SAN JOSE, Calif. — A new Field Poll shows Bernie Clinton and Hillary Clinton are running neck and neck in Tuesday’s suddenly pivotal California primary -a race that could shape the future of the Democratic Party even if it doesn’t determine its presidential nominee.
In results that nearly duplicated the findings of a Public Policy Institute of California poll last week, Clinton was the top choice of 45 percent of likely Democratic voters while Sanders had the backing of 43 percent.
The results culminate a remarkable comeback by Sanders, who a year ago trailed the former secretary of State by more than 50 percentage points.
“In each (poll), Sanders has gotten a little closer, and a week before the election he’s within the margin of error,” Field Poll director Mark DiCamillo said. “It’s almost a dead heat.”
Turnout appears destined to decide the race that pits Clinton’s more reliable coalition of registered Democrats and older voters against Sanders’ enthusiastic but shakier base of independents and millennials.
While a loss in California likely wouldn’t cost Clinton the Democratic nomination, it would deal her a demoralizing blow and give Sanders ammunition to keep challenging her for the nomination and pushing the party leftward heading into July’s Democratic convention.
Aware that the race has tightened, Clinton on Wednesday announced that both she and Bill Clinton will spend the remaining days leading up to the primary traveling the state.
Sanders, who has been traversing California for two weeks, told The Mercury News on Monday that he plans to parlay a victory in California into a campaign to lobby Democratic leaders known as super delegates to desert Clinton and deliver him the nomination.
That is a huge longshot that Sanders conceded would be all put impossible if Clinton wins on Tuesday. “If we lose California, our momentum will be significantly less,” he said.
Sanders biggest weapon is the Golden State is passion, the poll found. Nearly two-thirds of his voters said they enthusiastically supported him, compared with just 45 percent of Clinton’s supporters who felt the same way about her.
The question is whether that passion will translate to votes. The Field Poll noted that participants who had already voted favored Clinton by 9 points, and some of Sanders’ young supporters might be busy with school work or even away on summer break, said Bill Whalen, a research fellow with Stanford’s Hoover Institution.
“The college situation is all over the map,” he said. “Has the Sanders campaign made sure that all these college kids have voted absentee?”
Sanders had the support of three out of every four voters under 30, the poll found. Clinton fared best with seniors, winning them by 28 percentage points. First-time voters favored Sanders 3-to-1.
“The big question is which constituency votes in the greatest numbers,” DiCamillo said. “In this election more so than most, the difference of a few percentage points in turnout will make a big difference,” he said.
Clinton saw her lead slightly narrow among white and Latino voters, since the last poll in April. She lost more ground with blacks and Asians, which could auger trouble for her campaign. Overall, the number of likely voters who viewed her favorably fell from 70 percent in April to 64 percent.
While Clinton’s popularity dropped, Donald Trump seems to be rallying Republicans to his side. Sixty percent of likely GOP voters said they viewed Trump favorably, while 35 percent had an unfavorable opinion of him. That’s an improvement of 25 percentage points since April.
Still Trump is no match for either Democrat, the poll found. Clinton beat him by 19 percentage pints, and Sanders trounced him by a whopping 29 points.