California Republicans’ hopes for re-election in 2018 may rest on separating themselves from the unpopular President Trump. A new poll shows that’s not happening as the year begins, at least in two of the state’s most competitive congressional districts.
Majorities of likely voters in the districts of Republican Reps. Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa and Steve Knight of Lancaster aren’t happy with Trump and are disinclined to vote for their representative’s re-election.
The polling, conducted by the University of California, Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies (IGS) in mid-January, finds that support for the two Republicans’ re-election is highly correlated with voter opinions about the president’s job approval, their 2016 presidential vote, and GOP control of Congress.
Rohrabacher’s web of ties to Russia have drawn the attention of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team. But his connection to Trump may be equally, if not more, damaging. Despite a Republican voter registration edge in Rohrabacher’s district, over half of likely voters there disapprove of the president. Knight faces a similar dynamic.
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Among those voters in Rohrabacher’s district who disapprove of Trump, 86 percent are not inclined to support their congressman’s re-election bid. In Knight’s district, that figure rises to 90 percent.
Just 38 percent of likely voters approve of Rohrabacher’s job performance compared to 50 percent who disapprove, including 38 percent who disapprove strongly. Knight fares marginally worse. Thirty-seven percent of likely voters in his district approve of the second-term congressman’s job performance and 53 percent disapprove – 40 percent strongly.
“The situation nationally seems to have a huge impact” on two men’s standing in their districts, said IGS Poll Director Mark DiCamillo. “It’s not just local issues that are affecting voters.”
That’s bad news for Republicans in California, where two-thirds of registered voters disapprove of the president. 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won seven GOP congressional districts in California that her party is now gunning for in 2018. Skeptics point out that Trump is not a good fit for those districts, many of them affluent suburbs, but argue their Republican representatives are better in tune with constituents. Events in Washington, however, appears to be shaping local attitudes.
In Knight’s district, which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, and even Rohrabacher’s, where Republicans outnumber Democrats, certain Trump policies are proving extremely unpopular.
More than 60 percent of likely voters in both districts oppose the White House proposal to expand offshore drilling off the coast of California. And roughly two-thirds support legal status for undocumented immigrants brought to this county as children, also known as “dreamers.”
Knight also appears to be paying a political price for his vote in favor the new tax law Congress passed in December. The law caps the amount federal taxpayers can deduct for state and local taxes, which are particularly high in California. Over half of likely voters in Knight’s district say that vote makes them less likely to support his re-election. They had the same response to Knight’s vote to repeal and replace Obamacare, a proposal that passed in the House last spring but failed to advance in the Senate.
Rohrabacher opposed the tax legislation, which helped avoid some of the blowback Knight is facing. Voters were evenly split about his vote, with 32 percent saying say it made them more inclined to support his re-election, 29 percent less so, and another 34 percent saying it has no effect. A plurality of voters were not happy about Rohrabacher’s stance on health care – 48 percent said his vote in favor of repealing and replacing Obamacare made them less likely to support his re-election, while 43 percent said it made them more likely.
“Those aren’t winning issues among voters,” said DiCamillo. “It opens up opportunities to opponents.”
Political handicappers rate both districts as “toss-ups.” But DiCamillo cautioned that until California’s primaries take place in June, it will be difficult to get a clear picture of the races for Rohrabacher and Knight’s seats. A crowd of Democrats are running in both districts, and the state’s primary system – in which the top two finishers advance to the general election, regardless of party – makes the contests even more unpredictable. Rohrabacher also has drawn Republican opposition, including one candidate who Tuesday accused him of “allegiance to Vladimir Putin.”
“This was a poll done of the incumbent, himself, in isolation ... to assess the vulnerability of the incumbent” explained DiCamillo. Nine months from election day, both Rohrabacher and Knight look pretty vulnerable.