UC Berkeley polls show changing opinions on 2020 Democratic presidential candidates

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Four recent polls released by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies, or IGS, shed light on voter preferences in the Democratic presidential primaries.

The polls conducted in late November and released in early December show that voters’ preferences are “unusually fluid” for the Democratic presidential candidates, that voters rank climate change and healthcare as top priorities and that support for impeachment is divided along party lines, according to IGS Poll director Mark DiCamillo.

IGS conducts periodic polls that track public opinion in California. The polls are sent out via email to state registered voters. These four recent polls reflect the responses of 3,482 California voters, about half of whom are considered likely voters in California’s Democratic presidential primary, according to the poll reports.

This set of polls is part of an ongoing series, DiCamillo said, with two others scheduled leading up to California’s presidential primary in March.

One of the polls shows that presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are the frontrunners among the Democratic primary candidates in California, with Sanders currently taking 24% of the vote, followed by Warren at 22%. This poll, considered alongside previous similar polls conducted by IGS, demonstrates that current voter preferences for candidates are unusually changeable at this point, according to DiCamillo.

He added that at this point in the election season, the primary voter support is usually focused on one or two frontrunners.

“What’s unusual is there really are four candidates dividing up the support,” DiCamillo said.

Nicola Phillips, the director of recruitment for Students for Warren at UC Berkeley, suggested that voters are unwilling to make a final choice because of the “high stakes” of the election.

Another IGS poll reports that the majority of California voters support the U.S. House of Representatives’ vote to impeach President Donald Trump. This support, however, was strongly split along party lines, DiCamillo said.

The poll also reports that Trump’s approval ratings remain stable despite the televised impeachment hearings. This shows a “hardening of party lines,” according to Eric Schickler, campus Jeffrey & Ashley McDermott professor of political science.

“The stability of President Trump’s approval ratings is remarkable,” Schickler said. “He has this core of support and a core of opposition. It suggests how polarized the country is — if you’re a Republican, you’re going to stick with your team … and nothing can change Democrats’ minds about Trump.”

A third poll shows that California voters rank climate change and healthcare as their top priority issues. About half of the respondents chose climate change as their single highest priority issue, compared to about one-third who prioritized reforming the nation’s healthcare system.

Finally, IGS’s fourth poll shows that a majority of Democratic voters in California felt that former presidential candidate Kamala Harris should suspend her campaign; at the time the polls were conducted in November, Harris had not yet announced her withdrawal from the race.

Schickler said polls are a “useful tool” for politicians to determine what the public is thinking, but he added that polls also sometimes have a role in shaping political outcomes.

“Polls can help support and shape media narratives about who is most likely to win,” said Shruthi Chockkalingam, president of UC Berkeley’s Progressive Student Association, which is also known as Our Revolution UC Berkeley, in an email. “However … polls often underestimate participation from youth and other ‘unlikely voters.’ ”

Contact Alexandra Feldman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @a_p_feldman.