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Press Release · January 15, 2020

Sanders, Biden, and Warren Lead in California’s Primary


Note: Results specifically on the Democratic presidential primary, in terms of candidate choice and electability, were released on January 13.

SAN FRANCISCO, January 15, 2020—Less than two months before California’s presidential primary, the Democratic primary remains a three-way race between Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren. Most Californians say President Trump should be removed from office and disapprove of his handling of the situation with Iran. These are among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Among likely voters in California’s March 3 Democratic primary, Sanders is the choice of 27 percent, while 24 percent favor Biden and 23 percent favor Warren. They are followed by Pete Buttigieg (6%), Amy Klobuchar (4%), and Andrew Yang (3%), while 7 percent don’t know. (Note: We included the five candidates who qualified for any upcoming Democratic National Committee debate before the beginning of our interview process and respondents could name someone else. Survey respondents who indicated Yang as their choice volunteered their answer; 1 percent mentioned Mike Bloomberg.)

This latest PPIC survey shows Sanders up by 10 percentage points since PPIC’s November survey (27% vs. 17%), while Biden’s and Warren’s numbers are identical to two months ago.

Candidate preference varies by age group. Among younger voters (age 18–44), Sanders (45%) has much more support than Warren (25%) and Biden (12%), while voters age 45 and older favor Biden (32%) over Warren (22%) and Sanders (15%). Asked who they think has the best chance of defeating Donald Trump, 46 percent of Democratic primary likely voters say Biden, far more than say Sanders (25%) or Warren (10%). Among younger voters, 39 percent say Sanders (31% Biden, 11% Warren). Among older voters, 56 percent say Biden (16% Sanders, 9% Warren).

“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.”

Most Favor Removing Trump from Office, Oppose His Handling of Iran

Last month, the US House of Representatives voted to impeach President Trump. Asked whether the US Senate should vote to remove the president from office, most Californians (59% adults, 57% likely voters) say yes. Views are sharply divided along party lines, with 88% of Democrats, 52% of independents, and 12% of Republicans supporting removal.

Following a US strike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, about one-third of Californians (29% adults, 35% likely voters) approve of how Trump is handling the situation with Iran, while a solid majority (66% adults, 60% likely voters) disapprove. Republicans (76%) are far more likely to approve than independents (35%) and Democrats (8%).

“Majorities of Californians support the removal of President Trump from office and disapprove of his handling of the situation with Iran,” Baldassare said. “Democrats and Republicans are deeply divided on the issues involving President Trump.”

Asked whether they think President Trump and Congress can work together in the next year, 18 percent of adults and 14 percent of likely voters—both record lows—say yes.

“Expectations have never been lower for the president and Congress to work together and accomplish a lot in the next year,” Baldassare said.

Californians Say Homelessness Is the Most Important Issue for State Leaders to Address

Asked to identify the most important issue for the governor and legislature to address in the coming year, Californians are most likely to name homelessness (20% adults, 23% likely voters). One year ago, a much smaller share (6% adults, 7% likely voters) identified homelessness as the top issue. Currently, homelessness is the top issue among Republicans (28%), independents (22%), and Democrats (20%).

“Homelessness is frequently mentioned as the most important issue for the governor and legislature to work on in 2020 across the state’s regional, demographic, and political groups,” Baldassare said.

Majority Supports the School Facilities Bond

California’s March 3 ballot includes a statewide measure to authorize $15 billion in bonds for construction and modernization of public education facilities. More than half (53%) of likely voters support this measure, 36 percent oppose, and 10 percent are undecided. In November 2019, 48 percent said yes, 36 percent said no, and 16 percent were undecided. Today, Democratic likely voters (78%) are far more likely than independents (40%) and Republicans (26%) to support the measure. Support is higher among likely voters age 18 to 34 (76%) than among other age groups (50% age 35 to 54, 46% age 55 and older).

“Support for the Proposition 13 state school bond is now above 50 percent, with strong support evident among Democratic and younger likely voters,” Baldassare said.

More Key Findings

  • About half approve of governor’s job performance.—page 6
    One year into Governor Newsom’s term, 51 percent of adults and 49 percent of likely voters approve of how he is handling his job. Last January, 44 percent of adults and 43 percent of  likely voters approved.
  • Most want to use state surplus for education and health and human services.—page 10
    Asked how they would prefer state leaders to use the current budget surplus, half of adults (51%) want to increase state funding for education and health and human services.
  • More than two-thirds express distrust of federal government.—page 15
    Californians continue to be distrustful of the federal government: 74 percent of adults and 80 percent of likely voters say it can be trusted to do what’s right only some of the time or none of the time.
  • Eight in ten support pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.—page 16
    Overwhelming majorities of Californians (85% adults, 82% likely voters) say there should be a way for undocumented immigrants living in the United States to stay legally if certain requirements are met.

About the Survey

The Californians and Their Government survey is supported with funding from the Arjay and Frances F. Miller Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, and the PPIC Donor Circle.

Findings in this report are based on a survey of 1,707 California adult residents, including 1,260 interviewed on cell phones and 447 interviewed on landline telephones. The sample included 512 respondents reached by calling back respondents who had previously completed an interview in PPIC Statewide Surveys in the last six months. Interviews took an average of 18 minutes to complete. Interviewing took place on weekend days and weekday nights from January 3–12, 2020. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.

The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.4 percent for all adults, ±3.9 percent for the 1,368 registered voters, ±4.6 percent for the 967 likely voters, and ±6.5 percent for the 530 Democratic primary likely voters (including Democrats and independent voters who say they will vote in the Democratic primary). For more information on methodology, see page 2.

Mark Baldassare is president and CEO of PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has directed since 1998.

The Public Policy Institute of California is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. We are a public charity. We do not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor do we endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Research publications reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of our funders or of the staff, officers, advisory councils, or board of directors of the Public Policy Institute of California.