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Trump’s base starting to erode, new poll shows

President Trump returns to the White House on Saturday after a trip to his golf resort in Virginia.
(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)

President Trump’s support among Republicans and other conservative voters has begun to erode amid the continued coronavirus pandemic and its associated economic havoc, a new poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies shows.

The poll shows Trump far behind Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in California. That’s no surprise — even at his strongest Trump was unlikely ever to be competitive in California, a heavily Democratic state.

What is notable, however, is the size of the gap and the degree to which approval of Trump’s work as president has declined among groups that until now have supported him.

Biden leads Trump in California by 39 percentage points, 67% to 28%, the poll found. That’s 9 points larger than the margin by which Hillary Clinton beat Trump statewide in 2016 — a record at the time. And the share of Californians who approve of Trump’s performance in office, which has held steady in the mid-to-low 30% range for nearly his entire tenure, has now ticked downward to just 29%.

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That’s consistent with other polls nationally and in battleground states that show a nationwide tide lifting Biden, swelling his margin in states like California, moving him solidly ahead in close-fought states like Pennsylvania and Michigan and making him potentially competitive in states that Trump won more handily last time, such as Texas and Georgia.

“There was a question of whether his support was already so low in the state that it couldn’t go lower,” said Berkeley political scientist Eric Schickler, co-director of the Institute of Governmental Studies. The poll “shows the answer is no.”

The Federal Election Commission has lacked a quorum for most of the last year. Campaign finance advocates say its problems run deeper than that.

Aides to both candidates believe the biggest factor in Trump’s decline is voters’ fear of the coronavirus and belief that the administration has botched its handling of the pandemic. The poll provides further evidence of that.

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About two-thirds of the state’s voters see the health threat from the coronavirus getting worse. They back Biden 84% to 11%. By contrast, about 1 in 8 say the health threat is getting less serious; they back Trump 87% to 10%. About 1 in 5 voters say the threat from the virus is about the same as it’s been; they’re closely divided.

The poll also found California Democrats reacting favorably to the possibility of Biden choosing either of two state officeholders on his short list of potential running mates.

Sen. Kamala Harris is better known statewide than Rep. Karen Bass of Los Angeles, but Democratic voters expressed support for Biden picking either of them. For Harris, Democratic voters approved 68% to 20% with 12% expressing no opinion; in Bass’ case, support was 46% to 10% with 44% expressing no opinion.

Democratic voters in Los Angeles County were more likely than those elsewhere in the state to have an opinion of Bass, who represents parts of the Westside and Central Los Angeles in Congress. They favored her selection 56% to 11%. Opinions of Harris, who lives in Los Angeles but spent most of her career in the Bay Area, were roughly the same in Los Angeles as statewide.

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For Harris, the support marked a notable comeback. In December, a Berkeley IGS poll conducted for the Los Angeles Times showed that by 61% to 24%, likely Democratic primary voters in California thought she should quit the presidential race. She did so just before the poll was published.

Opinions of Trump, by contrast, have gotten worse since the winter. A Berkeley IGS poll in January showed 33% of the state’s voters approved of the way he is handling his job as president. In the most recent poll, that’s dropped to 29%, with 71% disapproving, including 63% who say they “strongly” disapprove.

Since the vast majority of Democrats already disapproved of Trump, the drop in approval comes mostly among Republicans and nonpartisan voters. Among voters who identified themselves as moderate conservatives, for example, approval dropped 11 points, from 76% in January to 65% now.

Erosion of Trump’s support among moderate conservatives is another trend seen nationwide in recent surveys.

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In California, the decline shows up in the more conservative regions of the state. In the Inland Empire, approval of Trump dropped 8 points, from 43% in January to 35% in the current poll. In the Central Valley, it dropped 7 points, from 44% in January to 37% now.

“There’s evidence nationally of a decline for Trump in more rural areas where the coronavirus has spread,” Schickler said. The poll seems to be “showing a similar thing here.”

Californian donors are spending tens of millions on other states’ Senate races, including Mitch McConnell’s, Susan Collins’ and Lindsey Graham’s.

Overall, 70% of the state’s voters have an unfavorable view of Trump, 28% see him favorably. By contrast, 56% of the state’s voters have a favorable view of Biden, compared with 40% who have an unfavorable view. In Los Angeles, 24% have a favorable view of Trump, and 60% have a favorable view of Biden.

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About 15% of voters have an unfavorable view of both candidates. That group supports Biden by 5 to 1. That’s a big shift from 2016, when voters nationwide who disliked both candidates broke heavily in Trump’s favor.

Biden has a huge lead in the state not only because Democrats heavily outnumber Republicans in California, but also because the former vice president has a big lead among non-partisan voters and has made inroads among traditionally Republican groups while Trump has almost no traction among traditionally Democratic groups.

For example, Biden gets about one-quarter of California voters who call themselves “somewhat conservative” — about 1 in 6 California voters. By contrast, Trump gets almost no support among voters who call themselves “somewhat liberal,” who make up about 1 in 5 of the state’s voters.

The state’s nonpartisan voters back Biden by about 4 to 1, the poll found.

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Biden gets backing from white voters, 66% to 31%; from Black people 87% to 7%; from Asian and Pacific Islanders, 72% to 21%; and from Latinos, 63% to 30%, the poll found.

About 15% of Latinos who primarily speak Spanish remain undecided, the poll found. That’s consistent with past elections in which Spanish-dominant Latinos, many of whom are relatively new citizens, have tended to tune in to the election later than many other voters. The group tends to be heavily Democratic, suggesting that Biden’s support from them is likely to grow as the election nears.

In liberal California, even white men without college educations — Trump’s strong point nationwide — back Biden. The former vice president leads among that group 54% to 42%, the poll found. That pales compared to Biden’s support among college-educated women, however. They back him 79% to 17%.

Evangelical Christians, who are among Trump’s most steadfast backers nationwide, form one of the few major demographic groups in the state that gives majority support to the president. California voters who say they are evangelicals back Trump 56% to 39%, the poll found.

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Trump, who has pitched multiple campaign appeals to racial prejudice, also gets strong support from the roughly 30% of the state’s voters who disapprove of the Black Lives Matter movement. Those who disapprove of the movement back Trump over Biden 83% to 11%, the poll found. The much larger group that approves of the movement backs Biden 93% to 3%.

The UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll that The Times is publishing uses a method that differs from traditional phone-based surveys.

The Berkeley IGS poll, supervised by pollster Mark DiCamillo, was administered online in English and Spanish from July 21-27 among 8,328 registered voters, 6,756 of whom are considered likely to vote in the November election. The margin of error for the full sample is estimated at roughly 2 percentage points in either direction. Further details on the poll questions and data can be found at the Berkeley IGS website.


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