A Talk With Voters at California’s Primaries

March 4, 2020 Updated: March 28, 2020

California is an important Democratic stronghold and it has positioned itself as an opponent to the Trump administration on many issues. Its primary on March 3 was a significant win for Bernie Sanders.

With 415 delegates at stake, California’s Democratic primary represented the biggest haul in the country.

The state is arguably the most liberal in the nation, though it has some more centrist regions, including Orange County.

The Epoch Times spoke to voters in Orange County as they entered the voting centers. We also spoke with voters in the Bay Area—in San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties—a more strongly Democratic region.

Many young Democrats in both regions spoke of differences between themselves and their Republican parents and families. Many voters said they would support the Democrats in the general election even if their candidates lose the nomination.

Health care was a top issue for many, and several older voters said that Biden’s experience as vice president made them choose him.

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A voting center at the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters in San Jose, Calif., on March 3, 2020. (David Lam/The Epoch Times)

Results

Results are preliminary with votes still being counted, but as of March 4, Bernie Sanders had won with just over a million votes in the Democratic primary, and Joe Biden trailed him with about 740,000 votes. About 1.5 million turned out to vote for Trump, who won the Republican primary.

Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden
Democratic presidential candidates Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and former Vice President Joe Biden speak during a break at the Democratic presidential primary debate at the Charleston Gaillard Center on Feb. 25, 2020 in Charleston, S.C. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Epoch Times Photo
President Donald Trump speaks at the CPAC convention in National Harbor, Md., on Feb. 29, 2020. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

In Orange County, more voters turned out to vote for Donald Trump in the Republican primary—about 178,000—than for the top three candidates combined in the Democratic primary, about 169,000.

In San Francisco, only about 7,500 turned out for Trump. About 92,000 combined voted for the top three Democrats (with about 40,000 for Sanders). In Santa Clara, 39,000 voted for Trump and about 111,000 for top three Democrats (with about 51,000 for Sanders).

Young Voters and Their Republican Families

Jeremy, who preferred not to give his full name, is a science major at California State University, Fullerton. He voted for Sanders at the Irvine Valley College voting center in Orange County.

His family also lives in Orange County and he said some of them are die-hard Republicans. “They don’t like Bernie Sanders because of his socialist views,” he said.

“But it’s my opinion that we’re going to get taxed, [and] I’d rather that money go to something that’s going to benefit us,” he said. “Going to war with other countries shouldn’t be our focus. Education, making sure everyone has health care, that should be the focus.”

He said he doesn’t really like any of the other Democratic candidates, but “whoever ends up being the democratic candidate, I’ll probably support them.”

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Voters line up at the Irvine City Hall voting center in Irvine, Orange County, on March 3, 2020. (Jamie Joseph/The Epoch Times)

Cecilia, who is also a student and did not want to give her full name, voted for Sanders at the Irvine Valley College voting center.

“My dad was like, ‘You’re voting for a communist,’” she said. “[Everyone asks] where the money is coming from in terms of paying for health care and alleviating student debt.” But, she said, “If we don’t make those sacrifices for the youth, then the youth is going to be really messed up.”

She’s Vietnamese and when she sees socialism in action there. “I could see how it would resonate fear into people here, because [here] we’re living freely,” she said. “But I don’t necessarily think [Sanders] would be that radical.”

Bjorn Thyrring, 21, is a political science and religious studies student who voted for Sanders at a voting center at Santa Clara University. But he said much of his family supports Trump.

He said he doesn’t think the country is tangibly better due to Trump’s administration, but “I still think it’s still worth recognizing why [Trump supporters] all think it is instead of writing them off as uneducated or not up-to-date on the issues or racist. I think there are more reasons for why.”

If Sanders doesn’t win, Thyrring isn’t sure he’ll vote. He criticized Biden’s role in the Iraq war and criticized him for not being in strong enough support of abortion, same-sex marriage, ending mass incarceration, and other issues important to Thyrring.

Another issue important to Thyrring is health care.

Health Care

“Growing up, my family, we didn’t have health care for most of my life,” Thyrring said. “My dad or my mom didn’t get it through their employment. My dad is self-employed as a carpenter. My mom’s a waitress, part-time. … I didn’t have access to health care and that affected my family in a lot of negative ways.”

He wants the Medicare for All championed by Sanders.

“When I was a high school athlete, I tore my knee my junior year. We didn’t have health insurance, so we didn’t have the money to have surgery to have it repaired. I lost the ability to run [and] weight-lift.” He has since studied in the U.K. for a period of time and received free access to health care there, so he says he thinks it’s a good idea and possible to offer care in the United States.

Erik Bartik, 39, a TV producer, voted for Sanders at the Orange County Registrar of Voters in Santa Ana. He praised the health care system in Canada, where he’s originally from. “I come from so-called socialized medicine and everyone tells me how bad it is, but it was great,” he said.

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A volunteer helps a voter at the Orange County Registrar of Voters in Santa Ana, Calif., on March 3, 2020. (Chris Karr/The Epoch Times)

Of Sanders, he said, “I think he’s an old crazy guy and he’s passionate and sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes it’s a bad thing.”

He wants to see radical change. “It’s a great country, don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of amazing things here, but I think you have to shake the tree hard and make a lot of things fall before it gets fixed.”

Other reasons cited by voters for supporting Sanders included his stance on climate change action and abolishing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

John McCormick, 26, works for a non-profit in San Francisco and has supported Sanders since the 2016 election.

Outside the San Francisco City Hall polling site, he told The Epoch Times, “When he was running in the 2016 election, the question on the debate stage was, ‘What is the most pressing issue and why?’ And Bernie was the only person on the stage who said ‘climate change.’ That really struck me because as a young person, climate change is the most important issue to me.”

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San Francisco City Hall, where a voting center was set up for primaries on March 3, 2020. (Ilene Eng/The Epoch Times)

Victoria Eng, a 26 year-old software engineer, was a long time Warren supporter but decided to support Sanders recently. “He seems to be willing to say slightly more radical things,” she said. “He’s the only candidate that said he would abolish ICE. So I really think that’s interesting.”

“I know there are a lot of people who live in fear of things like deportation and losing coverage of maybe their basic health rights,” she said.

Biden’s Experience

Biden’s experience brought voters to his side.

Paul Quon, 51, works for the State of California and voted for Biden at the San Francisco City Hall voting center. “He was the vice president before, so I figured experience counts,” Quon said. “He’s probably going to continue Obamacare, because a lot of issues I see [are] a lot of mental issues, health issues, a lot of homeless. So hopefully he can make things better.”

Preliminary estimates from exit polls show about 62 percent people under 44 years of age voted for Sanders. Whereas, voters 45 and older leaned more toward Biden.

Judy Munoz, 66, a retired customer service rep, voted for Biden at the Orange County Registrar of Voters. “To me, he’s just more experienced,” she said. That’s what set him apart, though she said all the Democratic candidates “had good debates at one point or another.”

“Of course, I’ve got to stay with the party,” she said.

Esther Lopez, 84, a retired teacher, also voted for Biden at the Orange County Registrar’s. “[Biden] knows D.C. D.C. is a snakepit. If you know how Washington, D.C., works, then [you’ll] be successful,” she said. “I liked what every single Democratic candidate had to say, and it was very difficult, so in the end … [Biden] is more experienced, more rooted, [more] stable for the people.”

Epoch Times staff members Chris Karr, Jamie Joseph, Ilene Eng, and David Lam contributed to this report.