Rallying a crush of young people and independent voters to his campaign, Bernie Sanders has cut deeply into Hillary Clinton’s lead in California two months before the state’s Democratic presidential primary, according to a new Field Poll.
Sanders, who trailed Clinton by double digits in January, now lags just 6 percentage points behind.
The poll comes amid an increasingly bitter – and unexpectedly competitive – Democratic nominating contest. Though Clinton maintains a commanding lead in delegates, Sanders has scored victories in smaller states, including in Wisconsin on Wednesday, and continues to draw large crowds.
“He’s building some momentum,” poll director Mark DiCamillo said.
In California, Clinton leads Sanders 47 percent to 41 percent. She and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, have forged an expansive network of donors and political connections over a quarter-century campaigning in the state, and she remains the choice of women, older voters and registered Democrats here.
But Sanders, the senator from Vermont, is pummeling Clinton by 25 percentage points among likely voters in their 30s, and by an even wider margin among younger voters, according to the poll.
Sanders leads Clinton by 10 percentage points among independent voters likely to vote in the Democratic primary.
For Sanders, the poll offers a significant measure of the candidate’s ability to compete in a large and diverse state, with the New York primary looming on April 19.
Sanders still trails Clinton among Latino voters in California, but only by 7 percentage points, according to the poll.
Early in the campaign, DiCamillo said, “Latinos would be a traditionally strong segment for Hillary, she’d have it in her back pocket.”
Now, he said, “it’s one of the segments that’s moving away.”
Following the primary on June 7, California likely will recede from view, with no Republican expected to seriously compete in this heavily Democratic state. Yet the poll suggests vulnerabilities for Clinton that could carry over into a general election campaign.
While more than 60 percent of Clinton supporters view Sanders favorably, according to the poll, Sanders’ supporters offer an assessment of Clinton that is more mixed – and more negative than in January.
“He’s doing damage,” DiCamillo said. “His campaign isn’t being a kid glove campaign on Hillary any more. It’s actually doing damage and is changing people’s minds about Hillary.”
Nationwide, 25 percent of Sanders supporters say they would not support Clinton in the general election if she becomes the nominee, according to a McClatchy-Marist poll this week.
Sanders sharpened his attack on Clinton on Wednesday, saying at a rally in Philadelphia that the former senator and secretary of state is not “qualified” to be president because of her ties to Wall Street and vote for the war in Iraq.
Clinton, campaigning in Pennsylvania, said Sanders advocates unrealistic policy proposals and “doesn’t have a plan at all” in some areas.
Ranjan Singh, a 37-year-old Democrat and poll respondent from Roseville, supports Sanders but acknowledges that with Clinton’s delegate lead, “It may be that this year could be Hillary’s turn.”
He said he will vote for Clinton if she wins the nomination. Meantime, he said, “I would hope to see (Sanders) compete and continue to campaign.”
Clinton has maintained relatively favorable public approval ratings in California since her time as first lady, and she carried the state over Barack Obama in the primary election in 2008.
Speaking at a rally for his wife in Los Angeles on Sunday, Bill Clinton said, “California has been uncommonly good to my family.”
Kathryn Hassett, a poll respondent and retired director of Merced County’s child support services, said she walked precincts for Clinton in Nevada in 2008 before switching her support to Obama that year because of the charisma that he brought, and the overwhelming hope that he gave.”
Eight years later, Hassett said Clinton “offers such stability and knowledge and experience.”
“Now we have an opportunity to support her again,” the 62-year-old Democrat said. “And so I will.”