Thursday, June 20, 2024

Column: Californians are in a sour mood, which should be good news for Republicans. It’s not

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SACRAMENTO — 

Californians don’t like the direction their state and the nation are headed. But they like the Democratic leaders who are in charge: Gov. Gavin Newsom and President Biden. Does that make sense?

Look, if you don’t like the way things are going, wouldn’t you want someone else at the helm? Maybe try out a Republican for a change?

It seems ironic. But it makes perfect sense.

For most Californians, a Republican alternative is simply unacceptable on its face.

“They’ll live with all the homelessness — they’d rather live with that than vote Republican. That’s how bad the Republican brand is,” says Mike Madrid, a veteran GOP strategist who has been critical of the party for not doing enough to attract Latinos.

“Polls show voters are not happy. They’re concerned about crime. Homelessness is off the charts. But they’re still not voting for Republicans.”

California’s governor and every other elected statewide officeholder is a Democrat and has been for 12 years. Democrats hold supermajority control of both legislative houses. They occupy both U.S. Senate seats and dominate California’s U.S. House delegation, 40-12.

Mayors are officially nonpartisan, but eight of them in California’s 10 largest cities are Democrats. The two Republican exceptions are in the San Joaquin Valley: Fresno and Bakersfield.

“It’s a matter of the alternative for Democrats,” says Mark Baldassare, lead pollster for the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

“This is the definition of polarization. It’s not so much that voters like their party. They just don’t like the other party. And they’re not going to change their minds about who they support …

“That’s the context for the ‘24 election, like it or not.”

Polarization means Republicans don’t have a prayer in statewide races. Democrats outnumber them nearly 2 to 1. There are almost as many independents — No Party Preference — as Republicans, and they lean toward Democratic candidates.

The PPIC recently published a statewide poll that found lots of voter negativity about California and the nation.

California is headed in “the wrong direction,” according to 54% of likely voters surveyed. Democrats disagree — 69% thinking the state is going in the right direction. But 92% of Republicans and 63% of independents answered “wrong direction.”

Yet, 56% of voters statewide approve of how Newsom is handling his job — especially Democrats, but also independents.

Voters are much more grumpy about the country’s direction, with 72% saying it’s on the wrong track.

But 53% approve of Biden’s job performance. And voters overwhelmingly favor Biden over former President Trump in a hypothetical 2024 presidential race, 57% to 26%.

Voters are especially cranky about Congress, with 81% disapproving of its performance.

The voters’ bad mood is “tied to the economy,” Baldassare says. “It’s not that people are worried about their jobs so much. They’re worried about their standard of living. How do they calibrate the prices of things, big and small. There’s a lot of anxiety about inflation.”

Voters consider the economy the No. 1 issue facing California, the poll showed.

A large majority — especially Republicans — expect bad times in the next 12 months. And 72% feel less comfortable about making a major purchase — like a car or a home — than they did six months ago.

Homelessness and housing costs rank No. 2 and 3 on the voters’ list of most important state issues.

But they’re also pessimistic about other things.

About 6 in 10 are dissatisfied “with the way democracy is working” in the country. Voters of all political persuasions feel that way.

And they overwhelmingly believe — nearly 9 in 10 — that there is a mental health crisis in the U.S.

Two things that hurt the GOP in California are the party’s hard stands on immigration and abortion. Republican voters have starkly different views than Democrats or independents.

Two-thirds of likely voters — and overwhelmingly Democrats and independents — believe that immigration is a “good thing for the country.” But not Republicans: 6 in 10 think it’s a bad thing.

One sore point for Californians is the showboating of Texas’ and Florida’s governors transporting hundreds of undocumented immigrants out here and dumping them on our streets. More than three-quarters of voters disapprove, including 63% of Republicans.

Could that hurt Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis if he competes against Trump in California’s March presidential primary?

“I think so,” Baldassare says. “It doesn’t seem to be something that creates a positive feeling among Republicans in this state.”

On abortion, 92% of Democrats and 76% of independents disapprove of the Supreme Court’s ruling last year that ended a woman’s constitutional right to end her pregnancy anywhere in America. But 65% of Republicans approve the decision, which has hurt GOP candidates in many states.

In California, the GOP refuses to move toward the center and adapt to most voters’ views. So they’re not put in charge.

Veteran Democratic strategist Darry Sragow believes there are more reasons for the voters’ crappy mood than the usual suspects — the economy, homelessness, taxes and the like.

“I’m very deeply concerned that our elected officials are fiddling while the place burns down. Politicians are stuck on things that don’t matter to voters,” says Sragow, who publishes the California Target Book, which chronicles election races.

“What’s underlying the frustration and anger is very simple. The entire world is changing at whiplash-inducing speed. There’s a cataclysmic change in how we live our daily lives. Technological innovations change the employment market, where we work, how we transport ourselves, how we shop …

“Voters simply don’t see anyone in public life who is articulating a credible way for us collectively to manage through it.”

Someone taking us in the right direction.

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