Poll Analysis: Gore and Bush to the Finish Line

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     With Super Tuesday looming less than a week away, all candidates are hungrily eyeing California as their prize, with John McCain and George W. Bush--who are battling out their party's nomination--particularly eager to claim a California victory.
     In 1998, California had its first open or "blanket" primary, meaning that voters could vote for any candidate, regardless of their own party registration. However, because both national parties explicitly prohibit the selection of delegates in a blanket primary, California also passed a state law that requires that only the votes of party members will be used to choose that party's delegates. That means that all 162 of the precious winner-take-all delegates up for grabs on the Republican side will be decided solely by registered Republicans, rendering the Republican vote decisive in this open primary.
     California registered Republicans who are likely to vote come Tuesday are sending a clear message: They want George W. Bush to be their nominee.

Primary Match-Ups
     According to the latest Los Angeles Times poll among voters likely to vote in the upcoming California primary on March 7th, Gore wins both among Democrats and among all likely voters, and George W. Bush trounces John McCain by more than twenty percentage points among the critical Republican vote.
     Among all likely voters, the vote is:
     * 33% Gore
     * 26% Bush
     * 20% McCain
     * 7% Bradley
     * 4% Keyes

     By party, the vote breaks out as follows:
Among Democrats, Gore beats Bradley by 54% to 11%; among Republicans, Bush beats McCain by 47% to 26%. Alan Keyes receives 6% of the Republican vote. Ten percent of likely voters (9% of likely Democratic voters, 11% of likely Republican voters) were undecided at the time the poll was conducted.

Voter Demographics
     While Bush continues his strong lead among registered Republicans, McCain is maintaining a crossover vote of Democrats and independents. In fact, McCain is receiving more of the Democratic vote than Bill Bradley (14% to Bradley's 11%). However, these votes do not actually count for anything more than a so-called "beauty" contest, and will do nothing to propel McCain to the victory he needs in California.
     Additionally, with Democrats on the ballot, McCain loses a chunk of the moderate and independent vote (to Gore) that he so easily sustained in both Michigan and South Carolina:
     * 30% of self-identified moderates plan to vote for McCain (35% for Gore)
     * 29% of independents plan to vote for McCain (45% for Gore)
     But something else is happening in California: Where Republican voters in other states were sending mixed messages, favoring Bush for some issues and McCain for others, California Republicans are sending an unambiguous verdict: They like George W. Bush.
     In California, Bush continues his sweep of self-identified conservative Republican voters (who are almost three times as likely to be backing Bush over McCain), but he also overwhelmingly takes every demographic sector, including veterans and higher income households, which in other states were voting McCain.
     With no significant gender gap, Bush also wins among both Republican men and Republican women. Bay area voters are the only demographic group McCain wins among likely Republican voters.
     In terms of break-outs by race, the poll found good news for Democrats. Though blacks comprised a very small percentage of the likely voter sample, it is possible to characterize them as strong Gore supporters.
     Latino likely voters--the newest group of voters in the California electorate (15% are first-time voters) and the group most highly courted by every candidate (and especially Bush who is running ads in both English and Spanish)--are coming out in favor of Gore by more than two to one over Bush and by three to one over McCain.

Behind the Vote
     Bush and Gore voters are far more likely to be absolutely certain and steadfast in their vote:
     * 74% are certain they will vote for Gore (55% are certain they will vote for Bradley)
     * 73% are certain they will vote for Bush (58% McCain)
     Additionally, when asked if they would vote for their candidate in November should he win the nomination:
     * 89% of Gore voters said they would be very likely to do so (78% of Bradley voters)
     * 90% of Bush voters are very likely to vote for him in November should he get the nomination (78% of McCain voters)

Rating the Candidates
     Voters have favorable views of all the candidates--and especially McCain. The two underdogs in California are much less polarizing than the leading candidates, with sizeable groups of Republicans having a favorable opinion of Bradley (but not Gore) and with a majority of Democrats saying they have a favorable opinion of McCain (and two thirds viewing Bush unfavorably).
     Latinos in particular are likely to have unfavorable views of Bush (52%, as opposed to 44% of whites and 43% of blacks), despite his attempts at wooing this group.
     Black voters overwhelmingly have favorable impressions of Al Gore. Yet approximately one third report not having heard of Bill Bradley or John McCain. For Bradley in particular, this lack of awareness is bad news, as blacks are a core constituency of the Democratic vote.
     Voters were asked to pick which candidate would be best at handling a variety of areas. In every area except "bringing change to Washington"--including education, handling the budget surplus and foreign policy--likely California voters chose Al Gore.
     These results vary by party; among likely Democratic voters, Gore remains the choice (including for "bringing change to Washington") and among likely Republican voters, Bush is the choice in every area with the exception of bringing change to Washington.
     That voters think Bush would do the best job of handling foreign policy given McCain's background in this area is particularly daunting for the McCain camp. Republicans' vote for Bush on the use of the budget surplus is another blow to McCain, as these same voters overwhelmingly support the idea of using the surplus to go toward strengthening Social Security and Medicare, with a small portion used for a tax cut (McCain's proposal) as opposed to using most of it for a large tax cut (the Bush plan).

Other Issues
     The top five issues Californians would like to see the presidential candidates discuss are education, Medicare and Social Security, taxes, the economy and health care. Likely Democratic voters place the highest premium on education, while likely Republican voters cite taxes as their number one priority.
     As polls have found in other closely-watched states and states that have had primaries so far, voters overwhelmingly--by more than three to one--would like to see the budget surplus used to go toward strengthening Medicare and Social Security, and a small portion for a tax cut, as opposed to using most of it to go toward a large tax cut.
     Unlike the more conservative South Carolina, over half of all voters (56%) in California believe abortion should be legal, though 18% of this group think it should be legal most (but not all) of the time. Not surprisingly, these views are divided along party lines, with 66% of likely Democratic voters saying abortion should be legal (32% illegal) and 44% of likely Republicans saying abortion should be legal (52% illegal).
     When presented with the idea of voting via the internet, more than half of California likely voters believe it to be a bad idea (53%), and nearly six in ten say it is not something they would consider, given the option.
     And keeping with the theme of keeping politics and the internet separate, just 19% of likely voters are getting most or some of their information about politics from the internet; 81% are not getting much or any political information from the web.

How the Poll Was Conducted
     The Times Poll contacted 1,872 Californians registered to vote, including 1,053 voters likely to vote in the California primary on March 7th, by telephone February 23ˆ28. Among likely voters, 540 are Democrats and 409 are Republicans.
     Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the state. Random-digit dialing techniques (RDD) were used so that listed and unlisted numbers could be contacted. The sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education, region and the Secretary of State's figures for party registration.
     The margin of sampling error for likely voters is plus or minus 3 percentage points, for Democrats it is 4 points and for Republicans it is 5 points. For certain other subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher.
     An RDD oversample of 1,516 black and Latino residents yielded 619 Latino registered voters, including 245 Latino likely voters, and 124 registered black voters.
     Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. The survey was conducted in English and Spanish. Half of the interviewing of the Latino and black oversample was conducted by Interviewing Service of America, Inc.