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Poll: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders down to the wire in California

By Anthony Salvanto, Fred Backus, Jennifer De Pinto, Sarah Dutton

Heading into the last big primary day, California's contest looks like a virtual toss-up with Hillary Clinton up two points on Bernie Sanders, 49 percent to 47 percent, as Sanders has closed a double-digit gap there in recent weeks. In New Jersey -- the other large delegate prize of the night -- shows Clinton with a solid lead, 61 percent to 34 percent over Sanders. Taken together, Tuesday night is when Hillary Clinton is positioned to pick up enough delegates to get the majority she'd need for nomination.


To get to that majority, Clinton does not need to win either state outright - because delegates are given out based on vote share, not just to the winner. So these state percentages suggest Clinton could go over the line by adding to her elected delegate total - which she already leads - coupled with her current support from the "superdelegates," the party leaders and elected officials who are backing her.

But party politics might turn out to be more complicated than the math. Many of Sanders' California backers aren't giving up and still see a chance to influence the Democratic party even if Sanders doesn't get the nomination. Fifty-seven percent say that influence is their main reason for voting for Sanders now, not because they think he has a good shot to win, and they're still aiming to turn out Tuesday.

Almost six in ten of Sanders' California backers would like to see him fight on to the convention and try to get the nomination instead of Clinton, even if he doesn't secure a majority of delegates in the primaries. This contrasts with sentiment among Democrats overall, as 71 percent would like to see Sanders throw his support to Clinton and have a unified convention once these primaries are done. (That includes Clinton backers who, unsurprisingly, are near-unanimous in urging Sanders to unify.)

Sanders surge forces Clinton to return to California early 02:26

Still, California and New Jersey Democrats aren't calling for more criticism between their candidates - they largely think the tenor of the Clinton-Sanders race has been acceptable in that regard.

And the prospect of facing Donald Trump is helping to unify Democrats as they look ahead to November, just as the prospect of facing Clinton is helping Trump unify Republicans. Few Sanders voters in either state say they'd back Trump at this point, and most will vote for Clinton, come November. Each of these states has been reliably Democratic of late, and nothing in these data suggest otherwise now - at least not yet.

Clinton leads Trump comfortably in a prospective November matchup 48 to 33 percent in California, helped by current Sanders backers. Clinton leads a general election matchup against Trump in New Jersey, 49 percent-34 percent.

In both cases, sizable numbers of each candidates' backers are motivated mainly by voting against their opponent: Forty-two percent of those for Trump are mainly out to vote against Clinton; forty-one percent of Clinton backers are looking to vote against Trump. And in many instances Clinton and Trump could motivate turnout as well. Thirty-eight percent of California general election voters feel Trump as the Republican nominee will make them more likely to turn out, and 26 percent say Clinton as the Democratic nominee will make them more certain to vote come November.

Angry protests dog Trump campaign in Calif. 02:35

Sanders, as elsewhere, outperforms Clinton against Trump, up 55 to 32 percent in California, and slightly better in New Jersey, 52 to 34 percent.

California has seen a number of protests around Donald Trump's campaign events in recent days, and as with many topics, partisans and each candidates' backers see the incidents differently. Most Republicans (53 percent), along with most of Donald Trump's backers, take the protests as a sign that Trump is finally speaking up for regular people, which they feel the protesters do not like. But 61 percent of Democrats (and most Clinton backers) see the protesters as standing up to Trump, who they believe is speaking only for a small group.

Immigration, more generally, figures to be an important factor in California, with 43 percent of voters saying it'll be "very important" and 39 percent saying it'll be "somewhat important." Republicans who call it important are strongly for Trump.

The Clinton and Trump campaigns are already looking for lines of attack and each others' weak spots, and there's some evidence they've each found one, at least in these states.

Trump has raised issues from the 1990s, and Clinton has talked about Trump's businesses. By a two-to-one ratio (33 percent to 17 percent) voters in California say hearing about the 1990s and Bill Clinton's administration makes them feel more negative than positive toward Hillary Clinton's campaign. By 52 percent to 15 percent, voters say hearing about Trump's past business dealings make them feel more negative than positive about Trump.

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