PRINCETON, NJ -- In both New York and California, Republican primary voters rate a candidate's ability to get things done in Washington as the most important characteristic they are looking for in a president, and rate Sen. John McCain as the GOP candidate most able to succeed in Washington. McCain is also widely viewed as the most electable of the Republican candidates. The economy is the most important issue according to Republican voters in these states -- California Republicans give Mitt Romney an edge over McCain as the candidate best able to improve their financial situations, but New York voters view McCain as better on this count.
The polls were conducted Jan. 23-26, interviewing approximately 750 registered Republicans in each state who said they planned to vote in the Feb. 5 primary. McCain has a substantial lead over Rudy Giuliani in New York in terms of voters' current vote preferences, and leads by a smaller margin over Romney in California.
When asked to choose among four characteristics as most important to their vote choice, voters give the highest priority to a candidate's ability to get things done in Washington. Having new ideas to solve the country's problems is rated second-most important in each state; agreement with respondents on the issues and electability (in terms of being able to defeat the Democrat in November) are less important considerations. California Republicans give electability slightly more weight than do New Yorkers.
McCain is viewed as the candidate most able to get things done in Washington -- by 20 points over Romney in California and by 28 points over Giuliani in New York. This may not be surprising given that of the four leading GOP candidates, he is the only one with substantial experience as an elected representative in Washington. Voters in both states widely believe McCain is the candidate with the best chance of defeating the Democrat in November, and is the candidate who most stands up for what he believes in.
California and New York Republicans are also most likely to say McCain is the GOP candidate who is most in touch with the average American, but by only about 10 points over his nearest competitor in each state. McCain's weakest trait is having new ideas to help solve the country's problems, on which he is essentially tied with Giuliani in New York, and tied (but numerically behind) Romney in California.
The economy is the issue uppermost in California and New York voters' minds. Thirty-nine percent of New York Republicans and 35% of California Republicans choose it as the most important issue to their vote. The states' voters differ in the importance they ascribe to the illegal immigration issue -- 26% of Californians say it will be most important to their vote, compared with 13% of New Yorkers. Terrorism is a slightly greater concern than immigration among New Yorkers, placing second among the five issues tested in the poll.
Among California Republicans who rate the economy as the most important issue, McCain leads Romney by 38% to 30%. Romney, however, leads among Californians who name illegal immigration as the top issue, 34% to 27%.
In New York, McCain has a 46% to 20% advantage over Giuliani among those who rate the economy as most important. McCain leads or is tied among all groups of issue voters in New York.
Given the current unease about the economy, the poll attempted to gauge voters' perceptions about their own finances. Only 15% of California GOP voters and 21% of New York voters expect their personal financial situations to deteriorate over the next year. Roughly 4 in 10 in each state expect theirs to improve, or to stay the same.
When asked which of the presidential candidates' policies would do the most to improve their personal financial situations, California voters give the edge to Romney, while New York voters choose McCain. California Republicans are roughly twice as likely as New York Republicans to believe that Romney's policies would most improve their finances. In turn, New Yorkers are more optimistic than Californians about the potential of Giuliani's economic policies.
McCain's experience is proving to be an important reason why he is the current leader in the key primary states of New York and California. He also rates far ahead of his GOP rivals in terms of being electable and standing up for what he believes in. The economy is generally not his strongest suit, which would appear to be a significant weakness in an election in which the economy is emerging as the dominant concern. But McCain is competitive enough on the issue to maintain his first-place status.
These results are based on telephone interviews with randomly selected samples of 755 California Republican registered voters who plan to vote (or have already voted) in the California Republican presidential primary, and 750 New York Republican registered voters who plan to vote in the New York Republican presidential primary. For results based on these samples, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±4 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.