Impeachment? Census? Ideology? New poll finds few easy answers for California voters
How conflicted is California’s electorate?
Consider: Most voters in the state don’t like President Donald Trump, don’t trust the Census Bureau to keep private information private and don’t think we’ve seen the last of Russian interference in U.S. elections.
But many of those same voters also say they aren’t sure if Trump should be impeached, that it’s critically important to respond to the census and that they aren’t positive Russia’s influence actually mattered much in 2016.
Those are a few of the seemingly contradictory findings in a survey released Wednesday by the non-partisan California Public Policy Institute.
Head or heart?
The survey of 1,713 likely voters found that Democratic voters in California are divided on the question of whether if it’s better to nominate a candidate who can beat Trump or one who espouses ideals with which they personally agree.
The divide breaks down by age. Slightly more than half (51%) of Democrat-leaning voters younger than 45 want a candidate with whom they are ideologically aligned. But among voters 45 and older, a similar majority (52%) say their top priority is any candidate who can win in 2020.
Though voters often grapple with issues of pragmatism vs. ideology, some experts believe it’s more pronounced in the Trump era. And the age divide, they add, might reflect Democratic experiences from previous elections.
“If you looked at the Democratic candidates in 2008, it was (Barack) Obama vs. (Hillary) Clinton, and you didn’t really see a big ideological divide between those two. That was more about personality; it was more candidate-centered,” said Jodi Balma, a professor who teaches political science at Fullerton College.
“But this time? There are so many different candidates, and there’s a lot of different ideologies. Ideology is naturally going to play a bigger role.
“And I do think younger voters believe, ‘Hey, the house is on fire, and that’s not OK.’ But a lot of older voters probably think back to (2004) when it was, ‘Let’s get somebody who can beat Bush,’ and they put up an ideological guy (John Kerry), and they were disappointed that he didn’t win.” Balma added. “Those (older) voters don’t want to repeat that.”
Balma also pointed out that a contentious primary process doesn’t necessarily hurt the candidate hoping to win in November.
“The process in ’08 took a long time,” Balma said. “But it made Obama a stronger candidate, not a weaker one.”
Still, it’s unclear how – or if – the head vs. heart debate will play out next year.
While the survey found a divide among Democratic voters on what they want in a candidate, it also found that 65% of California voters, of all political stripes, say they “definitely” won’t vote for Trump.
While California’s anti-Trump sentiment might reflect the state’s heavily Democratic-leaning voter registration numbers, it doesn’t capture the starkly different ways Republicans and Democrats currently view the country.
The survey found that most Republicans (82%) would reelect Trump if the election were held today, while an even bigger majority of Democrats (93%), along with most independents (66%), would not.
Balma, among others, said the different views largely reflect a media landscape that allows people to consume punditry, from both sides of the political spectrum, and “feel like you’re getting news.”
“I can’t imagine somebody watching Walter Cronkite during the Watergate era and coming away without an idea that there was something wrong in the (Nixon) administration,” Balma said.
“But (watching) Fox News, today, or MSNBC? You could watch that and not be told about a lot of things. You can feel like you’re getting information, and be in your own world, without actually getting information.”
The survey – which was conducted before May 29, when Special Counsel Robert Mueller spoke publicly about his report into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election – also found that most likely California voters (58%) of all political stripes don’t believe Mueller’s investigation cleared Trump of wrongdoing.
But even as Californians generally believe Trump wasn’t cleared by Mueller, they’re not in love with the idea of impeachment. Slightly less than half of all voters in the state (49%) favor launching an impeachment proceeding, though the idea is far more popular among Democrats (66%) than it is among independents (39%) and Republicans (9%).
Likewise, the survey found Californians are split on the question of whether Russian interference influenced the 2016 election to such a degree that the results aren’t valid. Only 44% of likely voters believe Russia swayed the vote, while 47% say it did not.
However, many in California also believe we’ve done little to protect ourselves since ’16 and that outside interference might be the new electoral normal. A majority of California voters (56%) responded that Russia or other countries might be able to sway the legitimacy of the 2020 election.
Census important, risky
The survey also asked likely voters about the 2020 census.
The topic could become a hot button next year if the Trump administration is successful in its quest to add a question about U.S. citizenship to the census – a question that many immigration advocates and others believe is aimed at discouraging Latinos and Asians from responding to national headcount. Lower response rates would reduce California’s political and economic clout when voting maps are redrawn in the early 2020s.
And on this topic, like so many, California voters are of two minds.
Overall, a majority (63%) say they’re concerned the Census Bureau won’t keep 2020 census answers confidential. That belief is most pronounced among Latinos (74%) and African Americans (70%), though it is also shared by a majority of Asian Americans (64%) and whites (52%).
But even as they distrust the census takers, most Californians see the national headcount as important. A strong majority (75%) believe it is important to respond to the census.
The survey, conducted in English or Spanish, from May 19-28, reached 1,198 people on cellphones and 515 on landlines. It has a 3.3 percent margin of error.