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Our next president will inherit an extremely polarized electorate, California poll finds

In California, there’s at least one thing that Hillary Clinton supporters and Donald Trump supporters can agree on: If their candidate loses on election day, they want the victor put under a microscope by Congress.

The simmering hostility and hyperpolarized electorate may, at the very least, provide cover to politicians who continue with the partisan bickering and Washington gridlock that has frustrated voters for years.

A new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll asked likely California voters backing Clinton and Trump if they wanted their member of Congress to “work with” or “act as a check and balance” on the newly elected president if their candidate loses on Tuesday.

Among Clinton supporters, 72% wanted their representative to act as a check and balance on Trump. Only 18% wanted the representative to work with the Republican in the case he wins.

Among Trump supporters, 80% wanted their member of Congress to do the same with Clinton. Just 14% opted for working with the Democrat should she become president.

“The polarization is so extreme, I don’t know if it can get worse,” said Anna Greenberg, the Democratic pollster whose firm forms half of the bipartisan team that produced the survey for USC and The Times.

“Everybody believes it’s important to compromise, but they don’t want their side to,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. “Regardless of the outcome, it’s pretty clear that if the opposition party wants to be obstructionist, they’re going to have the overwhelming support of their own followers.”

The poll also found 69% of California’s voters had an unfavorable impression of Trump, while 28% saw the New York billionaire in a favorable light. For Clinton, 42% of voters had an unfavorable impression of the former secretary of State, compared with 56% favorable.

While most California voters don’t care much for Congress as a whole (71% disapprove), they do give their own representatives relatively good marks.

Mirroring national trends, the survey found 43% of likely voters approved of the job their member of Congress was doing in Washington, compared with 25% who disapproved. A greater percentage of Democrats favor their representative than Republicans and independents do, which is not surprising in a state where 39 of the 53 House lawmakers are Democrats.

Regardless of who wins the White House, the next president will enter office with the highest unfavorability rating in recent history, said pollster Randy Gutermuth of the Republican polling firm American Viewpoint, the other half of the team that conducted the survey.

Democratic attorney Bryan Caforio, who is challenging Rep. Steve Knight (R-Lancaster), hasn’t hesitated to cast Trump as a political boogeyman in their hotly contested race for California’s 25th Congressional District.

“If Donald Trump is continuing to put forward the hateful, divisive policies; the bullying behavior; the misogynistic, racist, bigoted conduct that’s he’s done this far, I’m not going to let that stand,” Caforio said after a campaign rally in Santa Clarita last week. “Because he’s not going to insult the people who live in our community, and they’re going to have a representative who is going to stand up to him and his hateful positions.”

Retired aerospace worker Dennis Ray of Lancaster, who lives in that congressional district, is just as worried about Clinton.

Ray, a 72-year-old Republican who took part in the USC/Times survey, said Clinton has a long history of being deceitful and evasive. Her decision to use a private server for her emails while secretary of State put the country at risk by giving hackers an opportunity to tap into classified information, he said.

“She’s a liar,” Ray said. “If I did what she did, I’d be in jail.”

Up north in Marin County, fellow Republican Michael Biber said despite Clinton’s faults, she would be a much better president. Trump, he said, would be dangerous. 

“He’s a nincompoop. I’m astonished that someone as ignorant and callous and tasteless as Trump could win the Republican nomination,” said Biber, 67, a retired government affairs executive from Greenbrae who also took part in the poll.

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During the primary, Biber supported Ohio’s Republican Gov. John Kasich.

Biber said he’s currently building a vacation home in Costa Rica.

“If Trump is elected, I will lobby my two college-age kids to come to Costa Rica and live with us,” he said.

Hardcore Clinton supporter and Democrat Martha Hassenplug had a different perspective. She didn’t take part in the poll but attended a rally for U.S. Senate candidate Kamala Harris in Santa Barbara on Tuesday and wasn’t shy about sharing her opinions.

She said she doesn’t like Trump. Not one bit. But the gridlock in Washington has to end, and both parties need to set aside their differences and put the country before politics.

“We have to work together,” Hassenplug said. “I don’t care if we elect a monkey with four heads.”

phil.willon@latimes.com

Twitter: @philwillon 

 

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