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Immigration Law Divides California Voters


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Key Issue: Illegal Immigration

Key Issue: Illegal Immigration

Video by Mira Zimet

Arizona's controversial new immigration law has California's voters divided by age, ethnicity and gender, according to the findings of the latest USC College/Los Angeles Times Poll. In addition, the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf has turned Californians away from new offshore drilling.

The poll was conducted May 19-26 with a sampling of 1,506 voters and a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percent. The findings indicate that, overall, 50 percent of registered California voters favor the Arizona immigration measure, with 43 percent in opposition. Nationally the figure in support is at approximately 60 percent, according to recent polls.

Along party lines, there remains a sharp divide: 62 percent of registered Democrats oppose the law, while 48 percent of Republicans are in favor.

California voters are also markedly divided on the issue along age, ethnicity and gender lines. Voters aged 18-29 oppose the measure, with 58 percent against; those aged 30-44 are almost evenly split (47 percent in opposition, 48 percent in favor); voters aged 45-64 favor the measure with 53 percent in support; and those 65 years and older favored the measure with 57 percent in support.

Gender: 53 percent of registered male voters said they favor the Arizona measure, while 47 percent of female voters said they were in support.

Ethnicity: Hispanic and Asian voters were sharply against the Arizona measure, with 71 percent of Hispanics and 57 percent of Asians in opposition. However, black voters were evenly divided, with 44 percent in favor and 44 percent in opposition. Most white voters favored the law, with 58 percent in favor and 35 percent in opposition.

The poll results indicate that voters who oppose the Arizona immigration law are highly motivated to support candidates who agree with them. Among those who oppose the law, 33 percent said there was "no chance" that they would vote for a candidate with whom they disagreed about immigration, compared to 22 percent of the law's supporters.

In contrast, 39 percent of supporters of the law said there was a "fair chance" they would vote for a candidate with whom they disagreed on immigration, compared to only 25 percent of registered voters who oppose the law.

"Californian voters support the Arizona law, but not nearly by the margins we've seen in other parts of the country," said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "Opponents of the law seem much more emotionally engaged than supporters: Our poll shows that a candidate's position on this issue is more likely to motivate an opponent of the new law to change their vote than a supporter."

Offshore Drilling

California voters, shocked by images of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, are now trending against new offshore drilling off their coast, according to the poll.

Overall, 48 percent of California's registered voters oppose new offshore drilling in the state, with 41 percent in favor. Those figures represent a 10 point turn-around from 2009 when California voters, stung by rising gasoline prices, began to soften a decades-old opposition to new drilling.

Along party lines, 64 percent of registered Democrats oppose new drilling offshore, with 25 percent of registered Republicans in opposition (67 percent of that group still supports new off-shore drilling). Registered voters who declined to state party affiliation opposed the drilling by 49 percent, with 40 percent in favor.

Attitudes toward off-shore drilling also varied greatly by geography: 74 percent of California voters living in coastal areas opposed new offshore drilling, but only 26 percent of inland voters were in opposition.

Attitudes differed as well along gender lines: 54 percent of female California voters are now in opposition, while 53 percent of males are in favor of new drilling. On this issue, ethnic groups were generally clustered tightly, with whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians saying they were against expanded offshore drilling by 49, 49, 48 and 50 percent, respectively.

"When Californians were paying four dollars a gallon for gasoline a few years back, support for offshore drilling grew very rapidly," Schnur said. "When those same voters look at pictures of the gulf spill, they're not nearly as excited about the idea. The 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill drove public opinion on this issue for more than 30 years. What we're seeing now is a return to the voters' long-time reluctance on this issue."

Open Primary Measure

California voters of both major parties indicated support for the open primary measure (Proposition 14), with 52 percent overall in favor and 28 percent in opposition. Voters declining to state party affiliation were even more strongly in favor, with 57 percent in support. The measure would allow voters, regardless of party affiliation, to participate in a primary election. The top two vote-getters from the primary then would appear on the general election ballot.

Gubernatorial Candidates

Meg Whitman has reclaimed a significant lead in the Republican primary, but the cost of beating back a strong challenge from Steve Poizner may be a disadvantage in the general election.

As California nears election day on June 8, former Ebay CEO Whitman has solidified her lead against state insurance commissioner Poizner, leading by 29 points (53 percent for Whitman compared to 29 percent for Poizner). Twelve percent of registered Republican voters are still undecided.

In March, a USC College/Los Angeles Times Poll showed Whitman leading Poizner by more than 40 points among registered Republican voters in California.

Both Whitman and Poizner are polling behind attorney general Jerry Brown, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor. Among all registered Californian voters surveyed in the poll, Brown leads Whitman (44 to 38) and Poizner (45 to 31).

In particular, Brown has gained support among registered woman voters at the expense of Whitman.