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Press Release · November 18, 2019

Biden, Warren, Sanders Are Frontrunners in Democratic Primary; Most Californians Favor Impeaching Trump


SAN FRANCISCO, November 18, 2019—As the November 20 Democratic presidential debate approaches, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders lead in California’s primary, while more than a third of voters prefer some other candidate or are undecided. Most Californians say President Trump should be impeached and removed from office, though views are mixed on how Democrats in Congress are handling the impeachment inquiry. These are among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Among Democratic primary likely voters (Democrats and independent voters who say they will vote in the Democratic primary), support for Joe Biden (24%), Elizabeth Warren (23%), and Bernie Sanders (17%) is much higher than support for Kamala Harris (8%), Pete Buttigieg (7%), and Andrew Yang (5%). No other candidate is preferred by more than 1 percent, while 9 percent say they don’t know which candidate they would choose. An overwhelming majority say they are following news about candidates very (37%) or fairly (43%) closely. With several Democratic debates scheduled prior to the March primary, likely voters are most interested in hearing the candidates talk about health care (21%), the environment (14%), jobs and the economy (13%), and immigration (12%).

“The Democratic presidential primary remains in a fluid state, with most likely voters saying they want the candidate who seems most likely to defeat Donald Trump in November 2020,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

In September, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Most Californians (57% all adults, 53% likely voters) think the president should be impeached and removed from office, with 83 percent of Democrats, 51 percent of independents, and 11 percent of Republicans holding this view. Asked about how Democrats in Congress are handling the inquiry, 50 percent of adults and 48 percent of likely voters approve, while 44 percent of adults and 50 percent of likely voters disapprove. Views are split along partisan lines, with Democrats (76%) far more likely to approve than independents (41%) or Republicans (12%).

“Majorities of Californians favor the president’s impeachment and removal from office, while they have mixed views on how Democrats in Congress are handling the impeachment inquiry,” Baldassare said.

Many Are Concerned about Wildfires and Power Shutoffs; Governor, Utilities Get Mixed Reviews for Their Handling of the Issue

With fall fire season affecting many across the state, most Californians are concerned about the threat of wildfires (34% very, 29% somewhat) and the threat of power shutoffs (32% very, 27% somewhat). Governor Newsom gets mixed reviews for his handling of wildfires and power shutoffs, with 46 percent of adults and 42 percent of likely voters approving (39% adults, 46% likely voters disapproving). This is similar to the governor’s overall approval rating today (48% adults and likely voters) and to approval in May of his handling of wildfire prevention and response (44% adults, 41% likely voters).

Asked about how local utilities are handling power shutoffs to prevent wildfires, only about a third have a great deal (19% adults, 16% likely voters) or quite a lot (18% adults, 17% likely voters) of confidence in the utilities. Confidence is lowest in the San Francisco Bay Area (9% a great deal, 16% quite a lot).

“Many Californians are concerned about wildfires and power shutoffs in their areas, and they give the governor and local utility providers mixed reviews for their handling of this issue,” Baldassare said.

Californians Ambivalent about Nation’s Direction, Economic Outlook

Six in ten Californians (61% adults, 63% likely voters) say that things in the US are generally going in the wrong direction, similar to the share in January 2019 (66% adults, 68% likely voters). Majorities across regions hold this view. Among racial/ethnic groups, African Americans (71%) are more likely than Asian Americans (63%), Latinos (62%), and whites (58%) to say the country is headed in the wrong direction.

Californians are somewhat more optimistic about US economic conditions. Around half (47% adults, 50% likely voters) think the nation will have good economic times during the next 12 months. Whites (53%) and Latinos (47%) are more likely than African Americans (36%) and Asian Americans (35%) to hold this view.

“With the 2020 election around the corner, Californians have an ambivalent outlook about the future,” Baldassare said. ”Many expect good economic times next year, while most think the nation is headed in the wrong direction.”

Nearly two-thirds of adults (63%) say California is divided into the “haves” and the “have nots”; a similar share (67%) expressed this view when PPIC last asked this question in December 2018. Majorities of adults across age, education, income, and regional groups say California is divided this way. Notably, majorities across party lines hold this view: 74 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of independents, and 55 percent of Republicans. African Americans (84%) are more likely than Asian Americans (64%), whites (64%), and Latinos (58%) to say the state is divided between haves and have nots.

Asked which economic group they belong to, 41 percent say they are in the haves, while 44 percent say the have nots. A solid majority (65%) of those with annual household incomes of $80,000 or more say they are in the haves, while a solid majority (63%) with incomes under $40,000 say they are in the have nots. About half of adults (52%) say the government should do more to make sure all Californians have an equal opportunity to get ahead, while four in ten (41%) believe that all Californians already have an equal opportunity.

