The latest Field Poll finds businessman Donald Trump leading Texas Senator Ted Cruz by seven points among likely voters in this state’s Republican presidential primary. Trump is currently the choice of 39% of this state’s likely GOP voters, while 32% support Cruz. Ohio Governor John Kasich trails in third at 18%, while 11% are undecided or intend to vote for someone else.
The poll finds support for Trump and Cruz varying widely across major regions of the state. This is significant since 159 of California’s 172 delegates to the Republican National Convention will be determined by who wins the most votes within each of the state’s 53 congressional districts. While the poll cannot estimate who is leading within each congressional district, it does show that Trump is leading in two regions, while Cruz leads in two others. Should these regional differences persist, it would dilute the delegate advantages accrued by the winner of the June 7 California primary.
Nearly four in ten California Republicans (38%) say they would be dissatisfied or upset were Trump to become their party’s nominee, and nearly as many (34%) say this about Cruz.
Complete details of the survey, including graphics and methodology, is available here.
Another noteworthy feature of the poll is that many of Trump’s current supporters in this state are the same voters who also backed another political outsider, Arnold Schwarzenegger, during his successful campaign for governor in California’s historic 2003 recall election. Voters who say they voted for Schwarzenegger in 2003 prefer Trump over Cruz nearly three to one.
The contentiousness of this year’s Republican presidential campaign has created deep divisions within the state’s GOP rank-and-file. According to the poll, nearly four in ten California Republicans (38%) say they would be dissatisfied or upset were Trump to become their party’s nominee, and nearly as many (34%) say this about Cruz.
This divisiveness is also on display when GOP voters are asked what their party should do if Trump, who has led his Republican rivals in delegates throughout the campaign, fails to achieve the majority needed to capture the nomination at the GOP convention on the first ballot. Were this to happen, about half of the state’s Republicans (52%) feel their party should award the nomination to Trump, while 48% would support nominating someone else or give a qualified answer.
The poll finds a significant “gender gap” in GOP voter preferences, with Trump leading Cruz among men by seventeen points and Cruz preferred over Trump among women by four points.
The poll also finds Democrat Hillary Clinton with a large 28-point advantage over Trump, and a 23- point lead over Cruz, in general election trial heats among the overall California electorate.
Trump leads GOP primary statewide by seven, but support varies significantly by region
At present, 39% of likely GOP voters in California are supporting Trump, 32% back Cruz, and 18% favor Kasich. However, there are wide differences in preferences among Republican voters across major regions of the state. The poll finds Trump holding the lead among likely GOP primary voters in two regions – the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, and those living in the nine-county Southern California region outside of Los Angeles County. Cruz is preferred over Trump among voters in Los Angeles County and those living in the state’s vast, but sparsely populated interior that includes the Central Valley and the Sierra mountain region. Support for Kasich is more evenly dispersed across the state, although he is somewhat more competitive among Republican voters in the San Francisco Bay Area than in other regions.
Preferences for Trump and Cruz vary across a wide range of other Republican subgroups
The poll finds a significant “gender gap” in GOP voter preferences, with Trump leading Cruz among men by seventeen points and Cruz preferred over Trump among women by four points. There are also big differences in support by age, with Cruz leading Trump by nine points among GOP voters under age 50 and Trump comfortably ahead among seniors age 65 or older. Trump also bests Cruz by eight points among white non-Hispanics, while Latino Republicans favor Cruz over Trump by three points. GOP voters with no more than a high school education are backing Trump over Cruz, while Republicans with a post graduate education are dividing their preferences among Trump, Cruz and Kasich.
Another significant difference between the Republican voters now backing Trump and those backing Cruz relates to how they reported voting in California’s historic 2003 gubernatorial recall election, in which political outsider Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected. Republican voters who say they backed Schwarzenegger in 2003 support Trump over Cruz nearly three to one (54% to 21%). By contrast, California Republicans who say they backed another candidate in the recall election are supporting Cruz over Trump 46% to 27%.
Many Republicans would be upset or dissatisfied with Trump or Cruz as the GOP nominee
The poll also asked GOP voters how they would feel if either Trump or Cruz were to become their party’s nominee for president. The results indicate that relatively large proportions of this state’s Republicans – greater than one in three – would not be satisfied in either case. Were Trump to win the nomination 58% of GOP voters say they would be enthusiastic or satisfied with him as the Republican nominee, but 38% would be upset or dissatisfied. If Cruz were to become the GOP nominee, 61% would be enthusiastic or satisfied and 34% would be upset or dissatisfied.
Current GOP voter enthusiasm for Cruz as their party’s nominee has declined since January, when The Field Poll found 74% of the state’s Republicans saying they would be satisfied or enthusiastic with him as their standard-bearer, and just 21% who said they would be dissatisfied or upset.
What the GOP should do if Trump has the most delegates, but fails to win the majority needed to win nomination at the convention on the first ballot
This year’s unusually contentious Republican primaries and caucuses will reach a climax on June 7, when California and four other states hold their presidential primaries. But as that day approaches, the possibility exists that Trump, who has led his Republican rivals in delegates throughout the campaign, will fail to achieve the majority needed to capture the presidential nomination at the GOP convention on the first ballot.
When asked what the GOP should do if this were to happen, Republican voters are again divided. About half (52%) feel the party should award the nomination to Trump if he were to have the most delegates but was short of the majority needed for nomination on the first ballot. However, 48% feel otherwise, with 36% saying the party should choose someone other than Trump as their nominee and 12% offering a qualified response.
Nearly all of Trump’s supporters (89%) feel the party should award him the nomination if he has the most delegates going to the convention. However, among Republicans not backing Trump, only small proportions feel this way.
Likely GOP primary voters view both Trump and Cruz more favorably than unfavorably, but by relatively narrow margins
When likely voters in the state’s Republican primary are asked to give their overall impressions of the two leading GOP presidential contenders, more voters say they hold positive than negative impressions of each, but by relatively narrow five-to-four margins. When asked about Trump, 53% of the state’s likely GOP primary voters view him favorably, while 43% hold an unfavorable opinion. Voter ratings of Cruz are only slightly more positive – 54% favorable and 39% unfavorable.
Republican primary voter assessments of Trump have not changed much since January. However, the impressions that California Republicans have of Cruz have declined over this same period.
Both Trump and Cruz are viewed very negatively by the state’s overall electorate
While likely GOP primary voters view both Trump and Cruz more positively than negatively, both Republican contenders receive highly unfavorable appraisals among the state’s overall voting electorate. When asked their opinions of Trump, three in four voters statewide (74%) report holding an unfavorable view, while just 22% have a positive impression. When asked to assess Cruz, 64% rate him negatively and 25% positively. These very negative assessments prevail across all major regional, demographic and political subgroups of the overall California electorate other than Republicans and strong conservatives.
The poll finds that women, Latinos, voters under age 40 and residents of the San Francisco Bay Area have lower regard for Trump than Cruz.
Clinton holds big leads over Trump and Cruz in general election match-ups among the overall California electorate
If the GOP were to choose Trump or Cruz as their party’s presidential standard-bearer and the Democrats were to nominate former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Clinton would start the general election campaign with very large leads in California. When paired against Trump, 59% of the state’s overall voting electorate would support Clinton, while just 31% would back Trump. Against Cruz, Clinton’s lead is 55% to 32%.
While preferences are highly partisan, voters not affiliated with either major party prefer Clinton over both Trump and Cruz by wide margins.
Ed’s Note: The survey was conducted March 24 to April 4, 2016, among 1,400 registered voters in California, including 558 Republicans considered likely to vote in the state’s June Republican presidential primary election.