58% of Californians say they’d be better off if California peacefully seceded

We have topline (overall) results from The Independent California Poll!

The poll was conducted by YouGov, who surveyed randomly chosen California adults Feb 5-14. All results below have been reviewed for accuracy by YouGov. See below for our full methodology, including the wording of questions.

We plan to publish crosstabs (breakdown by demographic groups) and the raw data in early March.

Please submit press inquiries to press@ic.institute.


58% (a clear majority) said that Californians would be better off than they are now in a scenario where California peacefully becomes an independent country with a friendly relationship with the U.S.

60% said, however, that California could never become an independent country because of the U.S. Civil War.

68% (more than 2/3) said that Californians would be better off than they are now if California negotiated a special autonomous status within the U.S.

72% said it is accurate for California governors to refer to California as a “nation-state,” implying that California is in some ways its own nation.

In our analysis, below, we’re going to start with whether Californians think secession is possible. Next, we look at whether Californians think they’d be better off than they are now if California peacefully seceded, or alternately, became more autonomous within the U.S. We then look at how respondents think living in an independent country would affect issues they care about. Finally, we dive into Californians’ sense of their own identity as Californians and/or Americans, and how they think about California.

Is negotiated secession possible?

Before asking respondents about specific independence scenarios, we wanted to know if they thought it was possible for California to leave the U.S. asking them which of these two statements they agreed with more:

Statement 1: California could become an independent country with the approval of Congress, like Cuba and the Philippines did.

Statement 2: California could never become an independent country because the Civil War decided that states cannot secede.

While 40% of respondents believed independence could happen through Congress (Statement 1), 60% did not (Statement 2).

(“Disagree” in the chart below means they agreed more with Statement 2.)

Paradoxically, another poll conducted by YouGov earlier this month found that 33% of Californians believe states have a "right to secede"—a much stronger statement that the one in our poll about Congress allowing a state to secede. The other poll's question had a very high percentage of "not sure" responses; if you eliminate these to make an apples-to-apples comparison, roughly 45-55% of the remaining responses were in favor of a right to secede.

For what rational reason would more Californians say a state has a right to secede than say Congress can allow a state to secede? The difference might be that the other poll asked about the right to secede as a standalone question, whereas ours paired an unfamiliar statement (Statement 1) about congressionally granted independence with a familiar one (Statement 2) about the U.S. Civil War. Invoking the Civil War appears to have strong persuasive value for many Californians, and can lead to irrational outcomes such as the discrepancy between these two polls.

In our own research, we looked at past cases of successful secession from the U.S. (including Cuba and the Philippines), and found that they had happened through acts of Congress. We were able to make a solid argument, not predicated on a "right to secede," that California (or any other state) can negotiate independence through Congress: see Constitutional Loopholes for Independence.

Peaceful Secession Scenarios

We asked respondents about two secession scenarios, one where California becomes a country on its own, and another where California joins a new union with Oregon and Washington. In each scenario:

  • it happens sometime in the next 10 years
  • secession is accomplished peacefully
  • the new country is friendly with the U.S. (like Canada)

In both scenarios, a majority of respondents said that Californians would be better off than they are now. Californians showed a slight preference for going it alone (58% vs. 53%).

These numbers are much higher than recent polls that simply asked whether Californians wanted to secede. For example, the other secession poll conducted by YouGov this month found that only 29% of Californians supported California seceding from the U.S. (equivalent to about 35%, if you eliminate "not sure" responses to make an apples-to-apples comparison). Similarly, the June 2021 Bright Line Watch poll (also conducted by YouGov) found 39% support among residents of California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, and Alaska for leaving the U.S. to form a new union composed of those states.

Some reasons Californians might have endorsed the peaceful secession scenario in our poll but not a more open question about secession include:

  • because they believe secession from the U.S. is impossible (see above)
  • because unilateral secession would likely lead to violence
  • because they worry California leaving the U.S. might leave Americans worse off

See below ("Asking the Right Questions") for further discussion.

