Harris Loses Ground in California to Front-Runners Warren and Sanders

Sen. Kamala Harris leaves the stage following the Democratic Presidential Debate at Otterbein University on Oct. 15, 2019 in Westerville, Ohio. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Less than five months before Californians vote in the 2020 presidential primary, a new Change Research poll for KQED shows U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris losing ground to the front-runners, Sens. Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts and Vermont's Bernie Sanders.

The poll, taken after last week's Democratic candidate debate, finds Warren is the top choice of 28% of primary voters, followed by Sanders at 24% and former Vice President Joe Biden at 19%.

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is fourth with 9% followed by Harris at 8%. The October survey puts Harris 20 percentage points behind Sen. Warren, compared with a 14 percentage point gap in our September poll.

Billionaire Tom Steyer, the other Californian in the race, barely registers in the poll with just 1%. Steyer has his work cut out for him, to say the least. Twenty-five percent of California Democratic primary voters have never heard of him, while another 31% have neither a favorable nor unfavorable impression of him.

Read the full poll here.


By gender, Warren is the top choice of female voters with 31% support, followed by Sanders with 23% and Biden at 21%. Buttigieg and Harris are the choice of 8% and 7% of women respectively.

Among men, Sanders edges out Warren 25% to 23% with Biden third at 16%, followed by Buttigieg at 10% and Harris with 9%.


Sen. Sanders is the favorite of Latino voters with 28% support, followed by Warren and Biden (22% each), Harris (7%) and Buttigieg (6%). The only Latino candidate, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, is the choice of just 1% of Latino voters in California.

Among African Americans, Biden is the favorite with 30%, followed by Sanders (20%), Harris (16%) and Warren (13%).

“We may be seeing the earliest signs of a stall in Warren’s rise and that rests squarely with her low numbers among non-White respondents," said Change Research co-founder Pat Reilly. "Her base is clearly white people in general and white women in particular.”

Sanders on the other hand is doing relatively well with voters of color.

“The wild card here is Latinx voters and whether and if they move decisively in one direction or another," said Reilly.  "In other polls we are conducting nationally it is clear there is no favored candidate emerging yet among Latinx voters with a majority undecided."


Voter enthusiasm is a key component of a successful candidacy, and by that measure Warren also comes out on top. Asked by poll respondents to choose the five candidates they're most excited about, 59% named Warren, followed by 50% for Sanders, 41% for Biden while 39% named Harris.


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In any case, California's 495 delegates to the 2020 Democratic Convention will not be decided on a "winner take all" basis. Delegates are distributed proportionally based on their statewide vote totals, as well as performance in each of the state's 53 congressional districts, with any candidate hitting 15% of the vote eligible for at least one delegate.

Of course that won't stop headline writers from declaring a winner — someone will be the overall top vote-getter on March 3, 2020, giving them bragging rights to having "won" the biggest primary in the nation even though they could have fewer than half the allocated delegates.

The Change Research survey was conducted using online surveys with 2,605 voters exclusively for KQED October 15-18. The margin of error for Democratic voters in the poll was plus or minus 2.4%.

KQED's Matthew Green created the graphics for this article.

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