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Press Release · September 21, 2016

Clinton Has Big Lead Amid Strong Interest in Debates

Harris Ahead in Senate Race—Majorities Favor Marijuana Measure, Taxes on Cigarettes and High Earnings

SAN FRANCISCO, September 21, 2016—California’s likely voters favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a wide margin, and most say they are very interested in the upcoming presidential debates. When likely voters are asked what they would like to hear the candidates talk about, they are more likely to name jobs and the economy than any other issue.

These are among the top findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from The James Irvine Foundation.

Clinton leads Trump by 16 points (47% to 31%) among California likely voters. Her lead was 16 points in July (46% Clinton, 30% Trump), when the survey did not include the names of the candidates’ running mates, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican Mike Pence. The Libertarian ticket, Gary Johnson and Bill Weld, has 10 percent support among likely voters, and the Green Party’s Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka have 5 percent. Clinton leads Trump in all age, education, and income groups. Among other results:

  • Clinton and Trump have strong majority support in their own parties: 83 percent of Democrats favor Clinton and 73 percent of Republicans favor Trump. Clinton leads slightly among independents (40% to 32%).
  • Men support Clinton over Trump (41% to 30%), and women favor her by an even larger margin (52% to 32%).
  • Across racial/ethnic groups, whites are divided (39% Clinton, 37% Trump). Clinton leads Trump by large margins among Latinos (62% to 19%) and other racial/ethnic groups (59% to 19%). Sample sizes of Asian American and African American likely voters are too small for separate analysis.

An overwhelming majority of likely voters (90%) say they are interested in the presidential debates, and 62 percent say they are very interested. Jobs and the economy ranks as the top issue (30%) likely voters would like the candidates to talk about. Immigration and illegal immigration is a distant second (16%). Democrats (31%), Republicans (30%), and independents (28%) all name jobs and the economy as their top issue. Two other issues were mentioned by 5 percent or more of likely voters: foreign policy (8%) and terrorism and national security (7%).

“Most likely voters have made up their minds in the presidential race, but they are still very interested in the upcoming debates,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “Californians across the partisan divide most want to hear from the presidential candidates about jobs and the economy.”

Echoing their strong interest in the debates, 61 percent of likely voters say they are following news about the candidates very closely—a higher percentage than in previous presidential races (48% September 2000, 51% September 2004, 52% September 2008, 53% September 2012).

While likely voters’ interest in the election is high, their satisfaction with the choice of candidates is low. Only 42 percent are satisfied (64% September 2008, 66% September 2012). A slim majority of Democrats (52%) are satisfied, compared to fewer Republicans (42%) and even fewer independents (28%).

Majorities Across Parties Favor a Path for Undocumented to Stay

Picking up a major theme in the presidential race, the survey asks questions about immigration policy. A strong majority of likely voters (80%) say that there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally if certain requirements are met, and just 18 percent say they should not be allowed to stay legally. Majorities across parties say undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay (93% Democrats, 78% independents, 61% Republicans). Among likely voters supporting Trump, 52 percent say undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay and 45 percent say they should not. Among Clinton supporters, 95 percent say these immigrants should be allowed to stay.

The survey also asks if a wall should be built along the entire border with Mexico, as Trump has proposed. Among likely voters, 34 percent favor the idea and 64 percent are opposed. Most Republicans (66%) are in favor, and most Democrats (90%) and independents (62%) are not. Trump supporters overwhelmingly favor building a wall (82%) and Clinton supporters overwhelmingly oppose it (92%).

Harris Leads Sanchez, But 24 Percent Say They Won’t Vote for Either

In the US Senate race, Kamala Harris leads Loretta Sanchez by 7 points (32% to 25%) among likely voters, with 19 percent undecided. Harris was ahead by 18 points (38% to 20%) in July, but the race was closer in May, when Harris led by 8 points (34% to 26%). Today, 24 percent volunteer that they would not vote for either candidate. When this group is excluded, Harris leads by 10 points (43% to 33%).

Half of Democrats (50%) support Harris, while independents are more divided (30% Harris, 25% Sanchez) and 42 percent of Republicans volunteer that they would not vote in this race. Sanchez leads Harris among Latinos (58% to 16%), while Harris is ahead among whites (33% to 17%) and other racial/ethnic groups (46% to 19%).

About half of likely voters (48%) are satisfied with their choice of candidates in this election. Democrats (75%) are overwhelmingly satisfied, while far fewer independents (39%) express this view. Just 26 percent of Republicans are satisfied with their candidate choice.

