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Press Release · June 5, 2019

Opposed to Trump, Split on What They Prefer in a Candidate


SAN FRANCISCO, June 5, 2019—Less than a year before California’s presidential primary, Democratic likely voters and those who lean Democratic are divided on a key question: Is it more important to nominate the candidate whose views align with their own or the one who seems most likely to defeat President Trump? Older voters are more likely to say that the ability to defeat Trump is more important, while younger voters are more likely to think it is more important to nominate a candidate with views similar to theirs. These are among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Among likely voters who identify themselves as registered Democrats or as independents who lean Democratic, 48 percent say it is more important to choose the candidate most likely to beat Trump, while slightly fewer—42 percent—say it is more important to choose the nominee whose views align with theirs.

Among those age 18 to 44, about half (51%) choose a candidate with similar views (43% able to defeat Trump). Among those age 45 and over, 52 percent prioritize the candidate’s ability to defeat Trump (37% candidate whose views align with theirs).

Overall, two-thirds of California’s likely voters (65%) say they will definitely or probably choose a candidate other than Trump. This view is held overwhelmingly by Democrats (93%) and by a strong majority of independents (66%). But an overwhelming majority of Republican likely voters (82%) say they would definitely or probably vote to reelect Trump if the election were held today. Similarly, there is a partisan divide among likely voters on approval of Trump: 84% of Republicans approve of how Trump is handling his job as president, compared to far fewer independents (43%) and Democrats (8%).

“With the 2020 presidential primary looming large in California, Republicans overwhelmingly want to reelect Trump, while most Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are divided about what they are looking for in a candidate to defeat Trump,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

Asked to choose the attributes that are most important in a presidential candidate, half of likely voters (52%) prefer experience and a proven record, while 39 percent opt for new ideas and a different approach. Democrats who are likely voters are divided on this question, with 49 percent saying experience and 42 percent saying new ideas, while majorities of Republican (60%) and independent (53%) likely voters prefer experience.

Californians Divided on Impeachment, Largely Along Party Lines

Roughly two months after special counsel Robert Mueller concluded his investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, most Californians (57% adults, 58% likely voters) say the investigation did not clear Trump of all wrongdoing. (The survey was conducted before Mueller’s public remarks about the investigation on May 29.) There is a strong partisan divide. An overwhelming majority of Democrats (84%) and a majority of independents (55%) say the report did not clear Trump, but 77 percent of Republicans say it cleared him of all wrongdoing. Nationally, a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll showed that 53 percent of adults believe the Mueller investigation did not clear Trump.

While Democrats nationwide appear to be divided on impeachment, a strong majority of Democrats in California (66%) say Congress should begin proceedings against the president, while just 39 percent of independents and 9 percent of Republicans say so.

Overall, Californians are more likely than the nation as a whole to say impeachment proceedings should begin. According to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, 37 percent of adults nationwide think Congress should seek impeachment, compared with 49 percent in California.

“Most Californians believe that the Mueller investigation did not clear Trump of wrongdoing, but they are more divided on impeaching the president,” Baldassare said.

Californians are split on whether Russian interference undermined the legitimacy of the 2016 presidential election: 42 percent (44% of likely voters) believe it did, while 47 percent (50% of likely voters) say it did not rise to that level. Looking ahead, however, most Californians (54% adults, 56% likely voters) do think that possible interference by Russia and other countries threatens the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election.

Census Seen as Important—Most Have Concerns about Confidentiality

California will have a lot at stake in the 2020 US Census—the count will affect political representation and federal funds. Californians recognize the importance of this census, with three-quarters (75%) saying it is very important to participate.

The Trump administration wants to add a question about citizenship status to the 2020 Census. Opponents argue that such a question would depress the count among immigrants who might be fearful about revealing their status. The US Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on the issue. Relatedly, 63 percent of Californians are concerned that the Census Bureau will not keep 2020 Census answers confidential. This concern is highest among Latinos (74%) and African Americans (70%), followed by Asian Americans (64%) and whites (52%). US-born Californians (58%) are less likely than foreign-born residents (71%) to be concerned that the Census Bureau will not keep answers confidential.

“While three in four Californians say that participating in the 2020 US Census is very important, many have concerns that their answers will not be kept confidential,” Baldassare said.

