Californians care less about the issues. They want a candidate who can beat Trump

President Trump speaks at the White House
As President Trump faces an impeachment inquiry, more likely voters in California’s Democratic primary say nominating a candidate who can defeat him is their top concern, a new poll finds.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

After all the debating, it might not matter much to Democratic voters where the presidential wannabes stand on healthcare or other issues. They’ll simply want the nominee who is most likely to send President Trump packing.

That’s especially true in California, according to a new statewide poll.

“There seems to be more of a sense of urgency to defeat Donald Trump than there was six months ago,” says Mark Baldassare, president and pollster of the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

“That’s where the impeachment hearings come in,” Baldassare says. “Trump is getting beat up. People are watching. And they’re trying to figure out which candidate is the most likely to defeat Trump.”


California will be out of play once Democrats select their nominee. The deep-blue state will vote Democratic again next November. Neither side will waste money or time on us, except to hit up rich campaign donors.

Demographics are an eye-glazer, but California’s historic shift has been a political game-changer. The state has turned from battleground purple to one-sided deep blue in 25 years.

But the March 3 presidential primary on Super Tuesday will be a vital contest for Democrats. Whether candidates campaign a lot here or focus on other contests that day, California will be offering a treasure trove of convention delegates — 21% of those needed to choose the party nominee.

And a candidate must be competitive to win anything in California. Without capturing at least 15% of the vote in a congressional district, a candidate can’t claim any of that district’s delegates.


Right now, California Sen. Kamala Harris is in danger of being shut out of pledged delegates in her home state. She doesn’t come close to the 15% threshold in any California region, based on the PPIC poll. In the San Francisco Bay Area, her political roots, she’s favored by only 9% of those surveyed.

Former Vice President Joe Biden and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren are in a virtual tie, with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders running third.

The PPIC results among likely Democratic primary voters, comprising Democrats and independents: Biden 24%; Warren 23%; Sanders 17%; Harris 8%; South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg 7%; entrepreneur Andrew Yang 5%. No other candidate pulled above 1%.

There was a gender gap: Men backed Biden and women favored Warren. There also was an age difference: Voters under 45 split between Warren and Sanders. Those 45 and older supported Biden.


Voters were asked what was most important to them: nominating a candidate whose positions on issues came closest to theirs, or someone who seemed most likely to beat Trump.

The result: 55% said their main interest was ousting Trump. Only 36% preferred a nominee who they mostly agreed with on issues.

That’s more anti-Trump than six months ago, when 48% of likely voters told PPIC they preferred a candidate who was most likely to win.


There was a significant generational difference in the latest poll: Voters under 45 were more idealistic and wanted an issues soulmate. Those 45 and over were pragmatic and overwhelmingly wanted to dump Trump.

“Democrats are leaning more and more toward deciding on someone who is going to be the most electable,” Baldassare says of Californians. “Older voters are asking, ‘How are we going to get this done?’”

President Obama warns Democratic presidential candidates veering too far to the left could alienate persuadable voters, a clear caution about Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

Their best bet for beating Trump seems to be the more moderate Biden, based on many other state and national polls, although various surveys also show liberals Warren and Sanders running ahead of the president.


The impeachment proceedings are adding fuel to the anti-Trump fire, Baldassare says.

Asked whether they think Trump should be “impeached and removed from office,” likely voters of all parties answered yes 53%, no 45%.

That’s significantly more support for impeachment than six months ago. In May, voters were asked a softer question: Should Congress even begin impeachment proceedings? Only 42% replied yes, and 54% said no.

Now, 83% of Democrats and 51% of independents want Trump impeached and removed from the White House. Republican voters have dug in and are still solidly pro-Trump: 87% oppose impeachment and his ouster.


“Republicans aren’t being realistic about the political situation right now,” says veteran Democratic consultant Bill Carrick, referring mainly to GOP politicians. “Their whole world is how do they stay on Trump’s good side.”

As public hearings on impeachment near, many Americans haven’t made up their minds, a USC/Los Angeles Times poll finds. They’re generally younger, less partisan and paying less attention.

He cites recent major Republican defeats in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Kentucky and Louisiana, where the president mocked the Democrats’ impeachment proceedings and unsuccessfully tried to turn them into a winning campaign issue.

“Trump and Republicans have been running around saying California is some sort of outlier unlike the rest of the country,” Carrick adds. “That’s just not true. Sometimes we’re more advanced along the political evolutionary trail.


“Like the old saying, ‘News travels east to west and ideas travel west to east.’ That’s still true. Maybe we’re more in touch with the rest of the country than Trump is.”

Tony Quinn, a longtime Republican political analyst who is an editor of the California Target Book, which handicaps congressional and legislative races, says:

“Impeachments are like fermenting wine. It takes a while. The public slowly comes to realize there was something fundamentally wrong that led to this drastic step even if they do not follow all the details.

“I believe the long-term effect of this impeachment will be a desire next year not to reelect Trump — if the Democrats provide a suitable alternative.”


Suitable means someone who’s the best bet to thump Trump.