April 25, 2016
In case you’re wondering why we care about California polls a full 6 weeks and several states before the actual vote, it’s the delegate thing. About 10 days ago, it seemed unlikely Donald Trump could reach the full 1237 delegates by the end of primary voting. He might get relatively close, he might scare up enough to win on the first ballot, but his team would have work to do between June 7 and Cleveland.
Then Trump beat the estimates in New York., with Cruz doing worse than expected. Then we saw poll numbers from the April 26 states indicating more of the (mostly) same. The Donald is even ahead in Indiana, a place #NeverTrump absolutely needs to stop him. A strong performance in most of California’s 53 congressional districts (where 159 of 172 delegates are being allocated) and 1237 is a real thing.
We don’t have perfect data, but we have enough to look at. Both CBS/YouGov and Fox News have taken surveys in the past 7 to 10 days. When the first of these (taken entirely before New York) showed Trump at 49% it got my attention. Now the more recent poll (from 4/18 to 4/21) has the same number.
Even if you argue both pollsters tend to favor Trump a bit (and they do), a small adjustment still leaves him in the mid-40s. There’s additional evidence Californians are feeling increasingly Trumpy. The Field Poll has checked in occasionally over the past several months, most recently late March/early April.
They had The Donald at 39%, leading Cruz by 7. In late December Trump trailed Ted 25/23. Each of the 8 surveys taken in March or April have Trump ahead by mostly increasing margins. Unfortunately, no pollster participated more than once, so we can’t prove the difference isn’t at least partially due to who took the survey, rather than when.
Still, when the most recent poll gives Trump his highest ever share of the vote and Cruz his lowest since fall 2015, it’s not a positive trend for Ted. Some of the corresponding questions asked by CBS/YouGov (a pollster that tends to give Cruz above average numbers) show a deeper problem.
Trump is more identified with jobs, Cruz with faith and values. When given four options (those two, plus terrorism and immigration), a full 46% of California GOP voters said jobs and the economy come first. Only 12% opted for faith and values. When in doubt, when his back is against the wall, Cruz points out Trump’s inconsistency and/or lack of conservatism on social issues.
That doesn’t look like a good path in California. When Republican voters were asked what the GOP platform should say about gay marriage, 44% said absolutely nada. A further 26% think it should support it. Only 30% say the GOP platform should oppose. Not an ideal climate for Cruz.
Indiana votes May 3. West Virginia on May 10. After that, the remaining decent sized states are Oregon, Washington, California and New Jersey. A Trump who is pivoting to the center for the general election, combining social moderation with his customary bombast about bringing jobs back would only find himself better situated for these final targets.
It’s not like the scattered #NeverTrump forces can just put all their money on Kasich. His two best polls were 20% (the new one from Fox and an early March entry.) California Republicans are actually fairly conservative. They want to secure the border (another place where Trump scores well) and hold the line fiscally. A less-chatty about social issues Cruz is a better fit than the governor.
The Donald is NOT popular in California. His favorability scores with Latinos and African Americans are lower than toxic waste dumps. Female Democrats and Independents detest him beyond recognition. It will prevent him from competing here in November, but isn’t much of an issue in a GOP primary. Perhaps more than anywhere else in the country, Trump’s support is concentrated among those who will vote for him in the primary.
Plenty can happen in 6 weeks, but Cruz is very lucky the primary is June 7 instead of May 7. The data indicates he’s better off trying to divide up the state with Kasich, concentrating on districts in the Central Valley and Southern California (especially in the LA area), while the governor attacks the overly progressive Bay Area and northern-most section of the state.
Teaming up with Kasich is the last thing Cruz wanted as he spent multiple weeks shouting for him to exit the race, but barring a total reversal in how he packages himself, it will require teamwork with a big negative ad push from #NeverTrump to give Cruz a chance to see what happens on a second or third ballot at the convention.
Their initial agreement is for Kasich to leave Indiana to Cruz, while Ted stays away from Oregon and New Mexico. That’s a start, but they’ll need to figure out how to apply this on a district by district basis in California too.
We’ve reviewed the April 26th polls, the Indiana surveys, and now the California data. None of it is anything but promising for Trump. He’s not the nominee yet, but his opponents are the ones who need something to change.