Poll: California could be Trump’s ace in nomination fight; he’s way ahead

No matter the results of the Iowa caucus on Monday night, new polling suggests that Republicans vying for the presidential nomination face the equivalent of a brick wall on Super Tuesday, in the form of former President Trump.

In California, one of 15 states holding Republican primaries on March 5, two-thirds of voters considered likely to take part in the Republican primary said they would cast their ballot for Trump, according to the latest UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times. That’s up from an already dominant 57% in October.

The poll, taken Jan. 4-8, suggests that California conservatives could provide a significant boost to Trump’s efforts to clinch his party’s nomination early in the primary season, despite his relatively light presence in early primary states.

This year’s primary is the first under new “winner-take-all” rules set last summer by the California Republican Party, which allocate all 169 delegates — the most of any state — to a candidate who wins more than 50% of the vote.

California’s delegation accounts for nearly 14% of the delegates needed to secure the Republican nomination.

“It’s now a different ballgame, and it certainly benefits Trump if he can follow through on these numbers,” said Mark DiCamillo, the director of the Berkeley IGS poll. “If Trump carries California, he’s a long way toward securing the nomination.”

Previously, Republican presidential candidates received three delegates for each congressional district they won in California, meaning several candidates could make gains in the Golden State.

Trump holds similarly large leads in several other Super Tuesday states, according to recent polls. All told, just over one-third of the delegates to the GOP convention will be settled that day. Trump’s strategists hope to win enough of them to put the nomination out of contention at that point, which would be before any of the four criminal trials he faces are scheduled to begin.

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Former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley is now Trump’s closest competitor in California, but she is running a distant second place, with support from 11% of likely voters, the new poll found.

Haley backers hope that a strong showing in Iowa coupled with a possible win in New Hampshire later this month could give her enough momentum to truly challenge Trump for the nomination.

The poll suggests why that will be so difficult. She performs best among the relatively small segments of California Republicans who described themselves as politically moderate or liberal and those with a postgraduate education. Among self-described “strongly conservative” voters, who play an outsize role in Republican primaries, 5% back her.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who in February of last year was leading Trump in California, is “falling like a stone,” DiCamillo said. DeSantis is now the choice of 8% of the state’s likely Republican voters.

The general election is a different story. The outcome of the race has been clouded by Trump’s legal battles, President Biden’s sinking popularity among younger voters and Latinos, and the presence of third-party and independent candidates, including progressive activist Cornel West and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

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The poll suggests that support for Biden in California continues to be tepid, despite the state’s deep-blue politics.

Half of California voters have a favorable view of Biden, while 48% say their view is unfavorable. His job approval among all registered voters — 44% approve and 52% disapprove — hasn’t moved significantly from October, when, for the first time, a majority of Californians disapproved of Biden’s job performance.

“He’s underwater, which is not a great place to be in a blue state,” DiCamillo said.

Biden’s support has eroded more among some voter groups, including Latinos.

Democrats have a 2-1 voter registration advantage over Republicans among Latinos in California, DiCamillo said. But the poll found that just 38% of likely Latino voters in California have a favorable view of Biden. That number falls to 34% among Latinos for whom Spanish is their dominant language, a group that in past elections has tended to be more Democratic than other Latinos.

Biden is also struggling to retain the support of young voters. Just 4 in 10 likely voters younger than 30 have a positive view of Biden, compared with 6 in 10 likely voters older than 75.

“Those are big changes, and they’re typically a very key Democratic constituency,” DiCamillo said.

Asked about a hypothetical five-candidate field that includes West, Kennedy and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, the poll found that Biden would hold a 16-point lead over Trump in California, 47%-31%, significantly less than his 30-point victory margin in 2020. The poll found 6% support for Kennedy, 2% for West, and 1% for Stein, while 12% of likely voters remained undecided.

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In a head-to-head contest with no third-party candidates, Biden’s lead over Trump would increase to 19 points, 56%-37%, with 7% undecided, the poll found. If Vice President Kamala Harris were the Democratic nominee, she would beat Trump in the state by an almost identical margin, 55%-37%.

Biden would also beat Haley in California, 51%-34%, but with 16% of voters undecided, the poll found.

Younger voters’ and Latinos’ souring on Biden is not unique to California. In some swing states, where the contest is much closer, polls have found Biden trailing Trump in hypothetical 2024 matchups.

But the mixed reception for Biden’s job performance is better than how voters in California see Trump: 34% positively, 63% negatively, including 58% whose view of the former president is “strongly unfavorable.”

Kennedy, who is running as an independent, has clocked double-digit support in some polls of swing states. That isn’t the case in California, where he is polling at 6% among likely voters.

Kennedy worked as an environmental lawyer in New York for years, but now lives part-time in Los Angeles with his wife, actor Cheryl Hines. He has played up his California ties since he launched his campaign, recording videos at the Venice Boardwalk and in the Santa Monica Mountains and hosting fundraisers with Westside yoga teachers.

That appeal hasn’t seemed to have worked in California, where his approval rating is 31%, the poll found.

Nearly two-thirds of California Democrats report disliking Kennedy, who spent decades as a Democrat and ran as a Democrat in the presidential primary until he launched his independent bid in October.

“Republicans are much more positive in their views of Kennedy” than Democrats or voters with no party preference, DiCamillo said. “It’s really interesting.”

The poll found that 50% of California Republicans have a strongly favorable or somewhat favorable view of Kennedy, who founded the anti-vaccine organization Children’s Health Defense.

Among conservative voters, Kennedy is the second most popular political figure, following Trump, suggesting that he could be an option for disaffected Republicans.

West, who launched an independent bid for the presidency in October, is far less known among California voters than Kennedy. The poll found 15% of likely California voters with a favorable opinion of the progressive activist, while 27% say they see him unfavorably, and 58% don’t have an opinion.

The Berkeley IGS poll was conducted Jan. 4-8 online among a random sample of 8,199 registered voters, including a weighted sub-sample of 4,470 likely primary voters and 1,351 likely Republican primary voters.

The results were weighted to match census and voter registration benchmarks, so estimates of the margin of error may be imprecise; however, the results have an estimated margin of error of 2 percentage points in either direction for the full likely voter sample and 3.5 percentage points for the Republican primary sample.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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