Field Poll: Brown, Whitman Tied in Governor’s Race


Today’s Field Poll — showing the race for governor a dead heat, with Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown at 41% each — suggests opportunities and challenges for both candidates. But one number jumps out at us: despite spending in the range of $60 million on TV advertising alone, eMeg’s favorable rating has not improved one iota in six months.

And while most of her advertising has been aimed at undermining Brown’s image with voters – and she has driven up his unfavorable rating by 7 points since July – Brown’s favorable-to-unfavorable rating is still slightly better than Whitman’s. Hers is 40% favorable and 45% unfavorable (5% net negative); his is 44% favorable and 47% unfavorable (3% net negative).

In other words, Whitman’s vaunted and record-shattering media strategy is working to drag down Brown but it’s failing to boost eMeg herself. It’s hard to see where she can improve except among independents, where she is currently splitting the vote with Brown at 38% each.

If these are her most important target voters in the coming weeks, we can expect to see Whitman try to portray herself as a moderate on issues like climate change (which would mean NOT endorsing Prop. 23’s unraveling of California’s greenhouse-gas controls) and continuing to soften her language on illegal immigration.

The trick is to draw independents to her without angering her base vote among conservative Republicans who won’t be happy if she moves to the middle on any issue – especially climate change. But what are the right wingers going to do? Vote for Brown or refuse to vote, and thereby let Brown win? Probably not.

On the other hand, Brown – whose media campaign only began on Labor Day — is struggling to win the support he needs among independents, women, Latinos, voters in Los Angeles and even his own Democratic base.

Brown Whitman
Democrats 69 15
Republicans 9 75
Independents 38 38
Men 41 40
Women 41 41
Whites 40 44
Latinos* 43 40
LA County 38 41
Other SoCal 34 50
Central Valley 33 47
SF Bay Area 64 27
Other NorCal 36 36
Coastal 46 37
Inland 31 49
*very small sample
Field Poll 9/13/10

Because far more women are Democrats compared to Republicans, Whitman’s tie with Brown among women is remarkable. Moreover, if she really is pulling four-in-10 Latinos (and the sample is apparently not reliable, which the Field Poll should address in its next survey), then here, too, she is doing far better than your run-of-the-mill Republican.

Calbuzz is hampered in its analysis of the survey because we do not have access to the crosstabs. The Field Poll has refused to allow Calbuzz to become a paid subscriber to the survey and the results we have come from sources.

Whitman’s people will argue that the Field Poll shows their campaign is on target – that an unknown former CEO who had no political profile in California is running dead even with a man whose name is a household word in California politics and who has been in public life for more than half his 72 years.

But there’s a flaw in the argument in that Whitman, after spending record millions and throwing everything in the book at Brown, has failed thus far to knock him off his stride. And his media campaign has only just begun.

On Wednesday, Brown released a new ad attacking Whitman for advocating “eliminating the capital gains tax for wealthy investors, including herself.” Who this ad is supposed to move is unclear, but we guess it’s aimed at independents and moderates who are flirting with Whitman but might back away if they think she’ll bust the budget to benefit herself and her rich cronies.

When you look at the places where there’s room to expand their vote, Brown appears to have greater opportunities than does Whitman.

— He should kill Whitman among Latinos if he actually campaigned among them. If he put up Spanish-language ads mentioning her relationship with Pete Wilson (her campaign chairman) and her opposition to a path to citizenship (which 90% of Latinos favor), Brown would likely swamp her in that community.

— He should be beating her in LA County, where labor is strong, the Latino vote is big and coastal issues and offshore oil drilling are important. To do this, he’ll have to give voters there a reason to be FOR him, not just against Whitman.

— He should be doing much better among Democrats (especially younger voters who don’t know him) and women, both of whom he could be reaching with target mail, TV and radio, if he ever decides to spend the $30 million he’s stashed away.

On the other hand, if Whitman can improve her image among independents, women and Latinos, she well could pull out a victory. The new ad she released on Wednesday, with the tag line  “A governor ready on day one to start creating good jobs,” is aimed at reminding undecided voters of Hillary Clinton’s “Ready on day one” slogan and keep the emphasis on jobs (with no mention of cutting capital gains taxes).

Demonstrating her superior financial ability, Whitman also put up a new hit on Brown, charging that he failed to improve Oakland schools. Our prediction: the negative ad will get a lot more airtime than the positive one.

Despite all the sturm und drang of this campaign, the one big thing that has changed significantly in the past three months is that all the negative campaigning has driven up the number of undecided voters so that nearly two in 10 are now not sure who they’re for – if anyone.

The Field Poll surveyed 857 registered voters, including 599 likely voters, Sept. 14-21. The overall margin of error for the survey is +/- 4.1% and for likely voters it is +/- 5.8%. The data for this article are based on likely voters.

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There are 2 comments for this post

  1. avatar micahdw says:

    Looking at the poll details as a political scientist, this may be very good news for Jerry Brown. I highly recommend a fascinating article on this subject “Why Are American Presidential Election Campaign Polls So Variable When Votes Are So Predictable?” (http://gking.harvard.edu/files/BJ21,5.pdf) which makes the (widely demonstrated) point that fundamentals (party, gender, ethnicity of voter, economic performance) strongly determine electoral results. So you basically can’t take too seriously any poll before about two weeks out if the candidates are in striking distance of each other.

    We’ve seen in the past weeks a trend back towards Jerry as we would expect to see, all things equal, in a majority Democratic state. Meg hit her high water mark in August, as one would suspect given what’s going on with the economy but Democrats (which includes large majorities of women, Latinos, etc.) are likely to “come home” given that Meg has not been able to open up any kind of durable lead in spite of her historic spending. I can’t guarantee, no one can, that Jerry will win the election but I would be enormously surprised if they tie among women. Much more likely, Jerry will have a slight to significant edge which means that these poll results do not yet reflect the “fundamentals” of the electorate.

    Of course, there are other factors in play including the economy. But in California, the Republicans are the incumbent party as it relates to the Governor’s office which means that won’t help Meg as much as it’ll help Rs elsewhere. Also, there isn’t the same enthusiasm gap between Ds and Rs here in CA as there is nationally. And, from my entirely non-political scientific set of conversations on this issue, I think that this has a lot to do with very little Republican enthusiasm for Meg herself. And her opposition to Prop 23, announced today, is unlikely to do much to increase Republican enthusiasm for her candidacy.

    One other political science-y observation. Meg’s millions may be just enough to do it, but there’s no correlation between campaign spending and electoral success IF that funding comes from the candidate. The connection only exists if the funding comes mostly from other people.

  2. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    Wow! I haven’t learned this much about political science since I took it in college. I wonder if reading this would qualify me for extension credits? Just a thought. Thanks for the graduate class prof.

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