With the midterm elections a few days away, gun safety is top of mind for California voters, according to a new poll by Stanford scholars.

The poll, administered by the survey research firm YouGov and designed in conjunction with Stanford University’s Bill Lane Center for the American West, asked a sample of 2,178 registered voters in California their thoughts on defining issues in the coming election. There is a margin of error in the results of plus or minus 3.1 percent.

Bruce Cain

Bruce Cain, director of Stanford’s Bill Lane Center for the American West, sees great interest in Tuesday’s election, judging from a new poll of California voters. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

When asked what policies would determine their vote, the most frequently stated issue that they said would sway them is a ban on assault weapons: 58 percent of voters said this was very important to them and 55 percent said raising the minimum age to buy guns to 21 was pivotal.

Registered voters were also asked what they considered the three most important problems facing California today. In the top three were immigration at 42 percent, health care at 40 percent and education at 36 percent. However, when it came to what they perceived as the number one issue, only about one in four (23 percent) said immigration was the most critical.

When asked if they favor or oppose building a wall on the U.S.–Mexico border, 33 percent said they favored the proposal and 56 percent opposed the plan.

Impact of Supreme Court hearings

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, may face a backlash for her prominent role in the allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings, according to the scholars’ analysis.

“Possibly as a consequence of the publicity around it, the sexual harassment issue has become more salient to Californians,” said Bruce Cain, the Spence and Cleone Eccles Family Director of the Bill Lane Center. “This issue may have tightened California’s U.S. Senate race given Sen. Feinstein’s prominence in the Kavanaugh hearings.”

While 36 percent of respondents favored Feinstein, 29 percent indicated a preference for fellow Democrat Kevin de León. When broken down by gender and party affiliation, more Democratic men favor de León than Democratic women: 39 percent compared with 27 percent.

De León is also the preferred pick among Republicans: 27 percent favor him versus 15 percent for Feinstein.

“This is ironic given that Dianne Feinstein is the more moderate Democrat,” said Cain, who is also a Stanford political science professor in the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences.

“Possibly as a consequence of the publicity around it, the sexual harassment issue has become more salient to Californians.”

—Bruce Cain

Director, Bill Lane Center for the American West

“By the logic of the top two primary system, Republicans should prefer her to a more liberal alternative.”

Cain believes that the party divide can partly be explained by how the public perceives the #MeToo movement, the campaign against sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Asked if they believed the movement has increased or reduced gender inequality, 28 percent said it has reduced it, 26 percent said it has increased it and 28 percent said it has had no effect. On the question of whether or not they thought the movement treated men fairly or unfairly, one in three believed unfairly and 39 percent believed fairly.

Here too, party seemed to dominate on this topic, Cain said.

When broken down by party and gender affiliation, only 11 percent of both Democratic men and women thought that the #MeToo movement treated men unfairly versus 76 percent of Republican men and 68 percent of Republican women.

Cain said this could be a reason that explains Republican support for de León.

“When you factor in the Republican backlash to the Kavanaugh hearings and her central role in the last-minute revelation of the assault allegations, the likely connection to a loss of voters is quite plausible,” Cain said.

Compare that with the vote for governor, said Cain. One in three registered voters said that they will definitely vote for the Democratic candidate and current Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and 26 percent indicated they probably would. Twenty-one percent said that they would probably or definitely vote for the Republican, businessman John Cox.

Emotions running high

Many Californians – 56 percent – said they felt more enthusiastic about voting in Tuesday’s election than in previous campaigns, while 12 percent said they felt less enthusiastic.

Survey respondents  also said they are planning to vote this election: 83 percent said they definitely will cast their ballot and 9 percent said they probably would vote.

“The intensity of feeling about this midterm election may stem in part from voter reactions to the daily news,” said Cain, who also surveyed respondents about their feelings about news coverage.

When asked how often they hear or read something in the news that makes them angry, 45 percent said a few times a day and 29 percent said once a day. The researchers found that the frequency of anger at the news was higher among white than nonwhite voters, especially white women: 55 percent stated a few times a day and 27 percent once a day.

“This is despite the fact that nonwhites were more likely than whites to think that economic conditions were getting worse, that the country was headed in the wrong direction and disapprove of Trump,” said Cain about their findings.

Other races

Meanwhile, in the race for California lieutenant governor, Democrat Eleni Kounalakis, a businesswoman and former U.S. ambassador to Hungary, leads California Democratic state Assemblyman Ed Hernández 32 percent to 19 percent, but with 28 percent undecided and another 22 percent preferring neither of them, the researchers report.

When Californians were asked if they will vote on Proposition 6, the measure that will repeal the 2017 increase in the gas tax and other fuel and car fees designated for road repairs and public transportation, 34 percent said they plan to vote yes, 47 percent said no and 19 percent remain unsure. Proposition 10, the measure that would expand government’s authority to enact rent control on residential property, has 33 percent of people voting in favor, 42 percent against and 25 percent who don’t know.

Cain conducted the poll with Iris Hui, a senior researcher at the Bill Lane Center. Also advising the Lane Center on survey content were Hoover Institution senior fellow and Stanford political scientist David Brady; 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.

Media Contacts

Iris Hui, Bill Lane Center for the American West: irishui@stanford.edu

Melissa De Witte, Stanford News Service: (650) 725-9281, mdewitte@stanford.edu