Harris Widens Lead; Marijuana Legalization, Cigarette Tax Ahead in PPIC Poll

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California Attorney General Kamala Harris, right, has a strong lead over Orange County congresswoman Loretta Sanchez in the race for U.S. Senate. (Tommaso Boddi and Jason Merritt/Getty Images)

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and U.S. Senate candidate Kamala Harris have widened their leads in California, according to a new poll that also finds strong support for a proposed cigarette tax, an income tax on high earners and the legalization of marijuana in the Golden State.

But a proposed $9 billion bond for improving public schools is still shy of majority support, the Public Policy Institute of California found in its final poll before the Nov. 8 election.

"The number that really jumped out at me was the fact that about half of the likely voters say they are more enthusiastic than usual about voting," said PPIC President Mark Baldassare. "But there was a difference between Democrats and Republicans."

Baldassare said Democrats -- who have an 18 percent voter registration advantage over Republicans -- are far more excited about casting votes than their GOP counterparts. And, he added, Republicans are a lot less excited than they were in the last presidential race.

"That gap in enthusiasm has implications not just for the top of the ticket but what goes on in some of the legislative races and local races this year," he said.


Baldassare found all voters are pretty lukewarm about their choice of presidential candidates, even though Clinton leads GOP nominee Donald Trump 54 to 28 percent. And, the poll found that more than one-third of Republicans said they are planning to simply forgo voting in the Senate race between two Democrats: Harris and Orange County congresswoman Loretta Sanchez.

The PPIC survey found Harris has a 2-1 lead over Sanchez, a margin that has increased since the organization's last poll in September. Baldassare said the attorney general started with some advantages, including better recognition among voters because she's run for statewide office twice before. But Sanchez has also apparently failed to make inroads among the Republican and independent voters she would have needed to make a real stand against Harris, he said.

PPIC found Harris leading Sanchez 42 to 20 percent, with the margin growing to 27 points in Harris' favor -- 51 to 24 percent -- when you exclude the likely voters who say they won't weigh in on the contest.

And while right-leaning voters may sit out this race, Baldassare cautioned against assuming that Republicans and more conservative independent voters will sit out future races with two Democrats on the ticket.

"If it’s a U.S. senator it's different than it might be for a race for governor or lieutenant governor or controller or treasurer -- because when you're voting for U.S. Senate, you're also thinking about your party’s control of Congress," he said, noting that 84 percent of Republicans told PPIC they want the GOP to control Congress.

The survey also looked at four of the 17 statewide ballot measures facing voters this year.

Perhaps most surprising, Baldassare said, support for Proposition 51, the proposed $9 billion school bond, is hovering around 46 percent with just 12 percent undecided. That support was also low in PPIC's last poll, he said. Yet when the poll asked voters if they generally support school bonds, 59 percent said yes.

There could be several reasons for that disconnect, Baldassare said, including that the ballot measure summary notes the bond will require $500 million a year in payments for 35 years.

"It's a big bond, that's a large amount, and that may be, more than anything else, giving people pause," he said, especially "in the absence of a strong message of support from the governor, the Legislature, and business and labor ... many people who would normally support a school bond in this case are giving it a pass."

A ballot measure to increase the tax on tobacco products -- including electronic cigarettes -- appears likely to pass.
A ballot measure to increase the tax on tobacco products -- including electronic cigarettes -- appears likely to pass. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Voters are backing two tax measures, PPIC found.  Proposition 55 --which would extend income tax hikes on individual Californians making more than $250,000  a year and couples making more than $500,000 -- is sitting pretty with 59 percent support. And Proposition 56, a proposed $2-a-pack tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products, is enjoying 56 support despite heavy campaigning against the measure by the tobacco industry, which has poured more than $70 million into defeating the initiative.

Baldassare said the strong support for both measures seems to reflect the politics of the time:  People are happy to tax the wealthy, and are concerned about health care costs. Proposition 56 revenues would largely be spent on health care programs for low-income Californians.

"There's so many concerns about funding health care today, every place you turn there are questions about it. ...  I think this has caught people's attention and been one of the reasons support has remained fairly steady for the cigarette tax increase," Baldassare said, adding that some voters may also discount the No on 56 ads if they have concerns about who's funding them.

California voters are leaning toward legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
California voters are leaning toward legalizing marijuana for recreational use. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

Finally, PPIC found 55 percent of likely voters backing the marijuana legalization measure, Proposition 64, with 38 percent opposed and just 6 percent undecided. That support has slipped slightly since last month, when 60 percent of likely voters told PPIC they were voting for the measure.

Baldassare called that slip in support "a point of caution" for the Proposition 64 campaign but said that, in general, Californians' views on marijuana legalization have shifted considerably  toward the pro-side since we last weighed in on the issue six years ago.

"I think that compared to the last time there was a marijuana legalization initiative on ballot this one’s in a strong position, because you have 57 percent of California likely voters saying they support legalization in general, and 55 percent saying they support this measure," he said. "So there's a lot of consistent evidence that support is relatively high and different from what we've seen in the past."

Baldassare said he was particularly interested by the wide range of demographics now supporting Proposition 64. While voters under the age of 35 report the strongest support -- 78 percent of them told PPIC they will vote for the measure -- 57 percent of those ages 35 to 54 also are backing Proposition 64. There's also majority support across regions; and Latinos are the only ethic group evenly split.

"In general, it's in relatively strong shape," he said.

Support is much higher -- 69 percent-- among those who say they have tried marijuana, compared with 40 percent support for those who have not.

The report is based on a telephone survey of 1,704 California adult residents. The ballot questions were posed to1,024 likely voters and have a error rate of ±4.3 percent.