January 5, 2015
The venerable Field Poll has graced us with new data from California. As much fun as it is to look at yet another survey from Iowa or New Hampshire (expect new posts as soon as the first polls of 2016 hit), a variety of inputs can help.
Today’s release includes GOP polling, plus how all Californians feel about the Republican candidates. Here’s why we should care what Californians are thinking today, a full five months before they actually get to vote in the GOP primary:
Nobody is campaigning there
While Chris Christie, John Kasich and Jeb Bush camp out in New Hampshire, Ted Cruz tours the South, Mike Huckabee hunkers down with Rick Santorum in Iowa and Donald Trump covers the Eastern and Central time zones, nobody campaigns in California.
At this point, it’s the Golden State ATM, a place to go for money, but not to meet regular voters. Why would anyone campaign there? Almost every other state votes first. The state is most certainly not in play for November.
Bernie Sanders has done large events, but that’s a key component in his fundraising, the equivalent of Hillary camping out in Silicon Valley. Republicans have stayed away.
This creates an important control group. If you want to compare how Christie and Marco Rubio are doing in New Hampshire, you need to consider how much more time Christie has spent there. They’re close in the polls. What if Rubio made a push?
If someone wins somewhere, they win, but if it required tons of attention, they may not translate as well somewhere else. Momentum will help, for sure, but it helps to have a decent baseline of support. Thirteen states vote on March 1, no candidate can cover them equally.
At this point, California voters are completely dependent on the national image of each candidate. They only see ads if placed on a national broadcast or through a social media link.
With this background, here’s what the poll found for preference:
You’ll notice this does not add up to 100%. I took the liberty of adding together first and second choices. Until the field dramatically narrows, this number is more predictive than looking at first choice only.
Most of the support surges for a candidate over the past several months showed up this way first. Having Cruz as a serious option for almost half of the voters is awfully impressive.
This is not Iowa, where his ground team is already making a difference and he can rely on a large base of evangelicals. They exist in California too, just not in the same percentage. A full 74% of GOP respondents would be excited or satisfied with a Cruz nomination.
At this point, Golden State Republicans are viewing Cruz very favorably, Rubio mostly favorably, are coming around on Christie, divided on Trump and very opposed to Jeb. Ben Carson still has good numbers.
Favorability (Registered GOP Voters)
If this is any indication, while Jeb may have bottomed out in New Hampshire and isn’t trailing Christie by that much in the Granite State, the two candidates do not have equal ability to capitalize on a good result.
Christie has largely restored his reputation among Republicans. If not quite the hero of 2010-12, he’s well above water and trending even better. He began turning things around months ago.
If Bush were to improve at a similar rate, it would take him until May or June to reach an acceptable level. Unfortunately, most of the delegates are getting assigned sooner.
Rubio is doing just fine, but Cruz has an edge for now. Remember, Cruz is already doing visibly better in the states where he has spent more time on the ground than Rubio. Marco’s strategy is based on the idea he can make an impact as a national candidate through national media.
He’s not wrong. California proves it. The problem is Cruz is doing even better this way, in addition to being well established in strategic early voting states.
There are states where Trump is a clear front runner, at least if he can get his voters to the polls (no evidence yet that he can’t). That large national lead has to come from somewhere. It’s not California.
While he has strong favorability ratings with Republicans nationwide, he’s just above neutral here. Is this due to something in the water, or just that Trump hasn’t spent time on the ground like he has in many other states?
Whatever the reason, Californians are skeptical about nominating The Donald. If you take the percentage of voters enthusiastic about nominating a candidate and subtract those who would be upset, the results are as follows:
None of this means Trump can’t win California. He only trails Cruz 25/23 in top line preference, within the margin of error. Polling is sparse, with all but one survey done by the same pollster.
But he doesn’t have any visible edge over Cruz or Rubio. If Christie winds up the Great Establishment Hope, he can compete too.
California Republicans are actually a decent proxy
Aside from their relative Trump-phobia, Golden State GOP’ers are actually fairly representative of national Republicans. This isn’t New Hampshire, where a large proportion of GOP voters are actually self described moderates.
California Republicans are pretty conservative too, just less relatively numerous than in red states. This is a partial explanation for the complete and total absence of Republicans in statewide office.
Massachusetts is governed by a popular Republican. Maryland has a GOP governor. So does Illinois. With the exception of the Arnold Schwarzenegger reign, Republicans have lost every statewide race for senator, governor, lieutenant governor, etc. since Pete Wilson was re-elected in 1994.
