California Tightening

By Jim Ellis

July 19, 2019 — Two new surveys of the California Democratic electorate show the presidential race tightening in the state that possesses the largest delegation to the Democratic National Convention: 416 first-ballot delegates. To highlight the state’s size within the convention universe and its importance to the nomination process, the next largest state, Texas, has 228 first-ballot delegates.

The latest Quinnipiac University poll (July 10-15; 1,125 registered California voters, 519 likely Democratic primary voters) finds home-state Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) leading the pack of candidates with 23 percent of the vote. In second place is former Vice President Joe Biden who has 21 percent with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) posting 18 percent support. Following is Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who recorded 16 percent. South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg falls all the way to three percent just ahead of New York City businessman Andrew Yang who registered two percent preference.

The Capitol Weekly survey (July 1-15; 816 likely California Democratic primary voters), with a larger polling sample, arrives at similar results. According to the CW data, Sen. Warren has the lead with 25 percent, just ahead of Sen. Harris and Biden who both command 20 percent, while Sen. Sanders posts a close 16 percent. In this poll, Mayor Buttigieg does much better, eight percent, but is nowhere close to qualifying for delegates at the 15 percent minimum threshold.

While these polls are different in candidate order, they both suggest that the top four candidates are currently running close and each would qualify for a substantial share of the large first-ballot delegate contingent.

Available polling data can be used to provide a rough extrapolation model of the early delegate count, examining the latest surveys in the first five voting states to provide at least some measure about how close this race might become if the support patterns we see today continue into the early voting period.

The delegate apportionment process comes in two distinct categories: the at-large delegates who are tied to the statewide vote, and those coming from each congressional district, which range from four to seven delegate votes apiece in California, for example. The latter delegates are apportioned by the individual congressional district popular vote, with those candidates who receive at least 15 percent of the vote in the particular CD qualifying for the district delegate apportionment.

Looking at Iowa, the latest published poll comes from Change Research (June 29-July 5; 420 likely Iowa caucus voters) and finds Mayor Buttigieg leading 25-18-16-16-16 percent over Warren, Sanders, Biden, and Harris. If this poll were correct and, for the purposes of this exercise would apply to the four congressional districts in addition to the at-large result, all five individuals would qualify for delegate apportionment. With 41 total first-ballot delegates, the estimated delegate count would be: Buttigieg 12, Warren 8, with Sanders, Biden, and Harris all receiving 7 delegate votes apiece.

In New Hampshire, what appears to be the most reliable of the several surveys recently commissioned, the Change Research poll (July 6-9; 1,084 likely New Hampshire primary voters) gives Sen. Warren the lead with 22 percent, followed by Sanders, Biden, Harris, and Buttigieg with 20, 19, 15, and 13 percent, respectively. Applying the same delegate apportionment formula to these results will yield an estimated delegate count of Warren 7, Sanders 5, Biden 5, Harris 4, and Buttigieg 3 of the state’s 24 first ballot delegates.

There have been precious few Nevada caucus (36 delegates) polls, and the most recent comes from Monmouth University (June 6-11; 370 likely Nevada Democratic caucus attenders) and projects Biden posting 36 percent, with Sen. Warren capturing 19 percent, and Sen. Sanders at 13 percent. Factoring in the minor candidates and undecided vote, it is likely that Sanders would get pushed to the 15 percent threshold, thus qualifying the three candidates for delegate apportionment.

Using these numbers as if they were the final statewide and congressional district tallies, Biden would earn 19 of Nevada’s 36 delegates; Sen. Warren would be allotted 10 and Sen. Sanders would receive 7 delegate votes.

The South Carolina apportionment (54 delegates) is being modeled based upon the Fox News survey (July 7-12; 701 likely South Carolina Democratic primary voters). Here, the estimated delegate count would go to three candidates, Biden, Sanders, and Harris. The guesstimated total count would be: Biden 31, Sanders 12, and Harris 11.

Using the Capitol Weekly poll as the basis for the California count because of the larger sample of 816 respondents as opposed to only 519 in Quinnipiac, the delegate count would break 128 for Warren, compared to 103 for both Harris and Biden, and 82 for Sanders.

Therefore, to demonstrate where the campaign might be after these five important states vote early next year, the rudimentary estimated aggregate totals would be:

Candidate Delegate Count
Biden 165
Warren 153
Harris 125
Sanders 113
Buttigieg 15

To win on the first ballot, a candidate must obtain 1,885 votes, meaning an actual split anywhere close to this preliminary extrapolation would likely sow the seeds of sending the convention to multiple roll call votes before a winner could claim a majority.

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