Donald Trump

Donald Trump; the hard line he and other GOP presidential candidates are taking on immigration does not bode well for the party’s chances in California.

Cathleen Decker
November 14, 2015

As Donald Trump and other Republicans talked tough on illegal immigration during last week’s presidential debate, an exasperated Jeb Bush noted that Hillary Clinton’s campaign aides were, right then, exchanging high-fives.

He might have added: And Republican leaders in many states, like California, were once again despairing.

From the beginning of the summer of Trump, many Republicans here hoped he would disappear quickly, to limit damage to the party’s image. Summer turned to fall, and Trump still dominates the presidential campaign. And so does the subject of illegal immigration, posing a mighty threat.

How mighty could be seen in a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll published last week. It demonstrated again what California sees in every election: The party’s positions on immigration and other issues, like gay marriage, have cost Republicans a generation of good will and support. Here, the poll reminded, Republicans are limited mostly to older and white voters, religious voters and residents of inland California.

The current brouhaha over illegal immigration is important because new voters will carry their views of the political parties with them for a very long time.

“The experiences people have when they enter the political system do stay with them,” said Jon Cohen, vice president of survey research for SurveyMonkey, the firm that conducted the poll. Political views “can shift … but those initial moments are important and do frame how they see things.”

Republican difficulties can be seen in three key areas.

Young and minority voters

There’s substantial overlap in the membership of these groups, and in their reasons for siding with Democrats and the party’s candidates.

According to the poll, 36% of voters ages 18 to 29 strongly approve of President Obama. Another 40% approve of him more mildly, meaning three-quarters of young California voters are on Obama’s side. Asked whether the country was headed in the right direction, 40% said it was — not a majority but six points above the percentage for California voters overall.

Asked whether immigrants strengthened or weakened American society, 7 in 10 of the 18- to 29-year-olds said they represented a strength. (Among those age 65 and older, a slight majority felt the same way.)

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