Arnold was helped by a recall election where replacement candidates ran as one large field, without a primary. Perhaps his celebrity would have gotten him nominated anyway, but he never had to find out. He was able to avoid a primary challenge when he ran for re-election.
In most other blue states, a moderate Republican can get nominated and winds up as a legit general election contender unless the Democratic nominee is strong. California nominees are conservative, wealthy (Fiorina, Meg Whitman), or both.
The absence of moderate Republicans is part of why Trump isn’t distancing himself from the field in California. Nationwide, he’s relying on a mix of very conservative and moderate voters, doing worse with the solidly conservatives.
Here, he’s holding his own with Cruz among very conservative voters, but doesn’t have that block of moderates, Reagan Democrats, etc. California requires Republican registration to participate in the primary, so he can’t benefit from Independents or Democratic crossovers.
Cruz has not won over the equivalent of Connecticut here. However, he is leading in an environment that is replicable elsewhere. Scott Walker entered the campaign hoping to find himself as the Goldilocks Candidate. Not too moderate, not too scary. Not too establishment, not too inexperienced.
It’s still where Rubio wants to wind up. For now, Cruz is in the way. As of this exact moment, he’s holding the Goldilocks position. Being ahead with actual registered Republican voters isn’t a bad place to be.
The delegates might actually matter
While Cruz was recorded saying on a conference call that the nomination may be decided by the end of March, that’s probably wishful thinking. As long as Trump and one other candidate remain in the race against him, those 172 California delegates are necessary for nomination.
Trump absolutely needs the delegates. He can’t afford to enter the convention short of the required total for nomination and expect to rally party officials.
Rubio, Christie, or anyone else who would take that slot absolutely needs a California win to build a large enough delegate total. They aren’t getting the delegates in Alabama.
Anything showing Cruz in or near the lead means the other candidates have one less place to count as a relative advantage. Since he is doing well on the organization and funding side, nobody will sneak up on him through footwork or out-spending.
Rubio and Cruz are viewed fairly similarly by the wider electorate
With many Republicans viewing both Rubio and Cruz generally favorably, the Rubio campaign hopes to emphasize the greater electability of their candidate. Voters who don’t care about these things and want to burn the house down aren’t likely to opt for him anyway.
He is the most widely acceptable (as of now) Republican to the general audience. However, the gap with Cruz is minimal. The wider California electorate has now weighed in. Warning: If you’re used to seeing national or swing state polls of all voters, blue state numbers can be shocking.
Favorability (All Voters)
Remember, Rubio and Cruz are net favorable nationwide, with Rubio having the best ratings of any candidate in either party (though Bernie Sanders is often close).
The middle-of-the-road voters a Rubio candidacy is supposed to appeal to in November have him at -13. This is better than the -27 for Cruz (Trump is -57), but it’s nothing to brag about. You can make a strong argument a base mobilization strategy with Cruz has as much chance of succeeding.
Rubio does better with Latinos too, but it’s a matter of degree, -15 instead of -32. Importantly for both, almost a third of California Latinos don’t have an opinion yet. Rubio’s unfavorable rating is only 43%. Even Cruz is merely 51% negative.
There is room for either candidate to pivot for the fall and secure a decent amount of Latino support, but both have work to do. Trump is beyond unpopular. 85% negative, 10% positive. As you can see, not much indecision.
Both Cruz and Rubio have a 28% favorability rating with Californian women. Their negatives are much lower than Trump, 48% for Cruz, 44% for Rubio, as opposed to 76% for Trump.
As with Latinos, plenty of women are still undecided on the two. It’s well too early to assume Rubio won’t minimize the traditional GOP gender gap, do relatively well with Latinos, etc. It’s also too soon to assume Cruz would fail at this.
The biggest note of distinction, one that shows up elsewhere, is Rubio’s popularity with older voters. He’s +7 with Californians 65 and over. Given he’s the candidate who talks most about the future, has a “New American Century” tag line, etc., it’s interesting he does best with older voters.
Californians under 40 are -32 on Marco. Maybe older voters, thinking about their grandchildren, are actually more focused on looking down the road than younger adults who are trying to get established in the present.
Maybe Rubio just lacks the Obama or JFK appeal to younger voters. Dunno, but I find this interesting.
Anyway, plenty to see in this poll. Another day, another round of good news for Cruz. Actual voting will create new momentum patterns (some of which could benefit him), but his base level is now very strong.