New poll by Stanford scholars shows that women and independent voters will be critical in the midterm elections

A new poll of California voters by Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West shows that despite its reputation as a liberal state, the California political profile is mixed and diverse. Appealing to female voters and appealing to independents are pivotal this election season.

With California’s June 5 primary only a few days away, a new poll by Stanford scholars shows that the gender and ideological profile of chosen candidates will be critical in determining which party will hold the majority of the U.S. House of Representatives in November.

The poll, administered by the survey research firm YouGov and designed in conjunction with Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West, found that a possible gender dividend could swing the election.

hand putting a ballot in ballot box with California flag in background

A week before California’s June 5 primary, a new poll of California voters by Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West shows that appealing to female voters and independents will be pivotal this election season. (Image credit: Niyazz / Shutterstock)

“If the Democrats want to retake the House of Representatives, their ability to win over Republican seats will depend on attracting women and independents,” said Bruce Cain, the Spence and Cleone Eccles Family Director of the Bill Lane Center.

“The Republicans will need to retain these voters by emphasizing the strength of the economy, the repeal of the gas tax and reminding voters of the costs associated with programs like single-payer health care and high-speed rail,” Cain said.

Cain, who is also a Stanford political science professor in the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences, joined with Iris Hui, a senior researcher at the Bill Lane Center, conducted a pre-election poll of 1113 California adults between May 12 and 24, 2018. There is a margin of error in the results of plus or minus 4 percent. Also advising the Lane Center on survey content were Hoover Institution senior fellow and Stanford political scientist David Brady and Doug Rivers, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a professor of political science and Bill Whalen, a Hoover research fellow who studies California politics.

The poll revealed that 78 percent of Californians think it is important to some degree to elect more women to office. In addition, 69 percent strongly favored equal pay for women.

“The gender and ideological profile of the candidates chosen on June 5 will be critical,” said Cain about the upcoming election.

“The critical question is whether we will see in California as in other states a gender dividend – i.e., a lean by voters towards female candidates in the context of the current controversies over persistent sexual harassment and sexual discrimination towards women,” said Cain.

The poll also posed a number of questions about harassment and gender issues. Forty-one percent of female respondents reported yes to the question, “Have you ever personally experienced sexual harassment?” Of the respondents who answered yes, 73 percent reported it occurred in the workplace.

Cain and Hui also noted that voters appear to be leaning toward female candidates.

The poll shows two female candidates leading in the ticket races. Dianne Feinstein, who has served as a senator for California since 1992, currently leads with 35 percent. Only 9 percent expressed support for Kevin De Leon, the other Democrat in the senate race. For Lt Governor, Eleni Kounalakis has a five-point lead over Ed Fernandez (14 percent versus 9 percent).

Debunking the Californian liberal stereotype

Despite California’s liberal reputation, just 39 percent consider themselves a Democrat and almost one in four identify as independent (24 percent). 16 percent report being Republican and 15 percent are unsure.

This political diversity is reflected in the research: Cain and Hui found that Californians have mixed attitudes.

“Californians continue their pattern of being more conservative on fiscal issues and more liberal on social and environmental policies,” said Cain, who also surveyed Californians about how they felt toward the 2017 tax reform bill – known formerly as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

Cain and Hui found that none of the tax reform bill features garnered either majority support or opposition. In fact, one in three Californians were unsure of their opinion.

“Like a lot of people, I expected that Californians would be more resentful of how the tax reform bill limited their federal mortgage and state and local tax deductions,” said Cain. “But the reactions to the bill appear to be more muted and mixed.”

Key features of the tax reform bill included changes to the income thresholds at which tax rates apply, specifically lowering tax rates for many. When the bill was passed, it was unsure how this cut would unfold  Cain and Hui found that only 28 percent of respondents say they saw an increase in their family’s take-home pay.

Respondents also favor repealing the recently passed gas tax increase of 12 cents (42 percent to 22 percent) and enthusiasm for this issue could help bring Republicans to the polls when it appears on the fall ballot, said Cain.

The poll also showed that 35 percent of respondents think that the economy is one of the most important problems facing California today. Despite California’s new ranking as the world’s fifth largest economy, almost 1 in 3 Californians believe that the economy overall is getting worse (29 percent).

Other highlights

The poll also found:

  • It has been suggested that Republican turnout in the November midterms could be hindered if they are shut out of the November ballot by the top two rules. However, while both Republicans John Cox (14 percent) and Travis Allen (12 percent) trail Gavin Newsom (30 percent), both have leads over John Chiang (9 percent), Delaine Eastin (4 percent) and Antonio Villaraigosa (8 percent). Similarly, in the U.S. Senate race, Republican candidate Roque De La Fuente (21 percent) appears to be in a strong position to finish second.
  • The Lane Center survey asked Californians which of four prominent state Democrats they’d prefer as a presidential nominee. Sen. Kamala Harris received 19 percent support (including 34 percent of Democrats who responded), followed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (10 percent), Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (5 percent) and political activist Tom Steyer (3 percent). 31 percent of respondents answered “none of the above”.
  • California Republicans give U.S. President Donald Trump a 77 percent approval rating, and 71 percent support him running again in 2020. His approval rating among California Democrats are 8 percent and with Independents, 31 percent.
  • One in three Californian adults reported enthusiasm about building the proposed U.S./Mexico border wall, and one in five said that immigration was the most important issue facing California today.
  • Two-thirds of Californian adults want to make 21 the minimum age for owning a gun and 59 percent want to ban assault weapons.