Yesterday a statewide survey of registered Republicans in California showed Donald Trump leading Ted Cruz by 37-to-30 percent, with John Kasich at 12 percent. But among likely Republican voters, the numbers were Trump 36 percent, Cruz 35, and Kasich 14.
What does this Los Angeles Times survey tell us?
It’s true that the Times poll, done in cooperation with the University of Southern California, has received mixed reviews in the past. But these numbers are more than plausible. This survey was conducted over eight days ending March 23. Consider another survey, conducted by the Public Policy Research Institute, that ended just before the Times/USC survey started. That survey showed Trump 38 percent, Cruz 19, and Kasich 12 but also had included Marco Rubio at 12 percent, and others had polled 10 percent.
We can infer that as the race has narrowed, and Trump has continued his self-destructive personal outbursts, his support, at least for now in California, has peaked. My own recent data, not statewide, suggests that if the California primary were today, Trump indeed wins; but with a somewhat limited turnout, his lead over Cruz is only a couple of points, and Kasich not far behind. If the turnout were still lower, that is, typical of recent presidential primaries (and that’s unlikely), Cruz and Trump are tied, with Kasich very close.
My own data found that Trump’s personal attack on Heidi Cruz hurt him, at least for the short-term. We can’t predict what Trump will do, but consequences are cumulative. If he continues in self-destructive mode, he could reach a breaking point in California.
Here’s what we know about the Republican presidential primary in California.
- Republicans in California follow the national news. If Trump continues to act out, the impact could be felt weeks before election day, because many Republicans vote by mail, and they will be targeted by congressional district, as explained below.
- California will supply 172 delegates in Cleveland, that’s 14 percent of the 1237 needed to win. Beyond the mathematical impact, the winner here will have a psychological effect on “who should be the nominee” at a contested convention. It’s ironic because it’s highly unlikely any Republican could win here in November.
- California has an open-primary for Congress and the state legislature, but the Republican presidential primary is only for registered Republicans. Unlike in some other states, alienated Democrats or independent voters cannot vote for Trump unless they re-register.
- Expect Trump to campaign with giant rallies in Orange County, San Diego, Fresno, and in the Sacramento area, and possibly other areas to demonstrate momentum. If the state’s Democratic Party hacks publicly attack Trump and leftists disrupt his rallies, Trump’s base will be energized.
- The state is not a winner-take-all primary but approximates it. The winner in each of the state’s 53 congressional districts gets 3 delegates (a potential159). The candidate who receives the most statewide votes gets 10 bonus delegates and 3 more – the party chair, national committeeman and national committeewoman.
- Of California’s 53 congressional districts, Democrats hold 39 and Republicans hold 14. Cruz could do well among Republicans in the evangelical Inland Empire and in the Central Valley. However, voting in many districts could reflect a statewide trend, unless there is competent targeting, vote-by-mail, and get-out-the-vote by congressional district.
- A candidate or SuperPAC can deploy volunteers and mail in non-Republican districts, most cost-effectively. For example, Democrat Xavier Becerra represents the 34th Congressional District in Los Angeles, it is 9 percent white and has 29,494 registered Republicans, with a history of lower voter turnout. In contrast, Tom McClintock, who endorsed Ted Cruz, represents the 4th Congressional district in Northern California, which is 78 percent white and has 177,512 registered Republicans, with a higher turnout history, thus at least six times more costly to reach by mail.
- Right now, two Trump backers –- Ben Carson and Chris Christie, and two Cruz backers — Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina, have until Friday (April 1) to remove their name from the ballot. Otherwise, a confused electorate may vote for one of them, which is likely to help Trump.
- Trump’s “lyin Ted” narrative and the Cruz replies-in-kind have poisoned the well in California. Roughly four in ten Republicans currently have a negative view of both men. The Cruz persona as a “constitutional conservative” is not cutting it.
- With Kasich gaining in California, he’s unlikely to suspend his campaign. If he had money, he could be a contender.