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Press Release · March 23, 2016

Trump Leads with 38 Percent, Clinton Has 48 Percent Support among Primary Likely Voters

Harris, Sanchez Lead in Senate Race, But Nearly a Third Are Undecided

SAN FRANCISCO, March 23, 2016—Donald Trump leads his rivals in the presidential race with support from 38 percent of Republican primary likely voters, according to a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Hillary Clinton has 48 percent support and Bernie Sanders has 41 percent among Democratic primary likely voters—a group that includes Democrats and independent voters who say they will vote in the Democratic primary. Another 11 percent favor someone else (7%) or are undecided (4%).

In the survey—which ended March 15, the same evening that Marco Rubio left the Republican presidential race—Trump (38%) is trailed by Ted Cruz (19%), and John Kasich and Rubio (12% each). The survey also asked Republican primary likely voters for their second choices, and when the responses are recalculated to exclude Rubio, Trump maintains his 38 percent support, while Cruz’s support increases to 27 percent and Kasich’s to 14 percent. Twenty percent favor someone else (11%) or are undecided (9%). Trump leads across age, education, gender, and income groups.

In the Democratic race, most voters age 45 and older support Clinton (63%), while most younger voters support Sanders (63%). Clinton leads among Latino voters (58% to 35%), women (54% to 35%), and those who describe themselves as politically middle of the road (51% to 33%). Sanders leads among those who describe themselves as very liberal (57% to 41%) and among men (48% to 39%).

A solid majority of Democratic likely voters (65%) are satisfied with their choice of candidates. Less than half of Republicans (46%) and a third of independent likely voters (34%) are satisfied.

Harris Leads Senate Candidates—Latinos Prefer Sanchez

In the race to fill the seat of retiring U.S. senator Barbara Boxer, a third of likely voters (31%) say they are undecided. Among the candidates, Kamala Harris, Democratic state attorney general, has 26 percent support, followed by Loretta Sanchez, Democratic member of Congress, with 17 percent. Tom Del Beccaro, former chairman of the state Republican Party, has 9 percent and Duf Sundheim, also a former Republican Party chair, has 6 percent. Republican Ron Unz entered the race after the survey was completed. The top two vote getters in the June primary will advance to the November election.

Among Democratic likely voters, 38 percent favor Harris, 30 percent favor Sanchez, and 24 percent are undecided. Among Republican likely voters, 41 percent are undecided, while 23 percent favor Del Beccaro and 12 percent favor Sundheim. While 37 percent of independents are undecided, Harris gets the most support (22%). Latino voters are most likely to support Sanchez (36%), while 22 percent would vote for Harris. White voters are most likely to be either undecided (31%) or support Harris (27%). Democrats (64%) are far more likely than independents (38%) or Republicans (31%) to say they are satisfied with their choice of candidates for Senate.

“The defining characteristic of the California presidential and senate primaries is the striking partisan difference in satisfaction with the candidate choices,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

Majorities Approve of Obama, But Few Approve of Congress

A majority of California adults (59%) and over half of likely voters (53%) approve of President Obama’s job performance. Congress’ approval rating is considerably lower: 24 percent among adults and 14 percent among likely voters. Just 20 percent of Democrats and 18 percent of independents approve of Congress’ job performance. Even fewer Republicans (11%) approve—smaller than the share of Republicans who approve of Obama’s performance (20%).

Baldassare noted: “In election season where deep partisan divisions are surfacing, one area of continuing consensus is overwhelming disapproval of the way that the Congress is handling its job.”

Divided on Outlook for State, U.S.—and on Government Role on Inequality

As the primary nears, 40 percent of California adults and 34 percent of likely voters say things in the U.S. are going in the right direction. Californians are feeling somewhat more optimistic about the state’s direction (right direction: 50% adults, 45% likely voters). After weeks of turmoil in financial markets, the outlook on the U.S. economy is mixed, with 48 percent of California adults and 45 percent of likely voters saying that the nation will have good times in the next year. Californians are also divided about whether the state will have good times in the year ahead (51% adults, 46% likely voters).

With income inequality an issue in the presidential campaign, solid majorities of Californians (69%) and likely voters (77%) say the gap between the rich and poor in the United States is getting larger—a view that holds across party lines. Should government do more to reduce the gap? Most (68% adults, 58% likely voters) say yes, while fewer (29% adults, 39% likely voters) say this is something government should not be doing. Likely voters are somewhat more likely than adults overall to say the gap between the rich and the poor is growing (77% to 69%), but they are less likely to say that the government should do more to reduce it (58% to 68%). Californians are divided over whether everyone has a fair chance to get ahead in today’s economy. About half (48% adults, 49% likely voters) say everyone does have a fair chance and about half (48% adults, 47% likely voters) say that just a few people at the top have a chance.

