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Press Release · May 23, 2018

Newsom on Top—Cox and Villaraigosa Vie for Second, Feinstein Holds Wide Lead over de León


SAN FRANCISCO, May 23, 2018—Democrat Gavin Newsom remains the top choice among likely voters in the state’s gubernatorial primary, and Republican John Cox is in a close race with Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa to gain the second spot on November’s general election ballot. Senator Dianne Feinstein holds a double-digit lead over fellow Democrat Kevin de León.

These are among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Democrat Gavin Newsom (25%) leads among likely voters, followed by Republican John Cox (19%), Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa (15%), Republican Travis Allen (11%), and Democrats John Chiang (9%) and Delaine Eastin (6%). Fifteen percent of likely voters are still undecided. Results were similar in an April PPIC poll (26% Newsom, 15% Cox, and 13% Villaraigosa).

“Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom’s support has been consistent across five PPIC surveys, while John Cox’s support has sharply increased since our January survey,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

A solid majority of likely voters (64%) are satisfied with their candidate choices in the gubernatorial race, a finding that holds across parties. However, Democrats (74%) are much more likely than independents (55%) or Republicans (60%) to be satisfied. The share of Republicans who are satisfied has increased since January (38%).

Among likely voters, Democrats prefer Newsom to Villaraigosa by 23 points (42% to 19%), with 14 percent unsure. Republicans choose Cox over Allen (44% to 22%), with 14 percent unsure. Independent voters equally support Cox (18%) and Newsom (18%). Latinos form the backbone of support for Villaraigosa (39%), while whites are more likely to support Newsom (27%) or Cox (24%).

With the June 5 primary less than two weeks away interest in the race continues to grow, with a majority (58%) of likely voters following election news very (19%) or somewhat (39%) closely.

“Voters’ interest in the news about the gubernatorial candidates has nearly doubled since January, but 15 percent are still making up their minds about the June primary,” Baldassare said.

Feinstein Holds Lead in Senate Race

Senator Dianne 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. Feinstein leads among men (41% to 18%), women (42% to 17%), and whites (38% to 14%), while Latinos are divided (34% to 32%). The senator’s lead over de León increases as respondents’ age and education levels rise.

Half of likely voters (50%) are satisfied with their choice of candidates in the US Senate race. A large majority of Democrats (74%) are satisfied, while more than half of Republicans (59%) are not.

Democrats Enthused about Congressional Races

California will be a battleground state in congressional elections this November, but just under half of the state’s likely voters (46%) say they are extremely (20%) or very enthusiastic (26%) about voting for Congress. Democratic likely voters (56%) are somewhat more likely than Republicans (42%) and independents (39%) to be extremely or very enthusiastic.

If the election for the US House of Representatives were held today, a majority of likely voters (52%) say they would vote for or lean toward the Democratic candidate, while 38 percent would vote for or lean toward the Republican. Democratic candidates are preferred by a 32-point margin (61% to 29%) in Democratic-held districts, while Republican candidates are preferred by a 28-point margin (60% to 32%) in Republican-held districts. Republican candidates are also preferred in the 10 districts deemed competitive by the Cook Political Report (9 of the 10 are currently Republican-held seats).

Likely voters are divided over whether they prefer candidates for Congress to work with the Trump administration (47%) or push back against it (46 %). There’s a wide partisan divide among registered voters on this question: 19 percent of Democrats say to work with the administration, compared to 87 percent of Republicans. Half of independents (49%) say candidates ought to work with Trump.

As Californians prepare to cast their primary ballots, key issues for likely voters include immigration (19%), jobs and the economy (15%), and housing (9%).

Majority Support for Single-Payer If No New Taxes Required

With health care a key issue in the gubernatorial race, 53 percent of likely voters say they favor a single-payer state plan. However, if this plan would require raising taxes, support declines to 41 percent. Among registered voters, a solid majority of Democrats (78%) favor a single-payer state system—62 percent if it means raising taxes—while a solid majority of Republicans (67%) are opposed.

