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Press Release · May 25, 2016

Clinton, Sanders in Close Race—Each Leads Trump in Fall Matchup

Harris, Sanchez Lead Senate Contest, With Nearly A Third Of Likely Voters Undecided

SAN FRANCISCO, May 25, 2016—Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are in a tight race in the Democratic presidential primary, while Donald Trump has the support of most Republican primary likely voters. In potential November matchups, Trump trails both Clinton and Sanders.

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

Among Democratic primary likely voters, 46 percent support Clinton and 44 percent support Sanders. These voters include Democrats and independents who say they will vote in the Democratic primary. Clinton has a slight lead over Sanders among registered Democrats (49% to 41%).

Voters age 45 and older are more likely to support Clinton (59%), while younger voters are more likely to favor Sanders (66%). Both men (46% Sanders, 42% Clinton) and women (49% Clinton, 42% Sanders) are divided.

Asked if they would vote for Trump or someone else, most Republican primary likely voters (67%) choose Trump, while 26 percent say they would vote for someone else. Men (72%) are more likely than women (62%) to say they would vote for Trump.

In a fall presidential matchup, Clinton has support from 49 percent of likely voters, while 39 percent favor Trump, and another 11 percent would vote for someone else or are undecided. Women support Clinton by a wide margin (61% to 30%), and men are more likely to favor Trump (49% to 38% Clinton). In a matchup between Sanders and Trump, 53 percent of likely voters favor Sanders, 36 percent support Trump, and 11 percent would vote for someone else or are undecided. Sanders has much more support than Trump among women (61% to 28%), but men are more divided (45% Sanders, 43% Trump).

Compared to Clinton, Sanders performs better against Trump among independents (61% Sanders, 51% Clinton) and among younger voters (77% Sanders, 66% Clinton). Among Democratic primary likely voters, 85 percent of those who support Clinton in the primary would vote for Sanders against Trump in the fall, while 75 percent of Sanders supporters would choose Clinton over Trump.

Fewer than half of California’s likely voters (42%) are satisfied with their choice of presidential candidates, lower than in May 2012 (57%). While most Democrats (53%) today are satisfied, just over a third of Republicans (36%) and independents (35%) are. Satisfaction among Republican likely voters has fallen each month since the survey began asking this question in December 2015.

“California’s June primary finds voters with polarized perceptions that will define their ballot choices,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “Most Republicans are unhappy, while most Democrats are satisfied with the political and economic status quo.”

Harris, Sanchez Ahead in Senate Primary—Harris Leads in Fall Matchup

In the race to replace retiring U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, nearly a third of likely voters (31%) remain undecided less than a month before the primary. Among the candidates, Democrat Kamala Harris leads with the support of 27 percent of likely voters. Democratic U.S. Representative Loretta Sanchez has the support of 19 percent in a race in which the two candidates with the most votes—regardless of party—will advance to the November election. They are followed by Republicans Tom Del Beccaro (8%), Ron Unz (6%), and Duf Sundheim (3%). Among Democratic likely voters, Harris leads Sanchez (43% to 32%), with 19 percent undecided. Among Republicans, nearly half (46%) are undecided, as are 35 percent of independents. Latino voters are most likely to support Sanchez (48%), though 19 percent favor Harris. White voters are the most likely to be undecided (36%) or support Harris (24%).

If Harris and Sanchez advance to the November election, 34 percent of likely voters say they would vote for Harris and 26 percent would vote for Sanchez (24% volunteer that they would not vote and 15% are undecided). Just under half of Democrats (46%) would vote for Harris, while half of Republicans (51%) say they would not vote. Latinos support Sanchez over Harris. Whites support Harris over Sanchez, with nearly a third saying they would not vote.

Republican Party’s Favorability Falls

Asked for their views on the two major political parties, half of Californians (49%) have a favorable impression of the Democratic Party, while only 23 percent have a favorable view of the Republican Party. Likely voters are more inclined to have a favorable view of the Democratic Party than the Republican Party (42% to 23%). While favorability toward the Democratic Party is similar today to survey findings in December (51% adults, 47% likely voters favorable), favorability toward the Republican Party has declined by 7 points among all adults (23%, down from 30% in December) and by 10 points among likely voters (23%, down from 33%).

Most Democrats (74%) view their party favorably, but only 38 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of theirs—a substantial drop from December when 74 percent of Republicans had a favorable impression of their party. Solid majorities of each racial/ethnic group have an unfavorable impression of the Republican Party (87% black, 69% Asian, 69% Latino, 69% white).

