Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders 49-39% among likely voters in California’s Democratic presidential primary, according to the latest USC/Los Angeles Times Poll. Or, not. According to the same poll, it could be that Sanders and Clinton are essentially tied at 44-43%.
Confusing? You bet. It seems USC and the LA Times were not entirely comfortable relying on the 49-39% Clinton lead that their likely voter model yielded. So they hedged their bets, first reporting the race as a draw (44-43% for Sanders) among Democrats and independents eligible to vote in Tuesday’s primary, and then reporting Clinton’s 10-point lead among likely primary voters.
As the Times sees it, Clinton’s loss of 9 percentage points among eligible voters since their last poll is more predictive than her 10-point lead among likely voters in their final poll.
According to a release from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, who conducted the poll along with American Viewpoint, the survey includes 903 Democratic presidential primary voters who are registered Democrats, plus registered no party preference (NPP) voters “who report being almost certain to vote in the Democratic presidential primary contest.”
In addition, the survey includes 503 likely Democratic presidential primary voters who are registered Democrats and NPP voters, “who are considered likely to vote based on a combination of past vote history, self-reported vote likelihood, and voter registration status.”
The Future Lies Ahead. Our esteemed and beloved colleague Cathy Decker of the Los Angeles Times, writing on the survey, explained that many of Sanders’ backers “come from a large pool of voters who have registered for the first time in the weeks before the election” and “Tuesday’s outcome remains difficult to predict, precisely because of the untested nature of Sanders’ following.”
OK, but we count on top-tier pollsters like USC/LATimes to make their best guess at who actually will vote. That’s why there’s a category called “likely voters.”
We couldn’t reach Dan Schnur, poll director and head of USC’s Unruh Institute of Politics, on the phone to explain why they didn’t rely on their likely voters. But in an email he said, “Between the new registration numbers, the Sanders factor and the rules for NPP voters, there are a lot of moving parts. The trends (-9 for Clinton among registered voters) is more reliable.”
And we did chat with Ben Winston, senior associate at GQRR who said: “It’s a 10-point race among likely voters. If turnout is greater than it has been historically and there’s a surge of no party preference voters, then it’s a margin-of-error race.”
Which left us scratching our heads. In one set of crosstabs, based on eligible voters, Sanders leads among whites 46-42% and among Asians 55-35% but Clinton leads among blacks 58-25% and among Latinos they’re tied at 44%.
But among likely Democratic primary voters, Clinton leads 50-41% among whites and 47-39% among minorities (specific ethnicities are not reported).
Gender Gap Either Way. Among all eligible voters, Sanders leads 46-39% among men and Clinton leads 47-42% among women. But among likely voters Clinton leads 45-42% among men and 52-37% among women. Go figure.
Decker also reported that Clinton “leads convincingly among registered Democrats: 53% of likely Democratic voters supported her, to 37% for Sanders … As he has elsewhere, Sanders benefits here from party rules that allow registered nonpartisan voters — known in California as ‘no party preference’ voters — to take part in the Democratic primary. Among nonpartisans who were likely to vote, he led by 48%-35%.”
As he has everywhere, Sanders beats Clinton 55-34% among likely voters aged 18-49, while she kills him among likely voters aged 50 and over 60-28%.
Best we can tell, what the Dornsife/LA Times identified are a big batch of independent voters, most of them young, who prefer Bernie over Hillary. But they’re not folks who have historically actually voted. If they do show up, request and get a Democratic presidential ballot and vote, Sanders could win. If they don’t, Clinton will crush him.
Among voters who have never voted in a primary, Sanders leads 51-37%. But among voters who voted in the 2014 primary only, Clinton leads 43-40% and among those who in the 2012 and 2014 primaries she crushes Sanders 62-27%, the survey reported.
We would be remiss not to mention that three other reputable survey outfits – PPIC, NBC/Wall Street Journal and the Field Poll – all have recently reported Clinton ahead by a mere two percentage points and within their margins of error. Clearly, if Dornsife/LA Times focused on its likelies, Clinton’s 10-point lead would be out of the mainstream.
And speaking of the Field Poll, we speculated the other day that the undecideds in the U.S. Senate race could, if they ganged up, put one of the Republican contenders ahead of Democrat Loretta Sanchez in a runoff with Democrat Kamala Harris. But the latest Field Poll found otherwise – about a third of Republican voters appear poised to vote for no one, rather than vote for Harris, Sanchez or some GOP contender they don’t know.