By Jim Ellis
April 12, 2019 — The Change Research polling organization released a new Democratic primary poll of the California electorate (April 6-9; 2,003 likely California Democratic primary voters) and projects Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to be nipping former Vice President Joe Biden and home state Sen. Kamala Harris. In a secondary ballot test that excludes Biden, Sanders prevails over Harris even under this scenario.
Earlier in the week, Emerson College released a Massachusetts Democratic primary poll (April 4-7; 371 likely Massachusetts Democratic primary voters) that found Sen. Sanders leading Biden and Massachusetts home state Sen. Elizabeth Warren (26-23-14 percent). Therefore, we are clearly seeing a Sanders rise in the early part of April.
In the Change California poll, Sanders has a slight 22-21-19 percent lead over Biden and Harris – obviously a statistically insignificant margin – but it does show that Sen. Harris is not dominating her own electorate. Taking fourth, fifth, and sixth in this poll are ex-US Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) with 10 percent, South Bend (IN) Mayor Pete Buttigieg at nine percent, and Sen. Warren pulling only eight percent of the vote.
If Biden chooses not to run, since he is still not an announced presidential candidate, Change finds that Sen. Sanders would edge Sen. Harris 28-27 percent, with O’Rourke (16 percent), Buttigieg (11 percent), and Warren (nine percent) following.
This tells us, at least in the early going, that California, with its large 416 first ballot delegate contingent, is clearly up for grabs even with its home state senator in the field of candidates.
But, how would a close California election, such as the one currently projected, affect the delegate count? The Golden State employs a modified primary system meaning that registered Democrats and unaffiliated voters are eligible to participate in the Democratic primary.
Under the Democratic Party proportional formula, only candidates receiving at least 15 percent of the vote would qualify to receive delegates. Of the 416 first ballot delegates, not counting the state’s 79 Super Delegates because they are ineligible to vote on the first ballot, 272 come from the state’s 53 congressional districts. Therefore, regardless of their statewide percentage, any candidate breaking the 15 percent threshold in a particular district qualifies for apportioned delegates from that CD. The California formula awards districts between three and eight delegates for distribution.
An additional 90 delegates are elected at-large, and 54 more are at-large Party Leader delegates. Combined, these 144 delegates would be awarded proportionally based upon the statewide vote. Therefore, if this Change Research poll were the accurate vote count, then Sen. Sanders, former VP Biden, and Sen. Harris would qualify for at-large delegate apportionment.
Taking it a step further, Sanders would receive 51 statewide delegate votes, Biden, 49, and Harris, 44. Because all 53 congressional districts would record separate totals, it is not possible for purposes of this example, to determine a full California delegation projection. But right now, the closeness of the poll indicates that no one would obtain a major advantage in the country’s largest state.
Since the Emerson Massachusetts poll returned similar numbers to those in California, it is interesting to note that Sen. Warren would fall a percentage point short of qualifying for the at-large delegate apportionment. The Bay State’s 32 at-large delegates would be divided only among Sanders and Biden.
Implementing the national apportionment formula for Massachusetts, Sen. Sanders would walk away with 17 at-large delegates and Biden would claim the remaining 15. The 59 district delegates would be apportioned through the state’s nine congressional districts with each of the CDs holding six to eight delegate votes. Therefore, other candidates, such as Sen. Warren, could qualify for district delegates depending upon the individual voting outcome in each of the nine CDs.
With a delegate apportionment formula such as this applied to all 57 voting entities throughout the country, it is clear that any candidate, without finding a way to break away from the large pack, would have a difficult time clinching a first ballot victory at the 2020 Democratic National Convention. Therefore, the nomination rules’ complexity is another factor suggesting that we could see multiple roll calls at a major party national convention for the first time since 1952.