This is part 3 of the PredictWise series on congressional districts that are seen as competitive in the 2018 election according to PredictWise and Cook: The PredictWise Progressive Pendulum, with new entries coming right here on PredictWise every Tuesday. Instead of the ins-and-outs of the horse-race, this series sheds light on the ideological landscape in these districts. How do residents tick politically? What are their stances on the hot-button issues of the day, from immigration to gun regulation? How do they view traditional political fields, from taxation to healthcare? What role do environmental policies play in the mind of voters of these Districts? How does the Progressive Pendulum swing? Today, we will zoom in on the 10th Congressional District in California.
CA-10: progressive on healthcare and college tuition, not as conservative as anticipated on immigration, and fiercely anti-elite. This district sees Democrat Josh Harder squaring off against incumbent Jeff Denham. The PredictWise Progressive Pendulum has identified some openings on progressive messages around healthcare and college tuition, but Democrats need to be careful how they handle the fierce disdain for elites in this district.
This district encompasses an area of the northern San Joaquin Valley, and includes Stanislaus County, and portions of San Joaquin County. Modesto is seen as the center of the district. California’s obscure top-two Primary system provided the all-too-well-known specter of a lock-out: Before the Primary in this district was held, there was a possibility that Democrats could be locked out of the general election, but Democratic candidate Jeff Harder avoided this possibility by getting 17% of the Primary vote, slightly more than his most ardent competitor for second place, Republican Ted Howze (14.6%). Harder boasts degrees from Stanford and Harvard, as well as endorsements from major Obama alums. And, while the DCCC, the organization to help elect Democratic candidates to congress, has stayed silent during the Primary battle, it now has added Harder to its Red-to-Blue list of candidates the organization will focus on in its attempt to turn congress blue for the first time since 2010. Harder is a strong proponent of Medicare for All (single payer) healthcare, immigration reform, ending Citizens United, building a sustainable water future for the Central Valley, women’s right, gun regulation, and education
On the Republican side, incumbent Jeff Denham has represented CA-10 in Congress since 2010. He squeaked by Democrat Michael Eggmann with a fragile 3 percentage point margin in the 2016 election, and all indications point to 2018 being even tighter. Electorally, Denham is vulnerable, voting with Donald Trump 97% of the time. And, Denham voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and sided with the Republican tax bill. Although PredictWise registers Trump approval at 47%, much higher compared to our state-wide estimate of 38%, the Cook Political Report currently categorizes this district as “Republican toss-up” with a PVI score of “EVEN”, and PredictWise estimates that Denham would receive less than 42% of the vote if elections were held now (while we register a high number of undecided voters). For comparison, that is 10 percentage points less than his 51.7% vote share in the 2016 election. It is hence not surprising that the progressive movement has identified this as one of potentially flippable congressional districts. Flip14, a Democratic super PAC aiming to flip all Republican districts in California that voted for Clinton over Trump, focuses on flipping CA-10.
Key issue immigration: surprisingly progressive
This district is different from some of the other California districts at play this year, particularly CA-48 and CA-39. First off, it is much poorer, with a median household income of just under $50,000, and a college graduation rate of only 17.6%. In comparison, CA-39 has a median income of $76,748, and a college graduation rate of almost 40%. And, this district is more Hispanic than many other Californian districts, with a Hispanic population of 40%. Agriculture is key in this district: Parts of the district have been called “the food basket of the world”, and agricultural products exported include grapes, cotton, nuts, citrus, and vegetables. As such, irrigation is a key issue in this district.
And, friction between Mexican-Americans and the district’s predominantly white farming elite cause immigration to be one of the most important issues in this election. Democratic candidate Jeff Harder has indicated to make immigration a key part of his campaign platform, and he should not shy away from focusing on a progressive immigration reform. PrdictWise shows that residents in this California district value the contribution of immigration. For example, a majority (49%) of all likely voters in this district say that recent immigrants have strengthened the country when it comes to the cultural life in the US, as opposed to only 29.5% who believe recent immigrants have weakened the country when it comes to cultural life in the US. There is certainly some partisan differences: Among Democrats, 62.7% believe recent immigrants have strengthened the country when it comes to cultural life, and this number dips to 39% for Republicans. But, this is still the majority: only 37.6% say recent immigrants weaken the country in this regard.
