What The California Primary Can Predict For Us About The General Election

With the Republican contest already over and the Democratic one expected to be wrapped up hours before polls close in California, the Golden State's presidential primary won't have near as much of the impact or influence initially predicted. It was a crushing blow for voters in a state long relegated to the back of the line despite sending more delegates than any other state to each respective parties' nominating convention. But surely as the nation's most populous and diverse state California's primary can provide some clue as to how the general election may play out later this fall? Although it certainly can't predict November's vote, California's presidential primary provides some insight as to how the general election will kick off.

It should be acknowledged first that primary races can differ greatly from general elections. For example, competitive primaries like those we've seen this year may result in a high voter turnout that ends up having no effect on turnout in November, as FiveThirtyEight pointed out. So while it's tempting to say an increase in voter registration ahead of California's primary points to well-attended polls when the general election rolls around, there's no real data to back up that claim. Furthermore, proportional delegate allocation rules like those observed by Democrats contrast sharply to the Electoral College, where all but two states are winner-take-all. This means candidates must shift their campaign strategies in an effort to appeal to mainstream voters and gather support with multiple demographics.


California has long seemed a lost cause for Republicans in the general election. The state has painted itself blue in presidential elections for more than 25 years now. Trump, however, has vowed to make "a real run in California." Although the presumptive Republican nominee has actively campaigned across the state in the weeks ahead of Tuesday's primary, he may be chasing a pipe dream. Many of his policies have turned off minority voters in the state, resulting in violent clashes between protesters and supporters at rallies Trump held in San Diego and San Jose. Recent polls attempting to gauge a Clinton v. Trump general election contest in California all show Clinton holding a double-digit lead over her GOP rival. National polls, however, show the two may be more evenly matched at this point in time.


While California's Democratic primary isn't likely to decide the party's nominee, voters will send party leaders a clear message with who they rally behind. With the Democratic primary in California reported to be a dead heat between Clinton and Sanders, it seems increasingly clear the party may, like Republicans, be having trouble bridging the divide between the establishment and progressives. With Sanders still willing to battle it out with Clinton it remains unclear where the senators' enthusiastic supporters will fall if November's race comes down to Trump and Clinton.

Should California voters favor Sanders at the polls on Tuesday, the Golden State could send Clinton limping into a general election race against Trump, or worse. Sanders may decide a win in California provides him enough reason to continue his primary campaign through the end of the primaries and into the weeks leading up to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, leave Clinton forced to wage war on two fronts.