Trump Ad Echoes Campaign for CA Prop. 187

Donald Trump political adDonald Trump’s first TV ad of the 2016 campaign isn’t airing in California, but the images are very familiar to Californians.

The ad begins with a warning about radical Islamic terrorism, with photos of the two San Bernardino shooters over a background of flashing emergency lights and a sheet-covered body. Next, the announcer promises that Trump will “stop illegal immigration,” and the video cuts to grainy black-and-white footage of immigrants racing on foot to cross the border.

That clip is actually from Morocco, but if you lived in California in 1994, you probably remember the original version of this ad, with its grainy black-and-white footage of immigrants racing on foot to cross the border, running between the cars on Interstate 5.

“They keep coming,” the announcer said somberly in that campaign ad for Gov. Pete Wilson’s re-election. “Two million illegal immigrants in California. The federal government won’t stop them at the border, yet requires us to pay billions to take care of them.”

Also on the ballot that year was Proposition 187, which would have cut off public benefits, including education and health care, to everyone in California who was residing in the country illegally.

Pete Wilson won that election with 55 percent of the vote, and Prop. 187 passed with 59 percent.

Later, Prop. 187 was thrown out by a federal court and Wilson was widely blamed by political experts for turning a generation of Latino voters away from the Republican Party. But that’s not proof that voters feel differently today than they did in 1994.

Will Trump’s message resonate with a majority of voters in California or repel them? Let’s crunch the numbers from the 1994 vote for Prop. 187 and see if we can find the answer.

We’ll start by asking, “Who voted for Prop. 187?” According to an average of exit polls, 40 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of Republicans and 61 percent of voters registered as independent or other.

At that time, statewide voter registration in California was 49 percent Democrat, 37 percent Republican, and 14 percent independent or other party. Today, the numbers are 43 percent Democrat, 28 percent Republican and 29 percent independent or other.

How would a vote on Prop. 187 come out today if the 1994 exit poll percentages were applied to California’s current voter registration by party?

It would pass, 56 percent to 44 percent, assuming equal turnout across the board. It’s a guessing game to predict which party’s voters would be more energized to turn out, and whether that would change the outcome. It probably wouldn’t.

Like the voter registration statistics, the demographics of California have changed.

The 1994 exit polls estimated the ethnic/racial composition of the electorate as 78 percent non-Hispanic white, 9 percent Latino, 7 percent black and 6 percent Asian.

Who voted for Prop. 187? Sixty-four percent of non-Hispanic whites, 52 percent of both blacks and Asians, and 27 percent of Latinos.

The Public Policy Institute of California projects that in 2016, 60 percent of the state’s likely voters will be white, 18 percent Latino, 6 percent black, 12 percent Asian, and 4 percent multi-racial or other.

If each group voted as it did in 1994, Prop 187 would pass by a margin of 53 percent to 43 percent. Adding the 4 percent of voters in the more recent multi-racial category to either side won’t change the result.

There’s one more question. Have attitudes and views in this state changed so dramatically since 1994 that exit polls from that election are now irrelevant and meaningless? Maybe. But a different conclusion can’t be ruled out:

Donald Trump could carry California.