California Counts

A collaboration between Capital Public Radio, KQED, KPCC and KPBS to cover the 2016 elections in California.

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California Counts Poll Offers Insights Into Voters Outlook On State

A statewide California Counts survey found state Attorney General Kamala Harris holds a commanding lead in the race for U.S. Senate over her opponent, Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.


Harris received support from 51 percent of the California registered voters surveyed compared to Sanchez’ 19 percent. Twenty-four percent of those polled remain undecided between the two candidates while 36 percent of Republicans surveyed are uncommitted in the race.

“It would take a comeback of unprecedented magnitude for Sanchez to overtake Harris at this point,” said David Barker, director of Sacramento State’s Institute for Social Research (ISR) and its CALSPEAKS public-opinion project.

Both Harris and Sanchez are Democrats. This is the first time two members of the same party have faced each other in a race for the U.S. Senate since California adopted the top-two primary. They are running to replace another Democrat, retiring U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer.

The statewide poll also asked several questions about how voters feel about living in California, state pride and the attainability of the California dream. It surveyed attitudes about Proposition 64 on recreational marijuana, the economy and immigration, among other issues. 

This poll differs from typical election surveys because it does not focus on registered or likely voters. Instead, it seeks to capture the sentiments of California residents more broadly. 

That could influence some of the results, such as support for Proposition 64, the November ballot initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana. The poll found 71 percent of respondents favor legalization, 10 percent higher than in a recent Public Policy Institute of California of likely voters.

“It is probably the case that people who are less likely to vote are more in favor of it,” says Kim Nalder, the political director for the CALSPEAKS Opinion Research Center, which conducted the poll. “So we see, for example amongst younger people, they’re more likely to favor it, at 84 percent ‘yes’ in our survey. Those are some of the sorts of people that might get selected out.”

Updated editor's note: Our poll’s responses on ballot races include only registered voters. A broader sample, including 92 percent registered voters, responded to questions regarding issues such as the economy and the California Dream, capturing the sentiments of a larger sampling of California residents.

Nine topline poll takeaways

  • Proposition 64, which seeks to legalize the sale and consumption of marijuana, received overwhelming support from Democrats but also a majority of support from Republicans in the state. Eighty percent of Democrats said they would vote for the proposition in November, while 53 percent of Republicans said they would vote for it.
  • Proposition 57, which would make changes to criminal sentencing laws to increase parole opportunities for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes, saw strong support from both parties, with 80 percent of Democrats and 56 percent of Republicans in favor.
  • Proposition 63, which seeks to limit purchases of high-capacity magazines and require background checks for ammunition purposes, received overwhelming support. Ninety-three percent of Democrats and 60 percent of Republicans are in favor of the proposition.
  • Asked directly about mass shootings, Californians are split on whether civilians with concealed weapons would be helpful or make a potential situation more dangerous: 33 percent responded citizens with concealed weapons would be helpful and 40 percent indicated it would make the situation more dangerous; 9 percent reported neither and 19 percent were uncertain.
  • Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump receives the lowest rating of any candidate or group on a “feeling thermometer.” Seventy-one percent of those polled give him a negative or “cold” rating, while only 17 percent of Californians have “warm” feelings toward Trump.
  • On Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, 47 percent of respondents rate her “warm” compared to 41 percent who feel “cold” toward her.
  • When asked about undocumented immigration, a majority of survey respondents defined it as a problem, with 45 percent saying it is a “major problem” and 29 percent saying it is a “minor problem.”
  • The ability to buy a home is seen as “unattainable” among those who make less than $30,000 per year in family income. But even for those who reported making over $100,000 per year, 63 percent said that home ownership isn’t a realistic goal.  
  • Asked to think about the future, Californians were split on optimism versus pessimism: 36 percent say they are more hopeful than scared compared to 43 percent who say they are more scared than hopeful.

“Overall, Californians appear remarkably proud, progressive, and pessimistic,” said Barker.

“They strongly oppose Mr. Trump's candidacy, while overwhelmingly supporting gun control, marijuana legalization and the minimum wage (but they do express ambivalence and uncertainty when it comes to free trade). More broadly, they tend to express great warmth toward their state, but they worry that elements of the California dream like owning a home and retiring comfortably are no longer within reach.”

The Institute for Social Research at Sacramento State fielded the survey online and through the mail from Aug. 15 to 24, 2016, using the CALSPEAKS survey panel. It yielded 915 completed surveys and 44 partially completed surveys. CALSPEAKS obtains a representative sample of Californians, stratified by the five major regions in the state. For information on the methodology, please visit: Only registered voters were allowed to respond to the questions about the November election (the U.S. Senate race and propositions 57, 63 and 64). The margin of error for the distribution of responses on any individual survey item is equal to or less than +/- four percentage points.

California Counts is a collaboration with four public media organizations in California to cover the 2016 election. This includes KPCC in Los Angeles, KQED in San Francisco, Capital Public Radio in Sacramento and KPBS in San Diego. The initiative's focus is on statewide issues and contests, including the U.S. Senate race to choose a successor to Sen. Barbara Boxer and key ballot measures such as the legalization of recreational marijuana. The collaboration also includes social media campaigns—#CAcounts and #whatsmyissue—and a town hall series on the California ballot.

Read California Counts election coverage, including our series on these poll results at:

California Counts highlights

California Counts full poll results


California Counts, a statewide public media election collaborative, contracted with the CALSPEAKS Opinion Research Center at the Institute for Social Research, Sacramento State University, to conduct an extensive survey of Californians' electoral and public policy attitudes. 

Editor'Note: This story has been updated to include additional information regarding the methodology of the survey.

The Institute for Social Research at Sacramento State fielded the survey online and through the mail from Aug. 15 to 24, 2016, using the CALSPEAKS survey panel. It yielded 915 completed surveys and 44 partially completed surveys. CALSPEAKS obtains a representative sample of Californians, stratified by the five major regions in the state. For information on the methodology, please visit: For questions about the November election, (the U.S. Senate race and propositions 57, 63 and 64), results reflect registered voters only. The margin of error for any individual survey question is equal to or less than +/- four percentage points, for the overall sample. However, the margins of error are larger if focusing on smaller sub-groups, especially racial or ethnic sub-groups. These are equal or less than +/- 16 percentage points for African Americans, and 10 percentage points for Latinos or those of “other races/ethnicities” (including Asian-Americans, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, and those of mixed race/ethnicity). The numbers, however, have been weighted to reflect California’s population and are valid for comparisons across the sub-groups.

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