CA’s role in Democratic primary is ‘unpredictable,’ UC Berkeley experts say

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UC Berkeley experts say California’s influence on the 2020 Democratic primary elections could be less than what policymakers previously expected because of the large number of candidates and a divided electorate.

In 2017, former California governor Jerry Brown signed the Prime Time Primary Act that moved the state’s election from its traditional slot in June to the first Tuesday of March, commonly referred to as Super Tuesday, in hopes of gaining more influence for California voters, according to a state press release. Now part of the 15 primaries being held on Super Tuesday, California will have more weight in the election process than before, according to campus political science professor Jack Citrin.

“Usually, when California goes, the race is pretty much over or is over,” said campus Institute of Governmental Studies, or IGS, co-director Eric Schickler about California’s previous position in the Democratic presidential primaries.

According to IGS polls released in December 2019, however, voter candidate preferences are “unusually fluid” for the 2020 presidential election.

The polls place Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., as front-runners in the election with Sanders being preferred by 24% and Warren at 22% of those polled. Other candidates’ support falls at or under 14% with voters also seeing a number of differences in the leading candidate’s attributes.

The move might not be as decisive as Democrats originally anticipated because the Democratic field is “so large,” said Cal Berkeley Democrats president Sarah Abdeshahian in an email.

Citrin added that it is “unrealistic” to say that California will play a “decisive role” in the election after changing the primary if “decisive” is defined as California votes largely determining the nation’s choice, according to Citrin.

“It may not be the impact that some people thought, where you have a showdown between two candidates and one wins the majority of the votes and settles it,” Schickler said. “California will have a lot to say whether or not this is a long, drawn-out race that goes to an open convention.”

Moving the primary earlier means candidates have visited California “more than ever before,” Abdeshahian said in an email. She added that with the election happening during the school year, student turnout is something she is “interested” in seeing.

It is “hard to tell” what the election results will be, since people are still running and there is one week left for the primary to take place, according to Alameda County Democratic Party chair Robin Torello.

California’s impact in this election, however, is still “unpredictable,” according to Schickler.

“Having so many delegates split up so many ways is going to have an impact,” Schickler said. “Either way, I think California will have an important role to play.”

Contact Joy Ma and Robson Swift at [email protected].