That Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are leading their respective presidential contests in California, according to the latest PPIC poll, is not surprising: what is noteworthy is how significantly the Democratic race appears to be affected by independents who are permitted to vote in that contest.
In the closed Republican race, Trump leads with 38%, followed by Ted Cruz at 27% and John Kasich at 14%, assigning to the three candidates the second-place choices of Marco Rubio, who dropped out as the survey ended. The LA Times/USC poll, partly released Sunday*, found similar rankings, with Trump at 37%, Cruz at 30% and Kasich at 12% among registered Republicans but a virtual tie — Trump 36% over Cruz 35% — among likely GOP primary voters.
In the Democratic contest, according to PPIC, Clinton leads Bernie Sanders 48-41% among Democrats and independents who say they will vote in the Democratic primary. But among Democrats alone, according to PPIC, Clinton leads Sanders 50-39%. There were too few likely Democratic-voting independents in the sample to break down their vote, but it’s apparent from the results that those independents favor Sanders over Clinton.
Hillary’s Coalition: So how would Clinton boost or at least assure her margin in California among independents? By further emphasizing, as she has already, her strong relationship with President Obama, whose approval rating among Democrats in California is 85-14% positive.
Moreover, while liberals approve of Obama 83-14%, moderates also approve of Obama 50-42%. And while men are about evenly divided, women approve of Obama 56-42% and get this – voters under age 45 (who prefer Sanders 63-22%) also approve of Obama 57-41% — even more than those over age 45 who already prefer Clinton over Sanders 63-27%.
Among Latinos — who approve of Obama 67-32% — Clinton also leads Sanders 58-35%.
In short, the Clinton coalition – Democrats, women, Latinos, older voters, liberals and moderates – represents the sweet spot in statewide California politics. Sanders may run up his margins in congressional districts where younger, very liberal voters are clustered – especially where universities are located. And his best hope is to attract independents who don’t approve of the job Obama has done — a rather perverse appeal for someone seeking the Democratic Party nomination. So with a smart campaign, Clinton should be able to win California.
Middlin’ California Despite its reputation as the “left coast” where wide-eyed liberals dominate, California voters have historically tended toward rather moderate candidates, whether Democrats or Republicans: Pete Wilson, Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown in recent years.
Where this gets screwy and unpredictable is on the Republican side, where it’s a closed GOP primary that has generally picked the more conservative candidate available to represent the party.
For whatever reason, the most conservative California Republicans thus far prefer Trump with 40% over Cruz at 35% and Kasich at 13%, according to PPIC. Whether that perception will hold through June is uncertain. In the LATimes/USC poll, Cruz was preferred by Tea Party Republicans 46-38% over Trump while the Donald was favored over Cruz among traditional Republicans 35-25%.
The LATimes/USC poll, however, also offered a warning to Trump: while 42% of Republicans said they would enthusiastically vote for him in November and 27% said they would support him reluctantly, another 27% said they would refuse to vote for him. Moreover, while Tea Party Republicans have a favorable view of Trump 62-33%, among traditional Republicans he suffers a 49-44% unfavorable rating.
Assuming the GOP race is alive and well in June, Cruz (or Kasich) will have to make the case to California Republicans that Trump is not one of them. Unless they do, it’s likely the New York developer will win the lion’s share of California GOP delegates.
*At the time of this post, the LATimes/USC survey had not released results for the Democratic presidential contest.