Majority Concerned about Effect of Wildfire Costs on Utility Rates

The bankruptcy of PG&E in the wake of the Camp Fire has been among the most contentious and consequential issues facing California’s new governor. Amid great uncertainty about the impact of the bankruptcy, an overwhelming majority of Californians (78%) say they are concerned about rising electricity bills because of utilities’ responsibilities for wildfire damage costs.

Californians hold mixed views on Governor Newsom’s handling of the PG&E bankruptcy and utilities’ responsibilities for wildfire costs. Only 32 percent of adults and 28 percent of likely voters approve; 30 percent of adults and 35 percent of likely voters disapprove, while the largest shares (38% adults, 37% likely voters) say they don’t know.

“Three in four Californians are concerned that their electricity bills could increase as a result of wildfire damages, while just one in three approve of Governor Newsom’s handling of the PG&E bankruptcy and utilities’ responsibilities for wildfire damages so far,” Baldassare said.

In contrast, larger shares approve of the governor’s handling of wildfire prevention and response (44% adults, 41% likely voters) and of the job the governor is doing overall (45% adults, 47% likely voters).

Overwhelming Majority Favor Requiring Vaccinations

As the US confronts its worst measles outbreak in more than 20 years, the California Legislature is considering a bill (Senate Bill 276) that would tighten the state’s already strict school immunization law. SB 276 would create a standardized form for parents seeking to medically exempt their children from vaccination and would require state review and tracking of exemption requests.

An overwhelming majority of adults (73%) think that parents should be required to vaccinate their children. Asked about child vaccines to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella, 62 percent of adults say these vaccines are very safe, and another 27 percent say they are somewhat safe. An overwhelming majority (79%) are concerned that the recent outbreak of measles will become more widespread (43% very concerned, 36% somewhat concerned).

“Many Californians are concerned that the recent outbreak of measles could spread and believe that vaccinations for the disease are very safe and should be required,” Baldassare said.

Worried about Housing, Most Favor New Rules for Local Governments

As state leaders consider a number of proposals to promote housing affordability, 52 percent of adults and 45 percent of likely voters say their housing costs cause a financial strain. Across regions, Orange/San Diego has the highest share of adults saying this (58%), followed by the Inland Empire (55%), the San Francisco Bay Area (54%), Los Angeles (51%), and the Central Valley (43%). The cost of housing is far more likely to place a strain on renters (67%) than on homeowners (36%).

Solid majorities support two state policy proposals intended to create more affordable housing: 62 percent favor requiring local governments to change zoning for new development from single-family to multi-family housing near transit and job centers, and 61 percent favor requiring localities to approve a certain amount of housing before receiving state transportation funding. However, fewer than half (47%) favor reducing state regulation of development through changes to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Homeowners are less likely than renters to support changing zoning laws (51% to 72%), tying transportation funds to new housing (50% to 71%), and changing CEQA (40% to 54%).

Solid majorities of Californians (63% adults, 66% likely voters) believe that homelessness is a big problem in their part of California, including majorities across political parties (70% Democrats, 66% independents, 58% Republicans), regions, and demographic groups.

Governor Newsom’s revised budget proposal, released in mid-May, includes a mix of spending that totals $1 billion to address homelessness. After being read a summary, an overwhelming majority of adults (74%) and a strong majority of likely voters (68%) favor this spending.

“Californians across party lines view homelessness where they live as a big problem,” Baldassare said. “The governor’s plan to spend a billion dollars on this issue has strong support.”

Views of Local Police Vary across Racial/Ethnic Groups

Overall, nearly two-thirds of Californians say local police are doing an excellent (25%) or good (40%) job of controlling crime in their community. However, African Americans are less likely to give local police good marks (15% excellent, 22% good) than are Latinos (22% excellent, 38% good), Asian Americans (28% excellent, 42% good), and whites (27% excellent, 44% good). Also, while 65 percent of adults say local police treat all racial and ethnic groups fairly almost always or most of the time (or volunteer always), African Americans (32%) are far less likely than Latinos (61%), whites (69%), and Asian Americans (72%) to hold this view.

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 1,713 California adult residents, including 1,198 interviewed on cell phones and 515 interviewed on landline telephones. Interviews took an average of 18 minutes to complete. Interviewing took place on weekend days and weekday nights from May 19–28, 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 1,426 registered voters, ±4.1 percent for the 1,123 likely voters, and ±4.9 percent for the 740 respondents who answered question 35b (preference for Democratic nominee). 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.