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Bernie Sanders has broad support in diverse California communities, new poll finds

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders greets supporters in Santa Ana last week.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Sen. Bernie Sanders has widespread support among communities of color in California, outstripping his nearest Democratic rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden and former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, according to a new statewide poll.

The survey offers an unusual level of detail on the views of Latino, African Americans and Asian and Pacific Americans in California, groups that in many opinion surveys are too small to analyze. It provides strong evidence of the Vermont senator’s ability to build a multiracial, multiethnic coalition in his bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Sanders dominated Nevada’s caucuses on Saturday, largely on the strength of his support among Latinos, and he’s hoping to upend Biden’s campaign in South Carolina this Saturday by winning over African Americans.

In California, Sanders has significant support among both those groups, the poll indicates.

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But all racial and ethnic groups in the survey showed a sharp division by age. That reflects other surveys around the country that show Sanders, 78, with overwhelming support among younger Americans, but much lower levels with people his own age.

Among Latinos younger than 50, for example, Sanders enjoyed roughly a 3-1 lead over Bloomberg when poll respondents were asked whom they would most like to see as the next president. Latinos 50 and older were divided closely between Sanders, Biden and Bloomberg. Similar age divisions showed up among blacks, Asian Americans and whites in the poll.

“This isn’t just a generation gap: It’s a generational revolution,” said Dan Schnur, the longtime political consultant who helped organize the new survey. “Young people of every race and ethnicity are rejecting the political system of their parents and grandparents.”

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“There’s a remarkable consistency by age” across racial lines, said Drew Lieberman, the pollster with Strategies 360, a Seattle-based polling and research firm, who oversaw the survey. Notably, younger people in the poll were less likely than those in their 50s and 60s to say they were undecided, the reverse of the typical pattern, Lieberman noted.

Age also stands out as a far more significant point of division than ideology, for example, as Sanders leads among Californians who call themselves moderates, as well as liberals.

The poll — sponsored by the Los Angeles Urban League; HOPE, Hispanas Organized for Political Equality; and CAUSE, the Center for Asian Americans United for Self Empowerment — is not a likely voter sample and doesn’t aim to forecast the results of California’s March 3 primary. Instead, the numbers reflect a broader look at attitudes among both voters and nonvoters in the diverse ethnic and racial groups of the nation’s largest state.

Asked to pick among the leading Democrats and President Trump and say who they would most like to see as the next president, a third of Latino adults, one quarter of African Americans and just over 1 in 5 Asian Americans chose the Vermont senator.

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“Sanders has been able to build on his base from 2016,” said Helen Torres, executive director of HOPE.

Here are 2020 Democratic presidential candidates Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders’ plans on healthcare, immigration, climate, gun control and housing and homelessness.

Bloomberg was the top pick of about 1 in 8 Latinos and Asian Americans and 1 in 6 African Americans, the poll found.

Biden drew the same support as Bloomberg among Latinos. He did slightly better among African Americans and significantly worse among Asian Americans, being the top pick of fewer than 1 in 10.

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“The results are consistent with what we’ve seen” elsewhere, said Michael Lawson of the Urban League, noting that although the primaries are moving quickly, “it’s still a very early time in the process” for most voters.

None of the other Democrats drew above 10% support with any of the major racial or ethnic groups.

White Californians stood alone in their support for Trump. Just under one-third of white Californians said Trump would be their top pick. That was twice the level of support Trump received from Latinos and Asian Americans in the survey. Among the Democrats, Sanders and Bloomberg got the most white support.

African Americans were the most negative toward Trump — only 5% said he would be their first choice.

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The president has repeatedly touted what he sees as achievements that should attract African Americans — including low unemployment rates and his backing for limited reforms in the criminal justice system. Those appeals have failed to sway opinions, however.

Asian Americans in the survey were notably more likely than others to say they remained unsure who their first pick for president would be, noted Charlie Woo, the board chair of CAUSE. Asian and Pacific Americans “are still up for grabs,” he said. “There are going to be a lot of last-minute decisions.”

Respondents were also asked to say which of the candidates they thought would make a good president. Sanders’ backers were notably skeptical of Bloomberg on that measure.

The poll was conducted online by Strategies 360 from Feb. 12 through 19, meaning it was largely completed before the candidate debate last week in Las Vegas. It surveyed 1,350 adults statewide, with over-samples of African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans to allow more detailed analysis. Final results were weighted to reflect the proportion of each group in the state’s population. Question wording and results are available on the firm’s website.

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