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There's probably not too many people on the edge of their seats waiting for a new poll to see how Obama is doing in California. But California does have 14 races on the Daily Kos Elections House Race Ratings list, more than any other state. In addition, this year's races are being held in districts that were drawn for the first time by an independent commission, not to mention Democrats are inching towards a 2/3 majority in the state legislature needed to actually give California a functioning government (see SoCalGal23's posts for some recent discussions of California races). So I used the data from the Daily Kos polls, in conjunction with available state polls to ask: How does the political climate in California look these days, as far as House elections go?  But first, I compared the Daily Kos polling aggregate for California respondents to the venerable Field Poll.

Details below.

Reality Check.

Before we continue, let's check to see if the Daily Kos polling aggregate numbers are reasonable. California gives us the opportunity to compare to the Gold Standard of California polling (and by one measure the best in the nation), the Field Poll. The table below shows the results of an age-weighted aggregate of 954 respondents to the Daily Kos polls with California area codes, culled from the raw data of national polls taken over a period of three months between 4/12/12 (when the Obama/Romney question was introduced on a weekly basis) and 7/1/12.  Daily Kos did not commission polling the weekend of 7/5-7/8, and analysis was complete prior to the release of the most recent poll on 7/17, so it was not included. Please note that Daily Kos polling aggregates are not  stand-alone polls.  (Additional data on favorability numbers can be found here.)  Polls in the table below are of registered voters (RV) unless otherwise noted.

Spring 2012 California polls show Obama with approval in the mid-50s and a 15-20 point lead in the Presidential race.
The Daily Kos numbers are certainly reasonable compared to the other numbers. Notice that PPIC numbers are essentially the same for Likely Voters and Registered Voters. The difference between RV and LV has been diminishing over the past few years in PPIC polls (possibly a result of the cycling between presidential and off-year elections). Note also that the May Field Poll is a little unusual in that it had 17% undecided when asking about Romney vs. Obama; previously, no election year poll in their online archives (2000, 2004, and 2008) had more than 13% undecided for the Presidential question. Comparisons of crosstabs can be seen here.

But having one Daily Kos polling aggregate in agreement with published polls could just be dumb luck. Going back further to the start of the DailyKos/PPP polling partnership, there are four more Field Polls that can be compared with aggregated Daily Kos polling numbers.  (A fifth poll in November 2011 did not have enough Daily Kos data to compare with because of the Daily Kos holiday polling schedule.) Time periods for aggregation were chosen prior to calculating approval ratings based on looking at Pollster trendlines for national approval numbers, and finding either a period of stability during which one of the Field Polls was produced, or a period, centered on the Field Poll dates, where the rate of change appeared constant. Bars are used below to indicate the dates of these periods.

Daily Kos polling aggregates compare well with California state polls
As you can see, Obama's approval in the Daily Kos aggregate matches the Field Poll in every time period (N varies from 577 to 1059). In 2011, though, the Daily Kos aggregate did have higher disapproval numbers than the Field Poll.  

We can compare demographics, too. For the Spring 2012 period, the racial demographic distribution is shown below. (Note the similarity in demographics between the registered voters and actual voters in 2008.) It is safe to say Hispanics are underrepresented in the Daily Kos aggregate by a few points, while 'Other' is overrepresented. Overall, the numbers are not too far from what they should be.  (See here for additional comparisons, and here for additional time periods.)

Daily Kos polling aggregate demographics compared with census, Field Poll, and exit poll
Generic Ballot and View of Congress

So, onward to the numbers. To start, Californians, like the rest of the nation, really don't like Congress, according to the Field Poll. Congressional approval in February 2012 was 12%, with no difference by party, and worse than the 19% in September 2010. This graph puts it in historical perspective:

Congressional approval among Californians at record lows
Daily Kos aggregate polling data from January to June 2012 shows higher approval for Democrats in Congress than Republicans among Californians. For Democrats, there's a whopping 35% approval with 51% disapproving; for Republicans, it's 19% approval, 72% disapproval (see table below).

Pelosi has numbers similar to Congressional Democrats, but Boehner's numbers are different, because of a large number saying they're not sure. Since last year, Boehner's 'not sure' numbers have dropped while 'disapprove' has increased, the only changes with time of note in the table.

Congressional approval among Californians at record lows
Given these views, we would expect a lead for Democrats in the California generic congressional ballot questions, and there is. There's three different forms of the question from three different pollsters, though. To paraphrase, Field asks if the respondent would vote for the Democratic candidate or Republican, PPIC asks if the respondent wants the outcome of the election to be Congress controlled by Democrats or Republicans, and Daily Kos asks if the respondent would rather have more Democrats or Republicans elected.  Here's the results:
California generic ballot questions show improving climate for Democrats
The Field Poll and PPIC show numbers a little better now than in 2010, and the Daily Kos aggregates show 2012 numbers a little better for Democrats than 2011.  It is easy to conclude that the wording of the question can make a difference, though.

Does it even matter?

In 2008, 60% of Californians voted for a Democrat in House elections, with Democrats 'winning' the House vote by 23 points. In 2010, only 53% of Californians voted for the Democrat, with Democrats only 'winning' by 10 points (see table for data back to 1992). Nonetheless, Democrats won 34 seats in both years. Still, with nonpartisan redistricting, there are more close House elections in California this year than in 2008 or 2010, and in close elections, a favorable environment certainly won't hurt.

The Enthusiasm Gap

Another important factor in the House races in Presidential years is the top of the ticket, the candidates for President. And California voters just aren't that into Mitt Romney. Recently, the Field Poll and the USC/LA Times/GQR poll both asked if voters were voting for Romney, or more against Obama. In both polls, a clear majority of Romney voters said they were voting against Obama, not for Romney.  That compares to 44% of California Kerry voters who said they were voting against Bush in 2004 (39% nationwide).

Not only is Romney apparently uninspiring to the majority of his California voters, a substantial portion of them don't even like him (yet?). Only 77% have a favorable opinion of Romney, compared to 95% of Obama voters who have a favorable opinion of Obama.  What unites Romney voters, however (at least, 95% of them), is their unfavorable opinion of Obama. Undoubtedly this will be enough to motivate the vast majority of them to vote, but if the conventional wisdom plays out, the lack of enthusiasm for the top of the Republican ticket could help tip close downballot races.

California Obama voters like their candidate better than Romney voters

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Thu Jul 19, 2012 at 07:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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