Two groups of California voters – women and Latinos – have powered the Democratic Party’s ascent here and delivered a near-death knell to the state’s Republican Party.
A USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll released last week showed that the prominence of those groups also explains why the two hottest candidates this year aren’t running away with the state.
Across the country, in the states contested so far, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have forwarded a similar message on the topic of the economy: that trade deals have decimated jobs in this country and that those making less money have been ignored as politicians have hewed to policies that benefit the rich and powerful.
The two candidates may disagree on nearly everything else, but their echoing economic messages have boosted them among blue-collar workers, those who haven’t attended college and those lower on the income scale, overlapping groups.
But in California, the USC/Times poll found, Sanders and Trump are not gaining a huge advantage from those voters, at least this far out from the June 7 primary.
When the poll looked at Democrats and independents eligible to vote in the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton won 45 per cent of those making less than $50,000 annually, and 46 per cent of those making $50,000 or more annually. Sanders carried 39 percent of those making less than $50,000 per year, and 38 percent of those making $50,000 or more.
Among Republicans, Trump won 38% in each income category. His main challenger, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, carried 28 per cent of those making less than $50,000 and 32 per cent of those making more. Ohio Gov. John Kasich, the third candidate still in the race, won 13 percent of both groups.
The distinction between who lower-income voters backed in other states and how they’re behaving in California derives from their makeup and political loyalties here.
Overall, whites make up just over half of voters making less than $50,000, but two-thirds of those making more than that. Latinos make up more than a third of those making less than $50,000, but only 16 per cent of those making more than that. Women, like Latinos, are disproportionately in the lower-income group.
In the Democratic primaries that have been held so far, Clinton has tended to corral richer and more educated voters, and Sanders has triumphed by huge margins among younger and lower-income voters. In California, she’s losing voters younger than 50 by 15 points, so that deficiency remains true.
But among blue-collar voters, she’s beating Sanders by 6 points because so many of those voters here are Latinos and women, two groups with which Clinton has relationships dating to her husband’s 1992 campaign.
Among Latinos making less than $50,000, for example, Clinton won, 55 per cent to 33 per cent. Wealthier Latinos were split between the candidates. (Their numbers are too small to measure separately, but lower-income African American and Asian American voters sided with Latinos; taken together, lower-income minority voters backed Clinton by 15 points while wealthier minority voters were split.)
Had the state’s working-class voters been mostly white, as they are in other states, the results would have been different. The poll found Clinton lost to Sanders by 12 points among white voters earning less than $50,000 annually.
“It’s yet another mark of the impact Latino voters are having on California politics,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.
The demographic makeup of California voters also influences their view on issues that the candidates use to plead their cases. One of the issues with which Trump has successfully attracted blue-collar voters is illegal immigration. But voters here – even white ones – are less open to Trump’s message than are voters elsewhere.
Six in 10 white voters, regardless of income, disapprove of Trump’s positions on illegal immigration, which include deporting 11 million people currently in the country and erecting a giant wall to limit future travel over the Mexican border. And 6 in 10 white voters, regardless of income, favor a path to citizenship for those in the country illegally – a position opposed by the three remaining Republican candidates.
Though white voters are not as emphatically against Trump’s views or in favor of citizenship as minority voters, the numbers suggest that familiarity with the issue and the Californians influenced by it have altered their views. All told, 22% of those making under $50,000 annually said they had a “very close” relationship with someone in the country illegally, well above the 13 per cent of richer voters who said that.
“Whether you are Latino or Latina yourself or spend a lot of time with people from other ethnic backgrounds, you are exposed to this issue in a much different way in California than people who live in a more homogenous community,” Schnur said.
One of the biggest problems for Republicans seeking to expand their ranks in California has been the strongly anti-illegal immigration message put out by national Republican figures, including, this year, Trump and Cruz. The broad support here for a path to citizenship suggests the difficulties that remain for any Republican seeking a foothold in this diverse state.