For the GOP, California is a Deep Blue Hole

Cathleen Decker, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 19, 2010

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Strikingly, almost one in five California voters said they would never cast a ballot for a Republican. Among Latinos, that rose to almost one in three. Only 5% of California voters were as emphatically anti-Democrat.

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As those figures help illustrate, the GOP’s difficulties in California rest on two overlapping conflicts, ideological and demographic. The party’s conservative primary voters determine nominees, even if their views are often opposite those of the far more moderate general election audience. And the party’s white and conservative voter base is increasingly giving way to the state’s non-white and nonpartisan population.

The political dilemma played itself out in dramatic fashion this year. Fiorina campaigned from the start as a staunch conservative. Whitman took a more moderate line on issues such as abortion rights and the environment. Fiorina skated through the primaries, her views largely in line with party activists. Whitman, however, was pulled to the right on immigration by her opponent in the primary, Steve Poizner, a move that foreshadowed continued difficulties with the issue. In the end, both were dispatched by general election voters.

Both ended the election season with firmly negative impressions among California voters. Only 31% had a favorable view of either candidate. While 44% had an unfavorable view of Fiorina, Whitman suffered an even more forceful rebuke, with 57% thinking ill of her. Among Latino voters, who were key to November’s results, 71% disliked her.

Marjorie Smallwood, a Democrat from Palo Alto who was among the poll respondents, illustrates the difficulty that GOP candidates face in the state. The only Republican she’s been tempted to vote for recently, she said, was Senate candidate Tom Campbell, who lost in the primary after a barrage of criticism that he was not conservative enough.

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The range of responses on immigration put voters at a distance from typical GOP candidates, most recently Whitman and Fiorina.

By a 41-point margin, voters supported reducing the time needed to immigrate for those who have relatives in the United States. By a 56-point margin, California voters backed a measure that would award citizenship to those who complete college or serve in the military. By a 19-point margin, they endorsed an immigration reform plan that would allow citizenship for those who fulfill specific requirements like paying a fine.

In all cases, those views were held more strongly by Latino voters. They supported comprehensive reform by a 58 point margin. They also opposed, by a lopsided 58% to 35%, banning illegal immigrants from emergency room treatment or public schools. Among all voters, that question drew the narrowest result, with 49% opposing restrictions to 44% supporting them.

Californians also brushed aside much of the GOP’s underlying philosophy.

When asked whether government regulation of businesses protected the public or caused more harm than good, Californians defended regulation by a 15-point margin. When asked whether government protection of minorities was important or fostered societal divisions, government protection won, 52% to 35%. When asked whether government should help the poor, or whether that encouraged dependence, Californians backed government help, 49% to 39%.

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Though political views can change over time, the configuration of California’s politics align well for the reelection chances here for President Obama. By 54% to 41%, most approve of the way he is doing his job. He retains even stronger personal popularity: 61% think well of him as opposed to 36% who do not.

Republicans nationally have sought to undercut Latino support for Obama, but that effort has foundered in California. Sixty-eight percent of Latinos support his actions as president, and a startling 79% have a good impression of him. His positive numbers among younger voters and decline-to-state voters were similarly higher than among voters overall.

“California is a diverse state, and this survey . . . underscores the price Republicans pay for seeming to not [be] welcoming the next wave of immigrants,” said Democratic pollster Greenberg.

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