Buoyed by the support of many of the same Republicans who voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor in 2003, Donald Trump leads his challengers in California two months before the state’s presidential primary, according to a new Field Poll.
Yet support for Trump varies widely across the state, suggesting Ted Cruz – and perhaps John Kasich – could dilute a strong overall showing by the GOP frontrunner, dividing the state’s massive delegate haul.
The poll, released Thursday, comes two days after Trump’s loss to Cruz in the Wisconsin primary, amid intensified efforts from within the Republican Party to block Trump’s nomination. For the first time in decades, California’s late-arriving primary, on June 7, is expected to be critical.
Trump leads Cruz in California 39 percent to 32 percent among likely Republican voters, according to the poll. Kasich is running a distant third.
But in Los Angeles County and areas of inland California, Cruz, the senator from Texas, holds an advantage. The regional differences are significant because California Republicans award nearly all of their 172 delegates by congressional district, three delegates each to the winner of each district. Losing even a handful of districts could hurt Trump’s effort to amass the 1,237 delegates necessary to secure the nomination.
“The result that we got in this poll does not benefit Trump’s chances,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the poll. “If these regional differences persist, the delegate allocations will be more divided (among candidates).”
Trump’s popularity statewide relies heavily on his appeal to white men who are at least 50 years old – and to Republicans who favored another political outsider with a populist touch in California’s recall election in 2003.
Likely Republican voters who say they voted for Schwarzenegger now support Trump over Cruz by a nearly three to one margin, according to the poll. Republicans who voted for Tom McClintock or some other candidate are far more likely to support Cruz. Schwarzenegger himself has endorsed Kasich this year.
“If you look at all of the demographic subgroups that we can show, which one has the highest correlation with support for Trump or Cruz?” DiCamillo said. “It’s whether you voted for Schwarzenegger or you voted for someone else in the 2003 recall.”
Of Trump and Schwarzenegger supporters, he said, “It’s by and large the same people.”
In the run-up to the California primary, Cruz has been recruiting volunteers in the state for months, while the Kasich campaign began organizing more recently. Both candidates plan to address California Republicans at the state party’s upcoming convention, while Trump, the real estate developer and TV personality, is scheduled to hold a news conference at Trump National Golf Club outside Los Angeles on Friday.
Virginia Beaumont, a retired nurse and poll respondent from Amador County, said she supports Trump because she does not trust politicians.
“He’s the only one who has nerve enough to stand up for our country and tell it the way it is,” the 73-year-old Republican said.
Trump’s candidacy has created fractures within the state’s Republican Party. Nearly 40 percent of likely Republican voters say they would be dissatisfied or upset if Trump became the nominee, while nearly as many – 34 percent – say the same about Cruz, according to the poll.
Donna Bravo, a Republican poll respondent from Sacramento, said she has never voted before but that “this year, it was kind of an eye-opener.”
“It’s just, to me, scary if our nation is going to be looking to Donald Trump for answers,” said Bravo, a 32-year-old cosmetology instructor who will cast her primary ballot for Cruz.
She called Trump’s plan to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border “ridiculous” and objected to his plan to stop Muslims from entering the United States.
”We’re not Hitler,” Bravo said. “That frightens me.”
Likely Republican voters statewide hold a more positive than negative view of both Trump and Cruz, but only marginally. When Democrats are included in the poll result, negatives for both candidates skyrocket.
No Republican presidential candidate is expected to seriously compete in this Democratic-heavy state in the general election. The Democratic frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, holds a 28 percentage point lead over Trump and a 23 percentage point lead over Cruz, according to the poll.
The primary election poll mirrors a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times measure last week that put Trump in front of Cruz by 7 percentage points.
Lawrence Dinwiddie, a 53-year-old Republican from Modesto, said that if the election were tomorrow, he probably would vote for Trump. He objects to Trump’s views on immigration but said “he’d be a good general” in time of war.
“You have to vote for somebody, and I don’t want to vote for no Democrat,” Dinwiddie said.
Dinwiddie is not enthusiastic about his choices, but he holds out hope for an open convention, where another candidate could emerge.
“The Republican race, there really isn’t anybody good in it,” he said.