Baldassare summed up: “California Republicans and Democrats are deeply divided in their views about the direction of the state and the nation and the government’s role in bridging the economic gap.”

Most See Business Regulation as Necessary

On another election year issue, Californians are more likely to say that government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest (60% adults, 57% likely voters) than to say that government regulation of business does more harm than good (34% adults, 40% likely voters). Asked whether they prefer a smaller government providing fewer services or a bigger government providing more services, 57 percent of California adults prefer a larger government (39% smaller government). Likely voters are less inclined to prefer larger government (44% larger, 51% smaller).

And most adults (58%) and likely voters (61%) believe that Americans demand more from the government than they are willing to pay for in taxes. Fewer (37% adults, 36% likely voters) say that most Americans are willing to pay the taxes needed to fund services they expect government to provide.

Majorities Favor Extending Proposition 30 Tax on High Earnings

As the statewide ballot takes shape, the survey asked about one initiative that may be on it: an extension of one of the temporary taxes voters approved in Proposition 30 in 2012. The new initiative would extend for 12 years the tax on earnings over $250,000 to fund education and health care. Most adults (61%) and likely voters (58%) are in favor, with sharp divisions along party lines (77% Democrats, 52% independents, 37% Republicans favor). Regardless of how they feel about the initiative, solid majorities of adults (66%), voters across party lines, and likely voters (70%) believe Californians should decide whether to extend Proposition 30 tax increases by voting on an initiative in November.

Asked in the midst of tax season about the fairness of the state and local tax system, a majority of Californians say it is moderately fair (48% adults, 49% likely voters) or very fair (8% adults, 5% likely voters). And most (63% adults, 78% likely voters) believe that compared to other states, California ranks near the top or is above average in its tax burden per capita. This view is in line with fiscal facts: the Tax Policy Center ranked California 11th in November 2015.

Jobs and Economy Seen as the State’s Top Issue

About half of Californians (51% adults, 53% likely voters) approve of Governor Jerry Brown’s job performance. The state legislature has a job approval rating of 44 percent among adults and 38 percent among likely voters. Jobs/economy (27% adults, 29% likely voters) edges out water/ drought (20% adults, 23% likely voters) as the most important issue facing Californians today.

As seasonal rainfall has increased and Californians have slowed their conservation efforts, residents are also less likely today (57% adults) to say the supply of water as a big problem in their part of the state than they were in September 2015, when a record-high 70 percent held this view. Half (49% adults) say that the people in their part of California are not doing enough to respond to the drought, while 38 percent say people are doing the right amount.

Public Higher Education, Road Maintenance Seen as Key for Future

The survey asked how important four major areas of spending are to the future of California:

  • Maintenance of roads, highways, and bridges: Most Californians (58% adults, 64% likely voters) say traffic congestion is a big problem in their region. And most (62% adults, 68% likely voters) say spending more money on the maintenance of roads, highways, and bridges is very important for the future quality of life and economic vitality of the state. Which projects have the highest priority? Residents are divided between public bus and transit (34%) and freeways and highways (33%), with fewer choosing local streets and roads (24%) or carpool lanes (6%). Likely voters are somewhat more likely to prefer spending on freeways and highways (38%) to bus and transit (30%).
  • Tunnels in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta: The governor has proposed building tunnels in the Delta to improve the reliability of water supplies. About half of adults (54%) and 45 percent of likely voters say building the tunnels is very important to the future of California. Residents in Los Angeles (61%) and the Inland Empire (61%) are the most likely to say this is very important, followed by the Central Valley (51%), San Francisco Bay Area (49%), and Orange/San Diego (47%).
  • High-speed rail: Eight years after state voters passed the $10 billion bond to build high-speed rail with 53 percent support, 52 percent of adults and 44 percent of likely voters continue to favor building it. When those who are opposed are asked how they would feel if it cost less, overall support increases to 66 percent among adults and 59 percent among likely voters. How important is high-speed rail to the future quality of life and economic vitality of California? A third of adults (34%) and a quarter of likely voters (26%) say it is very important.
  • The public higher education system: Overwhelming majorities of adults (80%) and likely voters (78%) say California’s public higher education system is very important to the state’s future.

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 1,710 California adult residents—half (852) interviewed on landline telephones and half (858) on cell phones—from March 6–15, 2016. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.

The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.6 percent for all adults, ±3.9 percent for the 1,385 registered voters, and ±4.4 percent for the 1,039 likely voters. It is ±6.2 for the 529 Democratic primary likely voters and ±7.3 for the 321 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.