While most attention from PPIC’s most recent poll focused on the anemic 52% support Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax-hike measure has among voters, lurking throughout the survey is a welter of data demonstrating the Gordian challenge any Republican faces in a California statewide election.
Simply put, the problem is this: On almost any significant issue, the sentiments of those who say they are registered Republican voters are at odds with mainstream opinion in California.
The list of issues includes health care reform, business and environmental regulation, gun control, gay marriage and more. On two vital issues – immigration policy and abortion rights – Republicans are more in tune with mainstream California, but sharply at odds with their own party platform and all the GOP candidates for president.
It’s important to note that the Public Policy Institute of California does not base its surveys on the Secretary of State’s official list of registered voters but instead calls a random sample of California household and cellular phone numbers and asks people if they’re absolutely certain they’re registered to vote (67%) and, of those who are, whether they are registered as a Democrat (44%), a Republican (31%), or as a decline-to-state or independent voter (21%).
Those who identify themselves as registered Republicans are, by and large, part of a rarefied group. As PPIC’s Eric McGhee, co-author with Daniel Krimm of “California’s Political Geography,” told us the other day: “To identify as a Republican really means something in California – it means you’re a conservative.”
Consider how at odds GOP voter opinion is with the prevailing view:
— Health care: “Overall, given what you know about them, would you say you support or oppose the changes to the health care system that have been enacted by Congress and the Obama administration?” California overall — 47-39% support. Among Democrats it was 67-21% in support; among independents it was 50-40% in favor and among Republicans it was 69-20% opposed.
— Business regulation: “Which statement comes closest to your own view, even if neither is exactly right: Government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest or government regulation of business does more harm than good.” California overall — 48-43% support regulation. Democrats, 63-30% for regulation; independents, 49-41% support; Republicans, 73-21% oppose regulation.
— Environmental regulation: “Which statement comes closest to your own view, even if neither is exactly right: Stricter environmental laws and regulations cost too many jobs and hurt the economy or stricter environmental laws and regulations are worth the cost.” California overall: 47-45% worth the cost. Democrats, 64-30% worth it; independents, 47-46% worth it; Republicans, 65-29% cost too many jobs.
— Gun control: “Which statement comes closest to your own view, even if neither is exactly right: The government goes too far in restricting the rights of citizens to own guns or the government does not do enough to regulate access to guns.” California overall – 53-38% government doesn’t do enough. Democrats, 68-27%; independents 54-37% government doesn’t do enough; Republicans, 66-27% government goes too far.
— Gay marriage: “Do you favor or oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to be legally married?” California overall – 52-41% favor. Democrats, 72-25% favor; independents, 56-30% favor; Republicans, 61-34% oppose.
— Benefit of immigration: “Which statement comes closest to your own view—even if neither is exactly right: Immigrants today are a benefit to California because of their hard work and job skills or Immigrants today are a burden to California because they use public services.” California overall – 58-35% benefit. Democrats, 66-28% benefit; independents, 52-33% benefit; 60-32% burden.
The question of immigration is a double barreled problem for Republican statewide candidates – especially in a presidential race where contenders have taken extremely rigid stances in other states in order to outdo one another.
That’s because in California, Republicans are actually closer to the mainstream viewpoint than any of the presidential candidates or their official state party, which seems unable to break away from its drive-away-the-Latinos ideology.
— On immigration policy PPIC asked respondents: “If you had to choose, what do you think should happen to most illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the United States for at least two years: They should be given a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status or they should be deported back to their native country?”
By a ratio of 70-25%, Californians said illegal immigrants ought to have a chance to keep their jobs and become legal residents. Among Democrats it was 74-21% in favor and among independents it was 67-26% in favor. But even among Republicans it was 50-45% in favor of a pathway to legality for illegal immigrants – still a sharp divide, but closer to the majority view than not.
BTW, in case the GOP is still wondering whether this position is salient, among Latinos, 92% said there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to obtain legal status. That’s about as close to a unanimous position as pollsters ever find on an issue.
One other issue presents Republican candidates with something of an intractable problem.
— Abortion rights: “Which statement comes closest to your own view, even if neither is exactly right. The government should pass more laws that restrict the availability of abortion or the government should not interfere with a woman’s access to abortion.”
In 10 surveys since 2000, PPIC has found at least six in 10 Californians want the government to leave access to abortion alone and this survey was no different, with 68% saying the government should not interfere and 28% favoring more restrictions.
Among Democrats it was 83-15% against government interference; among independents it was 68-28% against interference and – get this GOP candidates – among Republicans it was 68-27% against government interference with abortion rights.
Moreover, PPIC wrote:
“Majorities across regions and demographic groups agree that the government should not interfere with access. Across religious groups, Protestants (70%) are more likely than Catholics (55%) to say the government should not interfere with access; and 91 percent of those who are agnostic, atheist, or not religious agree. Among those who are evangelical Christians, 54 percent say the government should not interfere with a woman’s access to abortion.”
Who’s for limiting access to abortion rights? All the presidential candidates and the National and California Republican Parties.
Crossing the threshold: As we have noted over and over and over again here at Calbuzz, immigration and abortion rights are not like most other issues. They’re seldom at the top of anyone’s list of the most important issues facing society at any given moment. Those are jobs and the economy, national security, education and the like.
But they are, for huge blocs of voters (like women and Latinos), what we call threshold issues on which if you’re on the other side, then voters don’t even want to hear your positions on jobs and the economy, national security, education and the like. Sure, because party is the strongest motivator or an individual’s vote, plenty of loyal Republican women and Latinos (all six of them) will vote for the Republican candidate, even if they have niggling doubts about the candidate’s position on abortion rights and immigration. But the platform stances and candidates’ positions, over time, are eroding even this tiny universe of voters.
In other words, the strategy of trying to appeal to women and Latinos on the Big Issues of the Day, while asking them to ignore how you feel about them and their rights personally, is a loser from the get go.
PPIC surveyed 2,001 California adult residents, including 1,601 interviewed on landline telephones and 400 interviewed on cell phones February 21 to 28, 2012. The margin of error is ±3.4 percent at the 95 percent confidence level for the total sample of 2,001 adults. The sampling error for subgroups is larger: For the 1,334 registered voters, it is ±3.8 percent; for the 859 likely voters, it is ±4.2 percent; for the 281 Republican primary likely voters, it is ±7.4 percent.