Alternate Independence Scenarios

Even if (like 60% of respondents believed), secession is impossible, Californians could enjoy significantly more autonomy within the U.S. than they have now.

We asked respondents about two scenarios where California gains more autonomy within the U.S., one where California negotiates a special autonomous status with Congress, and another where ownership of most federal land and water infrastructure is transferred to California's state and local government. As far as we know, this is the first U.S. poll to ask about a special autonomous status for a state.

In both scenarios, 68% of respondents said they thought Californians would be better off:

These independence scenarios enjoyed 10% more support than the peaceful secession scenario above. However, nearly all the increase in support (a net 9%) came from respondents who agreed with the statement (above) that secession is impossible because of the Civil War. It's unclear if Californians would prefer more autonomy within the U.S. over having their own country, or if they simply see it as a more practical alternative.

The question about autonomous status specifically references health care, environmental policy, and choosing how to spend our own federal tax dollars as examples of ways Californians could have more control over their own affairs. Though we didn't mention it in the survey, a bill California enacted last year, SB 770, is a real-world example of a way California could get more control over Californians' health care tax dollars.

Secession, on the Issues

We asked respondents to evaluate how peacefully becoming an independent country might affect issues they care about. For each issue, we presented (in random order) one argument as to why Californians might be better off, and another as to why they might be worse off, and asked them to pick the argument they found most convincing.

For example, for the Immigration issue, the arguments were:

Better off because California would decide its own immigration policies, such as who can enter California and how people become California citizens.

Worse off because it would be harder for Californians to enter the U.S. and harder for skilled Americans to come to California.

For each issue area, we tried to find the best concise, truthful argument for each side. (To see the arguments for other issues, look at the questionnaire, below.) Issue-based questions were asked in random order.

We didn't include issues that were already largely under the control of state and local government (e.g. education, housing), either because there wasn't a strong argument that secession would make any difference, or because it would just rehash the Tax Dollars argument ("better off because we could get our fair share of funding for [issue]"/"worse off because we'd lose federal oversight of spending on [issue]").

While a majority of Californians felt they'd be better off overall if California became an independent country, they had a diversity of opinion about how independence might impact certain issues.

A campaign in favor of California independence could use trade, health care, guns, and immigration to establish support, but would be obligated to make good counterarguments on water and the military. (Our article, The High Price of Fear: California could defend itself for a fraction of the cost is a good example of such a counterargument.)

The poll asked twice about whether Californians would be better off overall if California peacefully seceded, once before presenting the issue-based arguments, and once after. While the arguments weren't designed to sway respondents either way (this wasn't a push poll), we hypothesized that considering independence in an issue-based way might have a statistically significant impact on how respondents thought about it overall.

It did not.

Either our arguments were so balanced that they perfectly canceled each other out, or, more likely, Californians think they might be better or worse off in an independent California for reasons that go beyond policy issues.

Californian or American?

Californian identity is a complex thing. We asked Californians four questions to see how they think of themselves, their state, and their relationship with the U.S.

First, we asked Californians if they feel more Californian or more American. The majority of respondents said they feel equally Californian and American.

If anything Californians surveyed felt slightly more American than Californian (though this is barely within the margin of error).

It may just be coincidence, but the percentage of respondents that felt "more Californian than American" (21%) are the same percentage of Californians in a recent LA Times poll that said California is "not really American."

While Californians might feel American, the majority (63%) of them don't actually want to live in any part of America that isn't part of California.

This matches the 68% of Californians who said "living in California" is important to their identity in the June 2023 Survey 360 poll. (For more analysis, see our article, Poll: liberals feel more Californian, conservatives feel more American.)

Overall, most Californians trust the state government significantly more than the federal government, though the majority of Californians trust (or distrust) both equally.

Finally, the vast majority (72%) of Californians think it's at least somewhat accurate for current and past governors to call California a "nation-state," implying that implying that California is in some ways its own nation.

Discussion: Asking the Right Questions

Since 2020, several polls have asked Californians if they support secession. Only one, the 2021 UVA poll, found majority support for secession among Californians, and it was within the margin of error. Why did our poll find clear majority support (58%) for secession, when no other poll did?