“As the presidential primary season comes to a close, the Republican Party’s favorability rating has declined while the Democratic Party’s favorability rating has held steady,” Baldassare said. “Particularly noteworthy is the big disconnect on immigration policy between Californians and the Republican front runner.”

Most Oppose Building a Wall on the Border

The survey asks Californians about two issues being debated in the presidential campaigns:

  • Immigration policy. A strong majority of likely voters (65%) oppose building a wall along the entire border with Mexico, as Trump has promised to do. There is a stark partisan divide: 86 percent of Democrats and 72 percent of independents oppose building a wall, while 59 percent of Republicans favor it. Asked whether or not undocumented immigrants living in the United States should be allowed to stay legally, 75 percent of likely voters favor allowing them to stay. Majorities across parties say undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay.
  • U.S. Supreme Court. At a time when the court has issued rulings on a number of polarizing topics, California likely voters are divided in how they rate the court: 46 percent approve of the way the court is handling its job and 44 percent disapprove. Asked whether they think the Senate should confirm Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, to the court, about half of likely voters (51%) say it should (33% should not).

Just over half of likely voters (52%) approve of the way President Obama is handling his job. Among those who say they would vote for Clinton in the Democratic primary, 90 percent say they approve of Obama’s job performance. Job approval of the president is slightly lower among those who favor Sanders in the primary (83% approve). Just 12 percent of Republican likely voters approve of the president’s job performance. Only 15 percent of likely voters approve of the way Congress is handling its job. Strong majorities across parties disapprove of Congress’ job performance.

Californians Balk at Vehicle Fee, Higher Gas Tax

The survey asked about the governor’s revised state budget proposal for the next fiscal year, which includes increased spending and funds to pay down state debt and build reserves. After hearing a description of the plan that includes these elements, most likely voters (60%) favor it. The budget also includes a proposal to raise revenue for transportation infrastructure projects with a new fee on all vehicles and an increase in the state gasoline tax. After hearing a description of this part of the governor’s proposal, likely voters are much less likely to support his budget plan (37%).

Baldassare noted: “The governor’s budget plan includes a mix of increased spending and savings that has the public’s backing, while his efforts to increase revenues for surface transportation have hit a serious roadblock.”

Asked about other revenue sources for surface transportation projects, 52 percent of likely voters say they would vote yes on a state bond measure to pay for them. The idea of a local sales tax—which several local governments will have on their ballots this year—fares less well: 38 percent of likely voters would vote yes on such a measure, far short of the two-thirds majority required for passage.

With the state projected to have a budget surplus of several billion dollars, Californians were asked whether they would prefer to pay down state debt and build up the reserve or use part of the money to restore some social service programs that were cut in recent years. Likely voters prefer paying down debt (55% to 40% restore funding).

In the wake of his budget revision, Governor Brown has a job approval rating of 50 percent among likely voters. The legislature’s job approval rating is lower, at 38 percent among likely voters.

Majorities Favor Legalizing Marijuana, Raising Cigarette Tax

The survey asked about three issues likely to be on the November ballot:

  • Marijuana legalization. A majority (60%) of likely voters say that, in general, marijuana use should be legal, and 37 percent say it should not be legal. It is estimated that the initiative to legalize marijuana—if passed—would generate about $1 billion in tax revenue annually, most of which would be directed toward substance abuse prevention and treatment. Among likely voters, 43 percent say that spending the revenue this way is very important.
  • Extension of the Proposition 30 tax on high-earners. A majority of likely voters (58%) favor extending the tax on earnings above $250,000 for 12 years to fund education and health care (39% oppose).
  • Increase in cigarette tax. A strong majority of likely voters (67%) favor increasing the tax on the purchase of cigarettes to fund health care (31% oppose). Majorities across parties are in favor.

“California seems poised to show its blue state credentials in the fall,” Baldassare said. “Voters today are signaling their early support for Democratic statewide candidates, tax initiatives, and marijuana legalization.”

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 1,704 California adult residents—half (853) interviewed on landline telephones and half (851) on cell phones—from May 13 to 22, 2016. 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, ±3.8 percent for the 1,338 registered voters, and ±4.3 percent for the 996 likely voters. It is ±5.7 for the 552 Democratic primary likely voters and ±7.4 for the 284 Republican primary likely voters. For more information on methodology, see page 23.

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.

PPIC is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office.