LOS ANGELES (CN) – More than half of California voters support the state’s sanctuary law that limits local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration agents, but the issue is highly divisive across the state, according to a study released Friday.
The report from the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California Berkeley, based on a survey of 4,000 California voters, comes less than 40 days before the June primary elections, and the sanctuary issue has fired up the Republican base in California.
In the last two months, several Southern California cities and two counties voted to oppose the California Values Act, which went into effect at the start of 2018 and allows local police to limit their cooperation with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The pushback against the sanctuary law has given California Republicans a second wind in some parts of the state leading up to the elections.
Opposition to the law has received support from conservatives and the U.S. attorney general’s office filed a federal lawsuit against the state. President Donald Trump called the trend to oppose California’s law a “revolution.”
But according to the UC Berkeley poll, 56 percent of California voters favor the sanctuary-state law.
When asked how they feel about local officials who vote to opt their cities out of the law, 52 percent said they are opposed, with 39 percent strongly opposed.
Positions on the topic are divided by political parties, with eight in 10 Democrats and liberals in favor of the statewide law, according to the poll. Support is also divided by where people live – with conservative Orange County opposing the law – and along racial and generational lines.
Majorities of women, Latinos, African-Americans and younger voters support the sanctuary law, while most white non-Hispanics and voters over the age of 40 oppose it, the study found.
The wave of cities and counties opposing the policies of Democratic Governor Jerry Brown is music to the ears of Republican candidates campaigning in assembly districts deemed easy targets for Democrats to flip.
California-based Republican political consultant Jason Roe says conservatives in the southern part of the state are reacting to an overreach of liberal policies from the governor’s desk and a confrontational approach to the Trump administration.
“You’re seeing that backlash play out,” Roe said in a phone interview. “To a Republican voter who felt that they didn’t have a voice five months ago, they’re saying, ‘Finally there is something we can do.’”
Earlier this year, Republican Assemblymen Ed Royce and Darrell Issa announced they would not be running for re-election. Both of their districts were listed as easy targets by the Democratic National Committee, mainly due to their support of the Trump administration’s policies, including voting to repeal the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare.
Neither candidate said that was the reason why they decided not to run for office.
Four state districts labeled “weak” by the Democratic Party are located in Orange County, including Royce’s and Issa’s former districts. Reliably Republican since 1936, 51 percent of Orange County voters pulled levers for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election while Trump garnered just 43 percent.
But now those seats are not so easy to turn blue, according to Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, senior fellow at the University of Southern California’s Sol Price School of Public Policy.
“Orange County is not the Orange County it used to be, with the change in demographics and the conservative advantage has slipped,” Jeffe said in a phone interview. “But don’t underestimate the forces of the anti-sanctuary movement. Especially when you have Trump shining a spotlight on the issue.”
Republican strategists were banking on riling up their base with the idea of repealing a gas and vehicle tax, which would pay for more than $2 billion in transit projects, according to state officials. But Jeffe says immigration and sanctuary issue have garnered a much more passionate response from conservative voters.
California Assembly seats across the state may have seemed like a guaranteed flip from red to blue, but that’s not been the sentiment in the last few months.
In a phone interview, Republican political consultant Luis Alvarado said, “My Democrat friends are afraid to claim victory in the blue wave that was coming, because they’ve seen sentiments change and missteps made.”
Democrats still outnumber Republicans in California, with 44 percent of registered voters Democrats and 25 percent Republicans, according to the secretary of state’s office. But a rising no-party preference – 25 percent of registered voters as of January – can be a game changer for either party.
The topic of sanctuary cities and states turns a national talking point into a local issue that some voters don’t want to see their tax dollars spent on, according to Alvarado.
“The argument that Republicans hate Latinos is old and doesn’t fly anymore in places where second-generation Latinos vote on policies over party. Those who say they’re not Republican, but see what the Democrats have done to the state, might just lean right,” Alvarado said.