According to a poll released on Wednesday by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS), former President Donald Trump is now leading GOP candidates for the 2024 Presidential primary in California with 55% of the vote, well over the new threshold needed to claim all of the state’s 169 delegates in the Republican National Convention.
For over a year, the question over which GOP candidate is going to win the California primary in March 2024 has flip-flopped between Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. While Trump was leading DeSantis 38% to 27% in August 2022, a surge of support for DeSantis in late 2022, concern over Trump’s viability as a candidate, and the continuing court trials of Trump severely hurt his popularity. In February, DeSantis overtook Trump in California 37% to 29%, while nationally DeSantis came within only a few points of overtaking him.
But Trump found resurgence, despite a growing number of legal matters. Details of some of DeSantis’ proposed policies also turned many voters off. Moderate Republicans were turned off by some of his policies in Florida, particularly those on education which went against the LGBT community, while others began seeing faults in proposed policies. Not helping matters was DeSantis losing some political battles against rival California Governor Gavin Newsom, such as Disney switching gears and cancelling a huge project in Florida and moving jobs back to Southern California because of some of his policy changes.
In May 2023, Trump climbed back up to 44% with DeSantis only polling at 26%. The next month, a new Emerson poll found an even larger gap, with Trump getting 53% and DeSantis only 19%. By the first day of summer, Trump was nationally 25 points ahead of the still second-place DeSantis. Throughout the summer, Trump has largely hit a ceiling of support, with gains hampered by several current court cases, including the 2020 Georgia election subversion trial in Atlanta. While these cases have emboldened many supporters, the question of whether Trump could serve with several active legal cases going on at the same time have other party members looking elsewhere, toward businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.
In July, the GOP primary situation in California grew even more serious, with the California Republican Party (CAGOP) changing their delegate rules to give any candidate getting more than 50% in the primary automatically getting all of California’s delegates in the national convention. As California is the state with the most delegates, a majority win in the state would likely lay down the gauntlet early on in primary season for the candidate who wins the state.
“Today’s vote was a massive victory for California Republicans who are eager to have a say in deciding who our Party’s 2024 presidential nominee will be,” said CAGOP Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson in July. “Republican presidential candidates will not only be encouraged to spend real time campaigning in our state and making their case to voters, but Republican voters will equally be encouraged to turn out to support their chosen candidate to help them win delegates.”
55% for Trump
This all led to the latest IGS poll on Wednesday. According to the poll, Trump now leads in California with 55%. DeSantis is now a distant second, coming in with 16%, almost perfectly mirroring where his national average is at now. Rounding out the top five is Haley with 7%, Ramaswamy with 4%, and both former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and former Vice President Mike Pence with 3%.
For the Democrats, Joe Biden still has a commanding lead in California with 66% of the vote. The nearest candidate, attorney Robert F. Kennedy, is currently only at 9%. Statewide, a Biden-Trump rematch is currently at 51%-31% in favor of Biden.
However, both candidates are not exactly a sure thing for voters either. 48% of California voters are concerned over Biden’s advanced age, with 49% of voters concerned about Trump’s current legal battles. 24% of all voters are currently very open to a third party candidate, comparable to previous recent contentious elections in 2016, 2000, and 1992 when third-party candidates received large percentages of the presidential vote.
As it currently stands for the GOP, Trump is currently the favorite by a wide margin both in California and nationally. According to polling experts, this is likely to continue through the rest of the year going into the January Iowa caucus barring major news on his current legal problems.
“Trump is definitely the favorite, albeit a cautious one,” said Laura Chaffee, an elections analyst in Washington, DC. “Even the strongest supporter should be concerned with his current trials. There’s the January 6th insurrection case here in the District, the Georgia election interference case in Atlanta, the Classified documents case in Florida, and the Stormy Daniels case in New York. Even if he manages to clear them, the fact that they were levied against him, as well as having two impeachment trials against him, will give many pause. That’s best case. Worst case is that the cases don’t go his way and he can’t run.”
“That being said, he is still very popular, and many who were disenchanted with him during his term have, in turn, been disenchanted with Biden’s term. Biden’s age is also a critical factor with many. Trump isn’t that much younger, but comparatively he is much more energetic.”
“In California, that new 50% rule will most likely also work in his favor. He is now, what, 5 points above that threshold? And he’s been above that since June? March is half a year away, but he has already held above a 50% lead for four months. It’s a good chance. But we also don’t know what will happen between now and Iowa. We’ve seen stranger things happen. Usually one-termers don’t go for a third time around, but 2024 is proving to be very different than previous years.”
“California isn’t exactly a bellwether like Missouri or Ohio, but as a state where Republicans generally are more moderate than others, it is very telling that Trump’s support there is very high. DeSantis has had a lot of problems, and he has had one with California. Newsom has gotten the better of him more often than not as of late, and now Trump is winning people back too. It also probably helps that Trump has a big donation base there and has been mixing in what he wants to do with California, good and bad, rather than outright keep attacking them like DeSantis has been doing. And the poll shows it.”
Other state presidential polls are due to come out in the next several months in the run up to the beginning of the 2024 primary season and the California primary on March 5th.
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