The dynamics look very similar when it comes to recent immigrants and the job market. 43% of all likely voters in this Central Valley district say that recent immigrants have strengthened the country when it comes to the job market. Again, that is a majority by a nine point margin. While 57.2% of Democrats share this sentiment, 33.3% of Republicans do, a minority given that 44% of Republicans believe recent immigrants have weakened the country in regard to the job market. Still, it appears that likely voters in this district show appreciation for the economic and cultural contributions of immigrants, maybe not surprising given that Hispanics occupy jobs in agriculture known for intense physical labor at high rates.
Hurt by globalization; weary of DC politics, elites
One thing is clear: Residents in this district see themselves as losers of globalization, and display disdain for DC politics. For example, over 49% of all voters in this district say that globalization has sidelined people like them over the last 10 years or so – a clear majority. Interestingly, we document virtually no partisan split in this question.This feeling of displacement manifests in deep disdain and skepticism for the current political system. Almost 60% of likely midterm voters in this Californian district disagree that Washington DC is working for them. And, this is true for Democrats and Republicans alike. Although a Republican president is heading the Executive Branch, 53% of Republicans do not believe that Washington DC works for them, as opposed to only 25% who say it does.
What’s more, likely voters here not just mistrust the political elite in Washington DC, they mistrust all experts. A majority of voters believes that groups of scientists manipulate, fabricate, or suppress evidence in order to deceive the public. And while that number dips to 45% among Democrats, this is still (albeit a slight) majority of Democratic voters in CA-10
Hunger for tax relief for middle class, universal healthcare, free college tuition
When it come to economic policies, this poor district is decisively progressive. As in most other districts we poll, likely voters here demand tax increases for the wealthy and corporations. And, the hunger for middle-class tax relief is high. 60% of all voters believe that the government should lower taxes on households with income under $100,000. That is still a decisive majority of Democrats (54%), and the overall partisan split on this issue is small.
When it comes to healthcare, it is safe to say that likely voters in CA-10 want more of it. 80% of all voters in this district support pursuing a universal healthcare system that would guarantee care to all Americans. And, partisan differences are surprisingly slim, with over 70% of Republicans in agreement, and even over 90% of Democrats. Medicare for All, which in some interpretations is a form of single payer healthcare, supported by Democratic candidate Jeff Harder, is one way to ensure universal healthcare.
The healthcare component likely voters in this CA-10 district care about the most is care for the elderly. 76% of all voters in CA-10 believe that it is the responsibility of the government to ensure coverage when it comes to people 65 years of age and older. Again, partisan differences are small, with a huge majority of Republicans (>70%) in support. Among Democratic voters in CA-10, this number climbs to almost 84%.
Akin to healthcare, likely midterm voters in CA-10 are fiercely progressive when it comes to college tuition. More than 70% of all voters say that the government should make college tuition-free. Yet again, this includes a sizable majority of Republicans (60%), as opposed to only 34.5% of Republicans who disagree. These numbers certainly make sense in light of the very low college completion rate in this district (18%). Parents want their children to have a fair shot at graduating from college, and not be priced out of it ex ante!
CA-10; Run on college tuition, universal healthcare, beware of elite skepticism
In sum, there is no doubt that there are some openings for progressives in this district, especially around college tuition and healthcare. And, there is some surprising tendencies of more progressive stances on immigration in this district, although framing will be decisive here. But, Democratic candidate Josh Harder, boasting elite degrees from Stanford University and Harvard University, needs to be careful regarding the fierce anti-elite sentiment in this very poor district with low levels of educational attainment!