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Politics and Government

Bernie Sanders boasts big lead in Colorado presidential primary as rivals struggle, new poll shows

A poll from Magellan Strategies shows defeating President Donald Trump is the top concern for voters ahead of the Super Tuesday primary

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders hosts a rally in Denver's Civic Center Park on Sept. 9, 2018. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)
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Bernie Sanders is the clear favorite to win the Democratic presidential primary in Colorado, a new poll shows, holding a double-digit lead over his rivals who are struggling to prove their viability.

The Vermont senator is the pick for 27% of the Democrats and unaffiliated voters who are likely to turnout on Super Tuesday, according to a survey released Thursday by Magellan Strategies, a prominent Republican pollster in Colorado. 

Sanders’ advantage is built with huge margins of support among voters under age 44 and those who describe themselves as “very liberal.” But he leads among unaffiliated voters and remains competitive among self-described moderates.

The remaining Democratic candidates split the vote in so many directions that it’s unclear whether any of them will reach the 15% threshold needed to qualify for Colorado’s delegates to the national convention.

MORE: How Bernie Sanders became the favorite in Colorado: A loyal fan base that kept the fire alive after 2016

Sanders’ closest rival is Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 15% support. 

Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg follows at 12%, the poll found, and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Vice President Joe Biden are knotted at 11%. The 4.4 percentage point margin of error means all five of the candidates are at risk of not being viable.

Amy Klobuchar landed lower at 6%, the poll found, and climate activist Tom Steyer and Hawaii U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard only managed 1%.

“Bernie’s looming over everything,” said Ryan Winger at Magellan Strategies. “The takeaway is Bernie leads among most voting subgroups.”

A supporter waits for Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to take the stage during a political rally at the Colorado Convention Center on Feb. 16, 2020. (Moe Clark, The Colorado Sun)

Ahead of Tuesday, some voters still uncertain

The survey is the only major poll published this year ahead of Colorado’s primary, and it comes as early voting is underway ahead of the election Tuesday.

A progressive organization, Data for Progress, released poll numbers Wednesday that showed Sanders with a commanding lead in Colorado, but the group didn’t share enough information to evaluate the survey’s findings.

Even with Sanders’ dominant standing, the Colorado contest is not yet settled. The Magellan poll conducted Monday and Tuesday — shortly after most the Democratic candidates visited the state — found 15% of voters were undecided or refused to share their preference. The numbers also included voters who said they would “probably” vote for each candidate. 

MORE: With Bernie Sanders surging, Colorado could become a proving ground for his lagging rivals

The early voting numbers through Tuesday show the vast majority of Colorado voters continue to hold their ballots. More than 400,000 people voted early in the Democratic contest, according to state election officials, but more than 2 million eligible ballots remain outstanding.

This is the first presidential primary in Colorado in two decades and the first featuring mail ballots, making it difficult to predict. The addition of unaffiliated voters, who can submit a ballot in either the Democratic or Republican primary, adds another wildcard.

The numbers from Magellan’s poll are based on projections that 70% of the votes in the Democratic primary will come from party members and another 30% from unaffiliateds. This is similar to the turnout in the 2018 Democratic contest for governor — the only other primary in Colorado that featured mail ballots and unaffiliated voters. But it anticipates slightly higher turnout among unaffiliated voters and young voters because of heightened interest in a national race.

The firm surveyed only registered voters who had already returned ballots or those who said they were likely to turn out. But a significant shift in who shows up to vote could affect the election results.

A majority of the voters polled — 57% — said it’s more important to pick a candidate who can defeat President Donald Trump than one who shares their values and beliefs. And voters who prioritized beating the Republican incumbent aligned more strongly with Biden and Buttigieg.

MORE: How 5 Coloradans, undecided on the Democratic presidential primary, are weighing their candidate options

Colorado voters want a candidate who can beat Trump

The strong showing for Sanders is no surprise given his organization’s huge base of support in the state after he claimed 68% of the delegates in the Colorado caucus in 2016 against Hillary Clinton. His supporters remained active ahead of 2020, working on progressive causes and Sanders campaigned for state-level Democrats in Colorado’s 2018 election.

The other contenders, particularly Buttigieg and Bloomberg, compete more closely with Sanders for moderate voters and those over age 45. Warren also narrows Sanders’ advantage among women voters.

The poll is a major blow to Bloomberg, who has spent more than $7 million on television commercials touting his campaign in Colorado and millions more on a massive campaign staff, mailers and digital advertising. He finished near-even with Biden, who hasn’t even held a public campaign event in the state.


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