California landslide: Biden leading Trump by 26 points, poll finds, but how will it rank in state history?

All signs point to a landslide, California.

After months of double-digit leads, Democratic challenger Joe Biden holds a 26-point margin over President Trump in a new poll of California likely voters. But would such a decisive romp be one for the Golden State’s record books?

Turns out, not even close. Just four years ago, Hillary Clinton beat Trump by 30 points in California, helping the former Secretary of State win the popular vote nationally, but we all know what happened in the Electoral College. No Republican has won California since 1988, when the elder George Bush edged Michael Dukakis by less than four points.

But California voters’ disapproval of Donald Trump appears to be nothing compared to the thumbs down the state’s electoral forebears gave Republican Warren Harding’s opponent James Cox exactly 100 years ago. The 42-point margin was the biggest drubbing in California history.

One thing that is shattering records this election, however: enthusiasm to vote.

“This is a truly unprecedented turnout,” said San Mateo County’s assistant chief elections officer Jim Irizarry.

On the eve of a final debate meant to give voters a better understanding of the presidential candidates, a historic number of Californians already have made up their minds and turned in their ballots.

Trump and Biden are set to face off Thursday evening in Nashville and are expected to cover everything from the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to climate change. But already, more than 4.8 million voters in the Golden State have returned their ballots, raising the question of whether it’s too late for the sitting president — who is trailing in the polls here and nationally — to woo supporters. By the same time in 2016, only around 1.8 million ballots had been returned.

A New York Times/Siena College poll conducted Oct. 15-18 shows Biden leading Trump nationally by 9 points, 50-41%, and recent polling suggests he’s ahead in the swing states of Pennsylvania and Arizona.

“You see a high degree of certainty on both sides,” said Bruce Cain, a political science professor at Stanford University. “That’s, as much as anything, the really interesting aspect of this race even compared to 2016 so far — how many people have already made up their minds.”

Concerns about mail delays — and the fact that every active, registered voter in the state should have received a ballot by mail in early October — likely also have sparked widespread suspicion and a desire among many to vote early.

“You have a level of neuroses I don’t think we’ve ever seen before,” Cain said.

Unsurprisingly, new polling of likely voters in California from the Public Policy Institute of California shows Biden with a commanding lead over Trump, 58% to 32%. But one figure does stand out: 72% of respondents said they are more enthusiastic than usual about voting in November’s presidential election — a record high.

In the Bay Area as it is across the state and even country, that enthusiasm is turning into lots of early voting. In San Mateo County, for instance, only 41,554 people had voted by this point in 2016. This year, more than 116,000 voters already have weighed in.

Across the country, voters in swing states such as Georgia also are turning out in record numbers — keenly aware that they have the power to help decide who will sit in the White House next year. In California, Cain said, “This is an exercise in catharsis.”

“It’s really our role to ship money out of the state and to run up the popular vote total, even though it doesn’t affect the outcome,” he said.

That’s not to say there aren’t down-ballot state issues where Californians have a say, and Republicans are motivated to try to whittle down the huge advantage Democrats hold in the state legislature. The 12 statewide propositions on this year’s ballot cover everything from criminal justice reform to rent control.

The PPIC survey has been polling on two of the high-profile propositions, and both look to be headed for defeat.

Prop 15 — which would raise taxes on many businesses by taxing commercial property based on market value, not purchase price — has been losing support from past polls. While 49% of likely voters say they would vote yes, 45% oppose the idea and 6% are still undecided.

Prop 16, which would among other things allow affirmative action in public university admissions, continues to trail. Just 37% of likely voters say they support it, while 50% are opposed, and 12% are undecided.

There is more agreement among Californians on another pair of current issues: abortion and a coronavirus vaccine. Trump’s decision to nominate Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court reignited a debate over Roe v. Wade, which said a woman has the right to an abortion.

And while likely voters in the state are divided on whether Barrett should be confirmed, with 41% saying yes and 54% saying no, an overwhelming majority of Californians — 70% — say the landmark 1973 abortion case should stand, including 53% of Republicans.

The findings are based on a survey of 1,701 California adult residents in both English and Spanish between Oct. 9-18. The sampling error is 3.5 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.

According to the PPIC, at least half of Californians across party lines also agree that they would likely get a COVID-19 vaccine if it were available today, although two-thirds say they are concerned about vaccine development moving too quickly. And Californians see COVID-19 as the state’s top issue.

The pandemic is likely to feature prominently in Thursday’s debate, with the deadly disease continuing to spread out of control across much of the U.S. But Cain thinks that unless Trump really gets under Biden’s skin and sparks an intense reaction, the 90-minute exchange won’t ultimately make too much difference. His usual strategy of appealing directly to his base isn’t likely to move the needle enough.

“This kind of tirade of bitterness does seem to resonate with some supporters, but this is his last chance to reach undecided voters,” Cain said. “He needs a magic moment.”

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Author: Emily DeRuy