Polarization in California

The most recent Quinnipiac Poll (https://poll.qu.edu/poll-release?releaseid=3810) illustrates how polarized the US has become: 66 percent of respondents do not want Donald Trump to (re)run for President. Nonetheless, 66 percent of Republicans would like him to run. (Not surprisingly, the same percentage of Republicans do not believe that Biden’s 2020 victory was legitimate.)  It’s a dismaying and, somewhat, disheartening statistic that illustrates how divided the United states has become.  To better understand this, it’s useful to examine polarization in California.

The May 26th poll by the Public Policy Institute of California (https://www.ppic.org/wp-content/uploads/ppic-statewide-survey-californians-and-their-government-may-2021.pdf ) confirmed the Golden State continues to favor Democrats.  California Governor Gavin Newsom has an approval rating of 55 percent.  57 percent of respondents would NOT vote to recall him.  Notably, 78 percent of Republicans would vote to recall Newsom.

On issue after issue, California Democrats and Republicans disagree.  For example, 62 percent of Californians agree that income inequality is a big issue.  But they split — by Party — as to whether government ought to do something about this: “Should the state government be doing more to reduce the gap between the rich and poor in California, or is this something the government should not be doing?”  83 percent of Democrats feel the government should do more, while 58 percent of Republicans believe the government should NOT do more.

California has a budget surplus of approximately $38 billion.  Governor Newsom has proposed that this budget surplus be used for stimulus checks.  When poll respondents were asked: “Do you favor or oppose providing another round of stimulus checks with $600 going to Californians with incomes under $75,000 and an additional $500 going to those with children?”  70 percent of Californians approved of this; 86 percent of Democrats but just 42 percent of Republicans.

When asked, “Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the way that Joe Biden is handling his job as president?” 66 approved; 88 percent of Democrats but just 21 percent of Republicans. When asked, “Do you think things in the United States are generally going in the right direction or the wrong direction?” 53 percent of respondents believed we are going in the right direction.  68 percent of Democrats but just 17 percent of Republicans.

Biden’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic is approved by 75 percent of poll respondents.  93 percent of Democrats approve but most Republicans (61 percent) disapprove.  Everything about the pandemic seems to be divisive.

Seventy-three percent of Californians say they have already received the vaccine (67 percent) or will definitely get the vaccine (6 percent).  Seventeen percent of respondents say they will definitely NOT get the vaccine (12 percent) or probably not get the vaccine (5 percent).  Republicans remain most likely to say they will probably or definitely not get the vaccine (38 percent).

What accounts for this polarization?  In California, this seems to be the result of the interaction of three factors: Party affiliation, race, and region.  Obviously, there is a substantial difference in perspective between Democrats and Republicans.  We can attribute this to the usual suspects: the two groups are in different media silos; for example, many Republicans get their political data from Fox News.

Race is a key determinant of polarization.  President Biden has the approval of 66 percent of all California adults, but there are significant differences based upon race:  the PPIC survey found: “Across racial/ethnic groups, overwhelming majorities of African Americans( 83%), Latinos (77%), and Asian Americans (73%) approve, as do 54 percent of whites.”  53 percent of respondents felt the US is going in the right direction, but there was a major difference in perception based upon race:  “Majorities of Latinos (68%), African Americans (60%), and Asian Americans (56%) say right direction, compared to 41 percent of whites.”

In addition, there are important regional differences in California.  The PPIC survey was taken in five distinct parts of California: Los Angeles, San Diego/Orange Counties, San Francisco Bay Area, Central Valley (Shasta County south to Ken County). and the Inland Empire (Riverside and San Bernardino Counties).  The Inland Empire is substantially more conservative than the four other regions; for example, when asked, “Overall, do you approve or disapprove of the way that Gavin Newsom is handling his job as governor of California?” Only the Inland Empire has a net disapproval (37 percent approve to 53 percent disapprove).  

The Newsom recall petition had more than 1.7 million verified signatures.  More than half of these came from the five Southern California counties: Los Angeles 328K, Orange 285K, Riverside 186K, San Bernardino 130K, and San Diego 238K. (By the way, in 2020 Joe Biden carried all of these counties.) The California Secretary of State (https://ktla.com/news/california/highest-support-for-newsom-recall-comes-from-californias-rural-northeastern-counties-final-state-numbers-show/) analyzed the verified signatures and found a disproportionate number come from rural counties.  For example, tiny Amador County — located east of Sacramento in the “Gold country” — has 25,989 registered voters; 4966 signed the recall petition (19.1 percent).  (Many recall signatories were unhappy with Newsom’s handling of the pandemic; particularly the mandatory lockdown.)

By the way, more men than women support the Newsom recall: “Men (48%) are more likely than women (32%) to say they would vote yes to remove Newsom.”

The most recent Public Policy Institute of California poll illustrates the extent of polarization in the Golden State and helps us understand it.  California Republicans don’t approve of Biden and don’t like how he handled the pandemic. (They don’t like masks and many of them will not get vaccinated.)  These Republicans are predominantly rural white men.

Resentful redneck Republicans.  As columnist Leonard Pitts recently wrote: ““The decisive reason that white, male, older and less educated voters were disproportionately pro-Trump is that they shared his prejudices and wanted domineering, aggressive leaders …” (https://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/leonard-pitts-jr/article211963789.html )