has been Bernie Sanders’s slow whittling away at an initially large Hillary Clinton lead built on the state’s highly diverse demographics. Clinton has led in all 18 public polls of California taken this year, and still leads in the RealClearPolitics polling average by six points (49-43). But the much-awaited final poll by the Field Organization, probably the most respected public-opinion operation in the country, shows Sanders pulling to within the margin of error, with Clinton hanging on to a 45-43 lead. 

The coalitions put together by the two candidates are very familiar to anyone following the Democratic race. Sanders is running up big margins among under-30 voters (75-15) and to a lesser extent registered independents (54-27), while Clinton is dominating among over-65 voters (56-28) and holding a healthy lead among registered Democrats (49-40). Clinton’s traditional strength among minority voters is ebbing a bit; she leads among African-Americans (57-36) and Latinos (46-42), but trails Sanders among Asian-Americans (34-47), who represent a higher percentage of the likely primary electorate (11 percent) than do black voters (9 percent). Clinton actually leads overall among non-Latino white voters 44-43, probably a tribute to the relatively advanced age of white voters. There’s the usual gender gap as well, and it, too, is strongly influenced by age: Sanders leads among under-40 men by 71-19, while Clinton leads among women over 40 by 57-29. Regionally, Clinton is ahead in Los Angeles County and the Central Valley, while Sanders’s top regions are the San Francisco Bay and the Central Coast. 

Since Field showed Clinton’s lead in April at a slim 47-41 margin, there aren’t any big late trends apparent, other than a Sanders surge among Asian-Americans. Of the 23 percent who reported having already voted by mail by the last week of May, Clinton has a nine-point (47-38) lead, which is almost certainly explained by the higher propensity of older voters to vote by mail. Field estimates that two-thirds of the vote will ultimately be cast by mail, which is actually a bit less than in the 2014 primary. 

Overall, Field’s two-point Clinton margin matches that of another late-May poll released Wednesdayday, from NBCWall Street Journal–Marist; PPIC had the same finding last week. 

Certainly the perception is that Sanders has the momentum, although you have to wonder if his heavy dependence on younger voters makes further gains difficult. And there’s really zero evidence that Bernie is on the brink of the kind of big landslide victory he needs to cut deeply into Clinton’s pledged-delegate lead. Even if Sanders wins in California, his delegate gains could be significantly offset by an expected double-digit Clinton win in New Jersey. But the hype associated with a win in the nation’s largest state would be invaluable to Team Bernie’s efforts to secure concessions from Clinton before he finally surrenders. And should Clinton hang on to win in California, calls for that surrender to occur will reach a level of volume that could exceed the noise at the most excited Sanders rally.