Sanders widens lead over fractured Democratic field, says new poll

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, addresses an audience. (Flickr photo by Gage Skidmore licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders leads the Democratic presidential field on the eve of Super Tuesday voting in California. (Flickr photo by Gage Skidmore licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders has continued to widen his lead and build momentum among likely Democratic voters in the days leading up to the March 3 California primary election, according to a new poll by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies.

Sanders now holds support from 34% of those voters, up eight percentage points from the 26% he won in the last Berkeley IGS poll in January. Younger voters and Latinx voters are driving the sustained surge in his support.

Nearly two-thirds of those polled said they prefer other candidates, but Sanders’ closest rival, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, is far behind at 17% — and trending downward. No other competitor rises to the 15% support level that is required to win delegates at the statewide level.

“It’s almost a perfect storm for Bernie Sanders,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the Berkeley IGS Poll. “He’s doing better than he’s done in any previous polls. He’s consolidating his support. His support base is broadening and deepening. While that was taking place, support for his rivals has remained dispersed. There’s no one person who has emerged as his chief challenger.”

After spending millions of dollars on advertising in California, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg now gets support from 12% of likely voters, while Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is just behind at 11%. Former Vice President Joe Biden has slipped to 8%, down from 22% in June 2019 when he led the field. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is at 6%, with 5% of likely voters supporting other candidates. Another 7% remain undecided.

The poll found Sanders’ support ranges from 28% to 38% across California’s seven major regions, suggesting that he also is positioned to win delegates that are chosen at the local level.

Voters in 14 states will go to the polls on Tuesday, while American Samoa will hold a caucus. Texas, North Carolina and Virginia are among the top prizes, but California is the biggest of all, sending 494 delegates to the Democratic National Convention this summer in Milwaukee, Wis. In all, 3,979 delegates will attend the convention; a candidate will need 1,991 to win the nomination.

While the Berkeley IGS Poll is good news for Sanders, the numbers tell a deeper story: Democratic voters here are fundamentally divided, split almost equally between Sanders and Warren, the more liberal candidates, and several others who are more moderate.

A Democratic generation gap is central to the current dynamic. Sanders wins support from 61% of likely voters aged 18 to 29 and 53% of those aged 30 to 39, according to the poll.

Likely voters older than the age of 40 report much less enthusiasm for Sanders, with stronger support for Warren and Bloomberg. Among voters 65 and older, only 16% support Sanders, with five other candidates each receiving support in the low double-digits.

“The generational divide is the major divide in the whole survey,” DiCamillo said. “It’s as wide as I’ve ever seen it.”

Among Latinx voters, 51% expressed support for the Vermont senator, up 13 points from the last IGS poll in January.

The new Berkeley IGS Poll was administered online in English and Spanish from February 20-25, 2020, among 6,688 registered voters statewide, 3,002 of them likely voters in California’s Democratic primary.

See the full Berkeley IGS Poll.