Cutting Through Fog of Polls: The Key Takeaways


tonyvcoxAt a time when polling in California is more muddled and uncertain than ever, there’s only one important known unknown in campaigns for statewide office following the two most recent public surveys: Who will come in second in the governor’s race in the prelim June 5 election?

Under California’s top-two system, it seems certain that Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the former Mayor of San Francisco will be the top vote-getter. The question is whether he’ll face off against Democratic former L.A. Mayor and California Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa or recently Trump-endorsed Republican John Cox, a businessman from Rancho Santa Fe who spent most of his political life unsuccessfully seeking various offices in his home state of Illinois.

Latest Numbers. In the most recent poll from the Public Policy Institute of California, the race stood with Newsom 25%, Cox 19% and Villaraigosa 15%. But in the latest survey from USC and the L.A. Times, it was Newsom 21%, Villaraigosa 11% and Cox. 10%. (While Newsom’s percentage has slipped, he’s still far ahead of any other individual contender.)

Confused? You should be. Ever since the collapse of the California Field Poll and the decision by USC-LAT and Berkeley-IGS to use online polling, and with PPIC still using random digit dialing (and not voter lists or replicating the whole ballot), polling has been all over the map.

WTF??? Moreover, target TV and internet advertising in the June preliminary race – where the top two finishers make it to November regardless of party – has become a nasty inter- and intra-party free-fire zone that is guaranteed — not to mention designed — to confuse, mislead and befuddle voters:

Confusion PortraitNewsom is attacking Treasurer John Chiang over competence in an apparent bid to disqualify him and pick up Chiang voters for whom he is the second choice (ranked choice voting comes to the jungle primary!); Newsom and his labor sponsors are also attacking Cox as creature of the NRA in a bid to build up Cox with Trump voters so he finishes ahead of Villaraigosa; Chiang is falsely attacking Villaraigosa over un-analyzed rape kits in L.A. in bid to leap past him; Villaraigosa is attacking Newsom in his Tale of Two Cities ad; and an independent expenditure committee for Villaraigosa is building up a GOP goat farmer to take votes from Cox (calling him a “Democratic activist”) and in other ads suggesting (but not outright saying) that President Obama has endorsed Tony V; former Supe of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, is hitting everyone, using images of others saying they agree with her, in bid to do…something, we’re not sure.

Got that? No wonder the USC-LA Times poll had 39% of its voters – 4 in 10! — still undecided about the governor’s race. Which was itself a further sign of how screwed-up polling is in California right now, given that PPIC had just 15% undecided and the last IGS poll had undecided at 16%.

latinovotersLatino Turnout is Pivotal. One thing that clearly is making polling harder is that Villaraigosa is depending on a big turnout from Latino voters to propel him into second place. But according to the USC-LAT poll he’s pulling just 23% of likely Latino voters – which would be pretty pathetic.

Over in the PPIC survey, Villaraigosa’s got 39% of Latino likely voters, considerably better. But in PPIC’s survey, Latino likely voters comprise 36% of all Latinos in the survey while white likely voters comprise 69% of whites in the survey. In other words, if PPIC is right (similar to a finding by IGS), Latinos are far less likely to participate in the June election than their numbers would dictate. That’s the central challenge for Tony V.

The independent expenditure committee that’s promoting Villaraigosa – funded by charter school advocates who prefer his position to Newsom’s deferential alliance with the California Teachers Association – is aware of the need to boost Latino turnout. Which is why they’re investing heavily (and perhaps out of sight of most mainstream media) in Spanish-language TV, digital and mail. “We’re making a multi-million-dollar Spanish-language effort a major part of this campaign,” Roger Salazar, an IE consultant, told Calbuzz. “Unfortunately a lot of Spanish language falls under the radar of the public and the media.”

As an aside: The pro-Tony V IE’s private polling shows the race with Newsom at 26%, Cox at 17% and Tony V at 15% (very close to PPIC’s result), but with Villaraigosa gaining in key voting blocs.

feinsteinglassesOh Yeah, the Senate Race. Meanwhile, PPIC reported in the race for U.S. Senate “Feinstein holds a commanding lead against fellow Democrat Kevin de León (41% to 17%) among likely voters, with 36 percent undecided. Among Democrats, a solid majority (65%) support Feinstein, while most Republicans (59%) and independents (47%) are undecided.”

And the LA Times reported its “poll also found Californians who have made up their minds on voting overwhelmingly support Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s reelection bid. Feinstein was favored by 31% of likely voters while her top rival in the race, former state Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), was backed by 7%.”

In the USC-LAT poll, 41% were undecided on the Senate race.

calbuzzartThe Calbuzz betting line:

1 –  Feinstein crushes De Leon who limps on to November (unless the Nazi surges).

2 – Newsom comes in first to succeed Jerry Brown, who sadly must step down.

3 – Either Cox or Villaraigosa makes it to November.

If it’s Cox, say hello to Gov. Newsom; in the bigger picture –  those crucial California House races will be substantially tougher for Democrats because Republicans will have a candidate on the ballot. If it’s Tony V, it’s a genuine contest and the Democratic House races look a lot stronger because of big Dem/low Reep turnout.

Bottom line. In other words, if you’re hoping to flip California House seats to help Congress stand up to Trump, you want Gavin vs Tony V in November.

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