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Are Voters Ready for the Primary?

Dean Bonner May 30, 2014

All signs point to a low turnout in the primary next week. The most important factors that might bring voters to the polls are absent. California recently shifted all citizen initiatives to the fall ballot, depriving this year’s primary ballot of the draw that comes from those campaigns. And the race at the top of the ticket, for the governor’s seat, has not energized voters, as our latest PPIC Statewide Survey shows.

We find that Governor Brown, with the support of 48 percent of primary likely voters, will likely advance to the November general election. In the contest to see who would meet Brown in November, Republicans Tim Donnelly and Neel Kashkari are locked into a close race (Donnelly 15%, Kashkari 10%). However, one in four primary likely voters (27%)—including 34 percent of Republicans and 35 percent of independents—are still unsure of who they will vote for (17% of Democrats are undecided). And there are other signs that point to voter malaise.

We asked primary likely voters how closely they are following news about the gubernatorial candidates, finding that just 46 percent of primary likely voters are following news about candidates very or fairly closely. By comparison, in May 2010, 67 percent of likely voters were closely following news about candidates. And while attention this year has dropped across parties, it is especially low among Republicans. Today, just 39 percent of Republicans report closely following news about gubernatorial candidates; in May 2010, 68 percent said they were doing so (Democrats: 52% today, 66% 2010; independents: 52% today, 66% 2010).

Looking elsewhere in the survey, we find that only half of primary likely voters (53%) say they are satisfied with their candidate choices in the primary election for governor, while one in three are not satisfied (32%). Democrats (65%) are by far the most satisfied with their choices, while fewer than half of Republicans (43%) and independents (48%) express satisfaction. Of particular note, among those who are not satisfied nearly half (46%) say they are undecided on who they would vote for.

So with the election just days away, it appears as though many Californians have yet to tune into the governor’s race. Time will tell whether future gubernatorial contests can capture the attention of California voters and reverse the state’s recent history of low turnout in its primary elections.

News and analysis of California policy issues from PPIC

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