Most Say Federal Government Should Ensure Health Coverage for All

When asked if it is the federal government’s responsibility to ensure that all Americans have health coverage, most Californians (63%) and likely voters (55%) say it is. However, views are divided on whether health insurance should be provided via a single national health insurance system (30% adults, 25% likely voters) or through a mix of private insurance and government programs (28% adults, 26% likely voters). A solid majority (72% adults, 65% likely voters) support a government-run health plan—a “public option”—that would compete with private insurance plans.

Most Believe a Third Major Political Party Is Needed

A year before the next presidential election, nearly half of Californians (47% adults, 46% likely voters) have a favorable view of the Democratic Party, while a third (31% adults, 34% likely voters) view the Republican Party favorably. This is similar to levels in October 2018. Most adults (54%) and likely voters (57%) say the Democratic and Republican Parties do such a poor job representing the American people that a third major party is needed; this is consistent with survey findings since 2006.

Most Californians Are Very Concerned about Homelessness

California’s homeless population—nearly 130,000—accounts for about a quarter of the nation’s homeless. A majority of Californians (58%) are very concerned about the presence of homeless individuals in their communities, while another quarter (27%) are somewhat concerned. About six in ten Republicans (61%), independents (61%), and Democrats (59%) say they are very concerned. Also, majorities across regions are very concerned (63% San Francisco Bay Area, 60% Los Angeles, 58% Inland Empire, 55% Orange/San Diego, 52% Central Valley). About half or more across regions say the number of homeless people in their local community has increased over the past 12 months (63% Los Angeles, 59% San Francisco Bay Area, 58% Inland Empire, 55% Central Valley, 49% Orange/San Diego).

“Majorities of Californians across the state’s regions are very concerned about homeless people in their community, and many have noticed an increase in the local homeless population over the past year,” Baldassare said.

Governor Newsom has made “right to shelter” a focus of his Homeless and Supportive Housing Advisory Task Force, and a new state policy could require local governments to provide enough shelter beds so any homeless person requesting shelter could go indoors. Overwhelming majorities (76% adults, 70% likely voters) favor this policy, including majorities across party lines (87% Democrats, 67% independents, 56% Republicans).

Fewer than Half Support School Construction Bond

Fewer than half of likely voters support a state bond for school and college construction that was approved by state lawmakers for the March 2020 ballot: 48 percent are in favor, 36 percent oppose, and 16 percent don’t know. In September, a slim majority of likely voters (54%) said they would vote yes when asked a similar question about this ballot measure. Support is currently higher among Democratic likely voters (71%) than among independents (44%) and Republicans (24%). About half of likely voters with (47%) and without (49%) children aged 18 and under in the house support this bond.

A citizens’ initiative that may appear on the November 2020 ballot would raise state income taxes on the wealthiest Californians, with the new revenue going to support K–12 public schools. This measure currently has majority support, with 62 percent of adults and 56 percent of likely voters approving.

“The state school bond on the March ballot is now polling below 50 percent, while a majority of likely voters support a tax on the wealthy for school funding that may be headed for the November ballot,” Baldassare said.

Another initiative that could appear on the November ballot would tax commercial properties according to their current market value and direct some of the revenue to K–12 public schools. This “split roll” property tax has the approval of 55 percent of adults, but only 46 percent of likely voters favor it.

Governor’s Approval Was Steady in 2019; Approval of Legislature Dipped

Fewer than half of Californians (48% of adults and likely voters) approve of the way Governor Newsom is handling his job. Approval was similar in January (44% adults, 43% likely voters), though fewer adults today say they have not heard enough or don’t have an opinion (33% January, 18% today). Throughout his first year in office, the governor’s approval has ranged between 44% and 48%. Asked about how the legislature is handling its job, fewer than half of Californians (44% adults, 39% likely voters) approve. Approval was slightly higher in January (49% adults, 46% likely voters).

About the Survey

The Californians and Their Government survey is supported with funding from the James Irvine Foundation and the PPIC Donor Circle.

Findings in this report are based on a survey of 1,711 California adult residents, including 1,200 interviewed on cell phones and 511 interviewed on landline telephones. Interviews took place from November 3–12, 2019. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.

The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.3 percent for all adults, ±3.6 percent for the 1,405 registered voters, ±4.2 percent for the 1,008 likely voters, and ±5.1 percent for the 682 Democratic primary likely voters (Democrats and independent voters who say they will vote in the Democratic primary). For more information on methodology, see page 21.

Mark Baldassare is president and CEO of PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has directed since 1998.

The Public Policy Institute of California is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. We are a public charity. We do not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor do we endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Research publications reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of our funders or of the staff, officers, advisory councils, or board of directors of the Public Policy Institute of California.