For the past few presidential election years, while driving around town, I have conducted the least scientific poll imaginable. I call it my “bumper sticker” poll. Keeping in mind that I’m in the bubble of the Bay Area, I still find that this “poll” can provide an interesting read on the state of things in presidential elections. And after all, this is California, the home of the automobile. What better way to gauge the public’s opinion of things than by looking at the rear of their most treasured possession?
Contrary to what one might think, it’s not impossible to find support for Republican candidates in the Bay Area. In 2008, McCain/Palin graced a few bumpers. Similarly in 2012, the odd Romney/Ryan sticker popped up here and there. I even saw, and laughed hard at, a Herman Cain sticker on the back of a somebody’s car. Because I live in such a liberal/progressive bubble, the sight of any Republican candidate’s bumper sticker is sure to catch notice. Indeed, any Republican that can penetrate the bubble likely has a lot of support elsewhere, in less progressive spaces, at the cost of the Democratic candidate.
Such was my observation in 2004. I knew Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry was in trouble when I saw a noticeable number of “W” bumper stickers. Bush bumper stickers in Oakland … and Berkeley??? I dismissed the first few I saw as travelers from Contra Costa County, that less-that-liberal spot over the East Bay Hills. But then I kept seeing them, not just on freeways, but also surface streets. Not a ton of them, to be sure, but enough to catch my eye. Enough to show that Kerry was in trouble. Again, I figured that if the Bush/Cheney ticket penetrated the Bay Area bubble enough to be noticeable, then in other, less liberal lands Kerry must be in real trouble. And of course he was. He lost. Even in California, Kerry only beat Bush by just under 10 percentage points, 54.31% to 44.36%. By contrast, Barak Obama beat John McCain by 24 percentage points in 2008.
In 2008, the last time the Democratic presidential primary was competitive, the Bay Area saw a definite battle of the bumper stickers between the two leading candidates, Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton. Thinking back, I’d probably give the edge to Obama, bumper sticker-wise, but really it was pretty neck-and-neck. In the end, Clinton took California in the primary race, 51.47% to Obama’s 43.16%. Judging from the election results, it would make sense that Obama bumper stickers trended slightly higher in the Bay Area.
According to the map above, Obama took Bay Area counties Alameda (home to Oakland and Berkeley), San Francisco, and Marin. These are the most progressive counties in the state, and indeed in the nation. He also took very liberal Santa Cruz, Sonoma, and Mendocino counties. Clinton, on the other hand, dominated most of the state, including densely populated Southern California. And that’s likely why she won in the end, though of course she ultimately lost the national primary to Obama.
So I wouldn’t say that my “bumper sticker poll” was 100% accurate, but it did show how close the race was at that time. I should also note that the 2008 California presidential primary was held in February, not the traditional June. The excitement of the Obama candidacy hadn’t really taken hold yet. This would explain the temperate number of Obama bumper stickers. Once Obama became the nominee, Obama/Biden bumper stickers and yard signs appeared everywhere.
So, what have I observed this time around? Again, we have a competitive Democratic primary race. Again, Hillary Clinton is one of the leading candidates. This time, though, it’s not even close. The bumper stickers have spoken: Bernie, Bernie, Bernie, Bernie, Bernie, and more Bernie, with a dash of Hillary on the side. The number of Bernie Sanders bumper stickers observed has increased steadily as we draw closer to California’s June 7 primary. Hillary Clinton bumper stickers have not. This gives the appearance that Clinton bumper stickers have virtually disappeared. They haven’t. They just haven’t kept up the same pace. Because California has a late primary this presidential election cycle, there is time for a candidate’s “excitement factor” to kick in. And it has, for Bernie Sanders. In 2008, I could see folks being skeptical that black man could win the White House, thus tempering their support for Obama in February. By June, Obama-mania had reached a fevered pitch. Similarly this year, those who may quietly have held Sanders leanings, but didn’t think an avowed Socialist stood much of a chance, have likely been buoyed by his victories. Thus, they have come out of the closet, as it were, to proudly display their candidate’s sticker on their car bumper.
Indeed, in another development, I’ve also noticed Bernie Sanders yard signs. Normally I don’t see yard signs until the Fall for the general election. But this year I’ve seen a few, and they’ve all been for Bernie, Bernie, Bernie.
Traditional polls have all shown Clinton with a decided lead in the California Democratic primary. Though some have shown that lead narrowing a bit. The closest read comes from the Public Policy Institute of California. Their March 6 – 15 poll has Clinton at 48% and Sanders at 41%, with 7% undecided.
If the traditional polls prove correct, then Hillary Clinton will take the California primary. However, if the bumper sticker poll theory about penetration holds true, then I don’t see Clinton having penetrated the Bay Area progressive/liberal “bubble” in a substantial way, meaning that she may be in more trouble than the traditional polls are showing. If she does win, it will be by a razor-thin margin. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Michigan-style Sanders “upset.”
We’ll find out in June. Can’t wait.
Oh, and by the way, I have yet to see any bumper sticker for any Republican presidential candidate. I have seen a couple of “Make Donald Drumpf Again” hats, but that probably doesn’t count.
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