CA120: Chasing the GOP vote

Republican candidates for governor -- Doug Ose, left, John Cox, center, and Travis Allen. (Illustration: Tim Foster)

As reported by CALmatters last week, the Republican side of the governor’s race has become an interesting contest to watch because, if for no other reason, of the way these candidates are trying to differentiate themselves before the June primary election.

A debate in San Francisco led moderator John Diaz from the Chronicle to exclaim “This is the first time in San Francisco I have heard an argument among people about who most supports Donald Trump!”

That might be a rare occurrence in San Francisco, but the real audience for these gubernatorial candidates isn’t the average Chronicle reader or Bay Area resident. Their audience was the small sliver of potential debate viewers who are high-propensity voters and projected to be voting on the Republican side of the ticket – a couple million voters, or approximately 5% of the state’s total population.

It has been widely reported that the Republican Party is shrinking as a percentage of registered voters in California, particularly since 2016, with monthly registrations at between 12% – 16% GOP.

However, even with GOP registration currently at a 26% low-water mark, Republicans and the independents who regularly vote on the Republican side of the ballot turn out at higher rates and cast a long shadow on statewide primaries – especially in gubernatorial cycles.

One example of this polarization of Republican voters in California comes from new polling done by Capitol Weekly.

Historically, those voters who turn out for primaries are more partisan and come mostly from the far ends of the political spectrum. One data point comes from voters who have perfect voting records in General Elections since 2012, but who haven’t voted in any of the primaries, the so-called “general election only voters.”

Among partisan voters, 13% fit this pattern. But among independents, this nearly doubles to 24%.

Not only is independent turnout depressed in primaries, but those voters who are with a political party and consider themselves to be moderates are more likely to skip primary elections.

This can be particularly strong on the Republican side where the tighter ranks of the party and the changes since the election of Donald Trump have seemingly pushed those who still identify with the GOP further to the right.

One example of this polarization of Republican voters in California comes from new polling done by Capitol Weekly.

Looking at Californians from all parties who are likely to vote in the June Primary, President Donald Trump is extremely unpopular, with just a 35% favorable rating, and 12% viewing him very favorably.  His unfavorable rating is 65%, with 58% viewing him very unfavorably.

This is direct contrast to the roughly one-third of likely voters who say they “mostly” or “always” vote for Republican candidates.  Among these, Trump has a 92% favorability rating, with 67% viewing him very favorably. Among those who say they always vote Republican, the number jumps to 98% total favorability, 82% very favorable.

Asked their ideological leanings, 81% of this population considers themselves conservative, half of them “very conservative,” and this conservative leaning extends beyond President Trump to views on issues like abortion, healthcare and taxes.

On the issue of choice, two-thirds of those likely primary voters who cast ballots for Republicans are strongly pro-life.  In addition, the ethnic subgroups show even stronger pro-life positions among Republican-voting African Americans (85%) and Latinos and Asians (75%).

For decades the country has battled over issues of Abortion.  Where do you put yourself on the scale of Pro-Choice, meaning supporting the right to Abortion, and Pro-Life, meaning opposing abortion. (Asked among likely primary voters who always or mostly vote Republican)

Independents Republicans
Strong Pro Life 67% 67%
Pro Life 2% 3%
Pro Choice 4% 2%
Strong Pro Choice 27% 28%

While the state as a whole has been very supportive of preserving Obamacare, particularly the portions of the law that maintain rules around pre-existing conditions, these likely primary voters on the Republican side of the ticket are strongly in support of repeal.

The President and Congress have been working to repeal sections of the current national healthcare law, including requirements for pre-existing conditions.  Within this debate are you more supportive of maintaining / fixing the current structure, or repealing it? (Asked among likely Primary voters who always or mostly vote Republican)

Independents Republicans
Strong Repeal 93% 95%
Repeal 2% 1%
Strong Support Obamacare 1% 3%
Support Obamacare 4% 1%

Taxation is an issue where Independent voters who vote for Republican candidates are actually more fiscally conservative than Republican registrants.

State and local taxes are often increased to provide more services.  In general, do you support a higher tax system with more services, or a lower tax system with fewer services?  (Asked among likely Primary voters who always or mostly vote Republican)

Independents Republicans
Strong Lower Taxes / Fewer Services 77% 68%
Lower Taxes / Fewer Services 19% 29%
Higher Taxes / More Services 4% 3%
Strong Higher Taxes / More Services 0% 1%

On voting issues, meaning those that are most strongly considered when actually supporting a candidate or issue, these voters are also strongly conservative, with 59% stating reducing taxes as the most important issue among this set, followed by abortion at 30%.

Some might expect immigration to be a driving issue with these voters – and clearly they have strong views – but in terms of voting in the upcoming gubernatorial election, immigration comes in behind balancing state budgets, standing up to special interests and fixing California schools.

The only evidence of some moderation of viewpoints within this set of voters would be on social issues where 37% identify as moderate and 52% conservative “on social Issues like gay marriage” compared to just 12% identifying as moderate and 87% conservative “on fiscal issues such as taxes and spending.”

Media consumption might also be reinforcing these conservative views, with 63% stating that they watch Fox News as their primary source of political news, followed by 14% combined for ABC, CBS and NBC, and less than 1% saying they watch CNN, CNBC or MSNBC.

So, while the state is seemingly moving to the left, don’t be surprised by the push to the right by Republican candidates who are attempting to capture their support of these relatively high turnout and very conservative voters.  Even if that means trying to tout their support for Donald Trump on a debate stage in San Francisco.

Ed’s Note: Paul Mitchell, a regular contributor to Capitol Weekly, is the creator of the CA120 column, vice president of Political Data and owner of Redistricting Partners, a political strategy firm. 

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