The problem with simply asking Californians whether California should secede is that they might answer any or all of these questions:

  1. Is peaceful secession possible?
  2. If not, would violence be justified?
  3. Would Californians be better off?
  4. Would Americans outside California be better off?
  5. Is secession the right thing to do?
  6. Is the situation in the U.S. so bad that something extreme has to be done?

In this poll, we only asked questions 1 and 3. For question 3, we gave a clear scenario (near-term, peaceful, friendly relations with the U.S.) and a clear metric (are Californians better off?).

Unlike, say, the June 2021 Bright Line Watch poll (also conducted by YouGov), we studiously avoided any questions about political violence or about how bad things are in the U.S.; the closest we came was asking respondents whether they trusted the state or federal government more. We did not mention former president Donald Trump. (Mentioning Canada three times in the poll may also have had a calming effect.)

Negotiated, peaceful secession might be a solution to the United States' current dysfunction and democratic deficits (see, for example, the recent book Splitsville USA by a UMass Boston professor). On the other hand, calls for unilateral secession are more likely to lead to political violence and further dysfunction. Bright Line Watch, notably, dropped their secession question after June 2021.

Polling Americans about unilateral secession could theoretically serve a useful purpose by warning Americans in advance that a state were likely to attempt unilateral secession. However, in practice, the question seems to be used mostly for shock value or as a proxy for how disunited the U.S. is—essentially a very edgy version of "are things on the right track?". Hopefully, our poll demonstrates that such questions that way is not only irresponsible, but leads to less interesting results.


According to the pollster:

Field Period: February 05, 2024 - February 13, 2024

YouGov interviewed 530 California respondents, who were then matched down to a sample of 500 to produce the final dataset. The respondents were matched to a sampling frame on gender, age, race, and education. The sampling frame is a politically representative "modeled frame" of California adults, based upon the American Community Survey (ACS) public use microdata file, public voter file records, the 2020 Current Population Survey (CPS) Voting and Registration supplements, the 2020 National Election Pool (NEP) exit poll, and the 2020 CES surveys, including demographics and 2020 presidential vote.

The matched cases were weighted to the sampling frame using propensity scores. The matched cases and the frame were combined, and a logistic regression was estimated for inclusion in the frame. The propensity score function included age, gender, race/ethnicity, years of education, and 2020 presidential vote choice. The propensity scores were grouped into deciles of the estimated propensity score in the frame and post-stratified according to these deciles.

The weights were then post-stratified on 2020 presidential vote choice, as well as a four-way stratification of gender, age (4-categories), race (4-categories), and education (4-categories). Finally, an individual stratification was applied to place of birth in order to produce the final weight.

YouGov's weighting gave us a very representative sample of Californians, at the expense of a somewhat higher margin of error: 5.6%, with 95% confidence.

For example we can be 95% confident that the real percentage of Californians who believe Californians would be better off if California peacefully seceded is between 51.9% and 63.1%—which is why we call it not just a majority but a "clear majority." All the major results in this poll are similarly statistically significant; there is no reason to discount them because of the poll's (sound) methodology or its relatively small sample size.

Because YouGov's sample is weighted to ensure that it is representative, all numbers above come from a weighted average of responses. In practice, the unweighted averages only differ a few percentage points from the weighted ones, but they are meaningless—the weighted averages represent Californians, while the unweighted averages only represent this particular sample.

Percentages in this article were rounded to the nearest whole-number percent, to avoid giving an unrealistic sense of the numbers' precision. For example, the "exact" observed percentage of Californians who said they think Californians would be better off if California peacefully seceded is 57.534795...%, but most of those decimal points are meaningless due to sampling error, an inherent feature of opinion polls. In some cases, the rounded percentages may not add up to 100%.

We randomized the responses to questions whenever possible; some respondents saw "better off" as the first possible response to a given question while others saw "worse off." We also randomized the order of the issue-based questions.

You can see the full poll questionnaire at the bottom of this page.

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Full poll questionnaire