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Poll: GOP label is a turn-off for Californians

9:08 PM, Dec 4, 2013   |    comments
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After years of news stories about dwindling registration, rising fundraising woes, and intraparty fights, a new statewide poll offers perhaps the strongest evidence yet of just how tough it is to be a Republican in California: most voters don't like the brand.

The nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California's latest poll finds a whopping 65 percent of likely voters surveyed have an unfavorable view of the Republican party. Just 32 percent say they have a favorable opinion of the Grand Old Party.

Those opinions are in line with the findings in PPIC polls over the past 18 months, though the party's disapproval numbers are on the rise.

And lest you think this is all explained by California being a state dominated by Democrats, consider this: even Republicans aren't so thrilled to wear their party's label.  31 percent of Republicans polled view their own party unfavorably, a seven point uptick in GOP dissatisfaction since PPIC asked the same question last October.

None of this can come as good news for Republican hopefuls in 2014 -- given that they already face a political playing field where Democrats occupy all of the state's constitutional offices plus a supermajority of seats in each house of the Legislature.

"It's a tough sell," says Mark Baldassare, PPIC's president and pollster.

When you dig down deeper into the new poll, the GOP's brand crisis is felt at virtually every level: independents (68 percent unfavorable), moderates (56 percent unfavorable), middle-aged adults (63 percent unfavorable), and upper-income Californians (66 percent unfavorable) all see Republicans in a generally unfavorable light.

Not surprisingly, only conservatives have a more favorable opinion of the GOP in California; and even there, it's only a plurality.

(By the way, one group that recent headlines would lead you to think would feel worse than they actually do: Latinos, 48 percent of whom view Republicans unfavorably.)

There's a chance the growing prominence of the Tea Party is also part of the story. 63 percent of all likely California voters have an unfavorable view of these activists, and 37 percent of Republicans share that sentiment.

But before Democrats begin popping the champagne corks, they should note that the poll finds some grumbling about them, too. 50 percent of likely voters surveyed have an unfavorable view of the state's dominant party.

In fact, almost half of the Californians queried in the new poll say they think a major third party is needed to right what's wrong in politics. Majorities of Republicans (53 percent) and independents (70 percent) agree with that statement, as do a plurality (48 percent) of Democrats.

That kind of grumbling becomes even louder when you look at how Californians view the two major parties and the big national issues of the day. "I don't think that either party has the advantage," says PPIC's Baldassare.

Republicans are slightly favored in the new poll when it comes to dealing with the economy; Democrats hold a small edge on health care and immigration. The two parties are evenly thought of when it comes to handling the federal budget.

READ THE ENTIRE POLL: Californians also worried about poverty, split on health care law

And that gets us to what may be the real takeaway about the mood of the California electorate: the politician, not the party, can change everything. The best examples are the individual approval ratings for President Barack Obama and Gov. Jerry Brown.

50 percent of California's likely voters disapprove of Obama; just 38 percent of the same voters disapprove of Brown. Meantime, while 56 percent of likely voters disapprove of the state Legislature, unhappiness with Congress grows to a whopping 86 percent.

That kind of DC disgust is telling, says Baldassare.  "People are taking their cues from Washington."

Whatever the reason, California's electorate is in a deep funk about incumbents and politics as usual as 2014 comes into view. For Republicans, that funk could be downright lethal.

John Myers is News10's political editor.  Check out his Twitter feed on California politics, his Facebook page, and the weekly News10 Capitol Connection politics podcast.

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