“This is an unusual statewide race between two candidates of the same party,” Baldassare said. “Kamala Harris continues to lead, with about one in three supporting her US Senate candidacy. At the same time, many Republicans and independents say they’re still undecided or won’t vote.”

Just under Half Support School Bond Initiative

The survey asks about four initiatives on the November ballot— all require simple majorities to pass.

  • Proposition 51. When likely voters are read the ballot title and label, 47 percent would vote yes and 43 percent would vote no on this measure, which would authorize the state to issue $9 billion in bonds to fund construction and modernization of K–12 schools and community college facilities. Support among public school parents (52%) and those with no children in the household (46%) is similar. When asked about the importance of the outcome of the vote on Proposition 51, 42 percent say it is very important. Those who would vote yes are more likely than those would vote no to say the outcome is very important (49% to 34%).
  • Proposition 55. A majority of likely voters (54%) say they would vote yes on this measure, which would extend by 12 years the temporary tax increase on earnings over $250,000 (38% no). Revenue would be allocated to public schools, community colleges, and, in certain years, health care. This tax was enacted as part of Proposition 30 in 2012 and is set to expire in 2018. Asked to assess the importance of the outcome on this measure, 41 percent say it is very important to them—those who would vote yes and those who would vote no are similarly likely to hold this view.
  • Proposition 56. A majority of likely voters (59%) support this measure to increase the cigarette tax by $2 per pack to fund health care, prevention of tobacco use, and law enforcement (36% no). There is majority support among Democratic and independent voters, while Republicans are more divided. Women (63%) are somewhat more likely than men (55%) to favor Proposition 56. Latinos (76%) and members of other racial/ethnic groups (68%) are more likely than whites (52%) to support it. How important is the outcome on this measure? Very important, according to 43 percent of likely voters. Those who would vote yes are more likely than those who would vote no to say so (50% to 35%).
  • Proposition 64. A majority of likely voters (60%) would vote yes on this measure to legalize marijuana use under state law by adults 21 and older and tax sales and cultivation (36% no). Most Democratic (65%) and independent (64%) likely voters support the proposition. Republicans are divided (46% yes, 52% no). Just over half of Latinos would vote yes, while support among whites and other racial/ethnic groups is slightly higher. Support is higher among those 18 to 34 years old (74%) than among older voters (59% 35–54, 54% 55 and older). Half of likely voters (50%) say the outcome on Proposition 64 is very important. Those who would vote yes are much less likely to say the outcome is very important than those who would vote no (46% to 59%).

“Californians view the outcome of Proposition 64 as the most important of the four initiatives that we tested,” Baldassare said. “It’s interesting that the opponents of the marijuana legalization initiative are more likely than its proponents to say the outcome is very important to them.”

As Californians prepare to vote on 17 state propositions, most likely voters (61%) say they are satisfied with the way the initiative process is working, although just 12 percent say they are very satisfied. Despite their general satisfaction, most (57%) say there are too many propositions on the state ballot. Most (64%) also say special interests have a lot of control over the initiative process. An even larger majority (79%) say the wording for initiatives is often too complicated and confusing.

Legislature’s Job Approval Lower Than Brown’s But Better Than in 2014

A majority of likely voters (55%) approve of the way Jerry Brown is handling his job as governor. The legislature fares less well: 42 percent of likely voters approve and 48 percent disapprove of its job performance. But this is a higher rating than the legislature received before the last legislative election (32% approved in September 2014). Asked to rate their own representatives in the state assembly and senate, about half of likely voters (49%) approve, a higher share than two years ago (38% October 2014).

As the end of President Obama’s second term approaches, 54 percent of California likely voters approve of the way he is doing his job. They give Congress an approval rating of 16 percent—identical to the rating in September 2014, before the last congressional election. California likely voters today are much more likely to approve of their own representatives in the US House (47%) than of Congress overall.

Divided on the State’s Direction

The election comes at a time when fewer than half of likely voters (45%) say things in the state are going in the right direction (52% wrong direction), and a similar share (47%) expect California to have good times financially in the next year (42% bad times). Supporters of Clinton are more likely to say California is headed in the right direction (73%) and to expect good times financially (65%). Most Trump supporters say California is headed in the wrong direction (90%) and expect bad economic times in the year ahead (69%).

About the Survey

The PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from The James Irvine Foundation and the PPIC Donor Circle. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,702 California adult residents—half (851) interviewed on landline telephones and half (851) on cell phones from September 9–18, 2016. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.

The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.5 percent for all adults, ±4.0 percent for the 1,350 registered voters, and ±4.5 percent for the 1,055 likely voters. 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.