Jan. 8, 2016 — The California Field Poll was released early this week and the results show a surge for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in the Republican presidential race, but their conclusions are largely irrelevant. California polling can’t accurately project the state’s all-important delegate count, hence the statewide ballot test total is less important here than in other places.
Despite Republicans performing poorly in California since the turn of the century, the Golden State still sends the largest delegation to the Republican National Convention (172). The California apportionment system yields a more open contest than most states because finishing first statewide is worth only 10 at-large delegates.
As in six other states (Connecticut, Indiana, Maryland, Missouri, South Carolina and Wisconsin), California apportions upon congressional district vote in addition to the aggregate statewide total. Since the Golden State possesses 53 CDs, California primary day actually yields 54 separate elections: one in each congressional district in addition to the statewide tally. The candidate placing first in each individual district, regardless of vote percentage or raw total, is awarded three delegates in winner-take-all fashion.
Thus, the new Field Poll (Dec. 16-Jan. 1; 1,003 registered California voters, 325 likely California GOP primary voters) that finds Sen. Cruz leading Donald Trump and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), 25-23-13 percent, with all of the other candidates in single-digits, is not necessarily a microcosm of how the all-important delegate allotment will eventually be determined.
Despite voting on the last day of primary season, June 7, California, with its huge delegate pool, may well become determinative in the GOP race. Along with three other June 7 Winner-Take-All states: New Jersey (51 delegates), South Dakota (29), and Montana (27), the final primary day will potentially possess enough delegate votes for a candidate to clinch the nomination or force the contest into a July deadlocked convention.
The Field Poll, despite its diminutive sample size — 325 respondents is too small to accurately depict a multi-million member electorate — does provide us valuable information.
First, it detects a large swing toward Cruz in a place that was originally believed tailor-made for Trump. Second, it reveals a degree of Trump weakness because his favorability rating fails in comparison to the other major candidates.
According to the survey results, 51 percent of California Republicans have a favorable impression of Trump while 45 percent do not. This compares unfavorably with Cruz’s 69:20 percent positive ratio, Rubio’s 61:26 percent, and Dr. Ben Carson’s 60:30 percent index. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie rebounded to a 52:33 percent score, a huge improvement that now casts him in a more favorable personal light than Trump despite the latter out-polling him by a full 20 points on the Field Poll ballot test.
The only candidate landing in negative numbers among these Golden State Republican respondents is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who registers a terrible 38:58 percent positive to negative rating, a further signal that his campaign may soon approach a point of no return.
The multi-district California race will develop late, but the state is already justifiably casting itself as one of the key voting entities for the entire campaign.