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An official ballot drop box sits outside the Orange County Registrar of Voters in Santa Ana, CA on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)
An official ballot drop box sits outside the Orange County Registrar of Voters in Santa Ana, CA on Monday, Feb. 26, 2024. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)
Hanna Kang

Former President may need to court Orange County residents who aren’t yet registered to vote if he wants to win the county in November.

If those 357,000 or so eligible voters register by the Oct. 21 deadline to participate in , Trump might be able to pull ahead of President in Orange County. But if the election were held today, Biden would beat Trump by eight points, according to a .

That in part means Trump — who leads Biden by one point among county residents surveyed, regardless of voter registration status, but has never won a general election in Orange County — is having difficulty getting people who say they support him to register to vote, said Jon Gould, dean of the UCI School of Social Ecology.

It also means that residents who aren’t registered to vote are more likely to be Trump supporters, he said.

That trend, which is also , could be chalked up to the former president’s efforts to “sow distrust in voting systems and vote by mail” the poll alleged, which may discourage turnout among marginal voters and unregistered people.

Nearly three in 10 Orange County adults surveyed in the UCI poll said they do not believe Biden legitimately won the presidency.

“Trump supporters are less likely than the Democrats to be registered to vote, which means that if Trump wants to win here, he’s going to have to convince his supporters to go register and then vote,” said Gould, who spearheaded the survey.

A spokesperson for the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Jessica Millan Patterson, chair of the California Republican Party, said Orange County is “a true purple county” and the state party “is invested and on the ground to register voters and support Republican candidates at every level of the ballot.”

And in a letter to supporters Tuesday, OC GOP chairman Fred Whitaker talked about plans to engage with Republicans who did not vote in the primary election.

“While we had a great turnout victory over the Democrats, that will not be enough to win in November,” he said. “Neighborhood by neighborhood, we will engage with these low propensity voters, connect them with you and local candidate and ultimately turn them out in November.”

The poll, conducted in collaboration with the UCI School of Social Ecology and the American Association of Universities, surveyed 804 adults living in Orange County from March 20-27 via a web questionnaire with a 3.5% margin of error. It found clear party divides among race and ethnicity.

According to the poll, the plurality of White residents in Orange County support Republicans (38%) while the plurality of Latino voters favor Democrats (40%).

However, the plurality of Asian residents said they identify as independent (39%). More than 20% of surveyed Asian voters said they would either vote for a third-party candidate or are unsure who they would vote for if the election were held today.

While the degree to which Asian voters may influence the election hinges on turnout, “they are that swing voting group that may very well be the one that decides the election this time, at least in Orange County,” said Gould.

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In November, they could be the difference that swings the election toward the sitting president, Gould added. The poll found that 48% of Asian voters would vote for Biden if the election were held today, compared to 31% for Trump.

“This time around, independents are less supportive of Donald Trump than you would expect them to be for a generic Republican candidate,” said Gould.

While surveys are better at measuring how people think than whether they will turn out, the UCI poll is a good indicator that Orange County will vote for the Democratic presidential candidate as it did in 2016 and 2020, said Chapman University political science professor Fred Smoller.

In 2016, over 50% of Orange County voters picked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton while around 42% went for Trump. And in 2020, 53% of voters chose Biden while 44% voted for Trump.

“Primaries tend to be extreme. They draw extremists in both parties,” Smoller said. “The general election draws a much more moderate group of voters.”

The UCI poll found that a plurality of likely voters who consider themselves moderate would vote for Biden (49%) over Trump.

In all, the poll’s findings indicated that Orange County is a truly purple county, which Gould says is rare.

“This is a county that went strongly for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020, but also went strongly against Gavin ɫ̳om,” he said. “And Steve Garvey is doing much better here than we’re seeing in other places in the country.”

Among all likely voters the UCI poll surveyed, 41% said they would vote for Garvey, a former Los Angeles Dodger who is running as a Republican in the U.S. Senate race, if the election was held today. That puts Garvey only 3% behind Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff.

In comparison, a , found that 61% of California likely voters said they would vote for Schiff if the November election were held today, compared to 37% for Garvey.


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