Amid continued uncertainty over the future of the Affordable Care Act, 45 percent of likely voters have a generally favorable opinion of the 2010 Obamacare health reform law, while 43 percent have a generally unfavorable opinion—a drop in support from last September (58% favorable, 38% unfavorable). Among registered voters overall, a solid majority of Democrats (61%) have a favorable opinion of the law, while a strong majority of Republicans (66%) view it unfavorably; independents are divided (43% favorable, 42% unfavorable).

Immigrants Viewed as Benefit to State

The US Justice Department has sued California over its refusal to cooperate fully with federal immigration enforcement. Complicating matters, several of the state’s counties and cities have sided with the Trump administration against the so-called sanctuary laws. With these events as a backdrop, how do Californians currently view immigrants and immigration policy?

A solid 67 percent of likely voters today say that immigrants benefit the state because of their hard work and job skills. Among registered voters, Democrats (86%) and independents (75%) are far more likely than Republicans (36%) to say immigrants are a benefit.

The vast majority of likely voters (80%) say there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the US legally, if certain requirements are met. Overwhelming majorities of registered Democrats (93%) and independents (82%), and a strong majority of Republicans (66%), hold this view.

“Majorities across the state’s regions continue to view immigrants as a benefit, while local tensions have been surfacing about federal and state roles in immigration enforcement,” Baldassare said.

Majorities Favor Revised State Budget

Governor Brown recently released the May revision of his state budget for the next fiscal year, which includes $138 billion in general fund spending—and no new taxes. Sixty-three percent of likely voters say they favor it. Among registered voters, Californians are divided along party lines, with 78 percent of Democrats, 58 percent of independents, and 36 percent of Republicans in favor.

As part of the revised budget, the governor proposed nearly $4 billion in one-time general fund spending, with $2 billion for infrastructure work, $359 million for homelessness projects, and $312 million for mental health programs. When hearing a brief description of the budget plan, 78 percent of likely voters said it was a good idea.

Overall, 52 percent of likely voters approve of the way that Jerry Brown is handling his job as governor. Fewer likely voters (42%) approve of the California Legislature.

Split on Politics of Russia Probe, Agreement on Election Interference

One year into the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, do Californians think the probe is justified or politically motivated? Opinions are split among likely voters: 49 percent say the investigation is justified, while 48 percent say it’s politically motivated. Partisans view this issue very differently: Among registered voters, 79 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of independents say the investigation is politically motivated, compared with only 22 percent of Democrats.

While Californians are divided over the investigation itself, majorities across all regions and demographic groups think that the Russian government tried to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. A strong majority of likely voters (74%) hold this view, including half (50%) who also believe that members of the Trump campaign helped Russia. Registered Democrats (76%) are far more likely than independents (44%) or Republicans (18%) to think that the Trump campaign intentionally helped Russia interfere in the election.

Among the state’s likely voters, President Trump’s approval rating (38%) remains relatively unchanged. Seventy-five percent of registered Republicans approve of Trump, compared to 36 percent of independents and 10 percent of Democrats. Just 18 percent of likely voters approve of Congress.

A Distrust of Government

Californians tend to distrust government, with far stronger animus toward the federal government. Just 18 percent of likely voters say you can trust the federal government in Washington to do what is right just about always (3%) or most of the time (15%).

State government fares slightly better. About four in ten likely voters (38%) think that they can trust the state government to do what is right just about always (6%) or most of the time (32%). Sixty-one percent express distrust in state government—including 13 percent who volunteer that they can never trust it to do what is right.

About the Survey

The Californians and Their Government series is supported with funding from the James Irvine Foundation and the PPIC Donor Circle.

Findings in this report are based on a survey of 1,702 California adult residents, including 1,191 interviewed on cell phones and 511 interviewed on landline telephones. Interviews took an average of 17 minutes to complete. Interviewing took place on weekend days and weekday nights, May 11–20, 2018.

The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.1 percent for all adults, ±3.4 percent for the 1,336 registered voters, and ±4.1 percent for the 901 likely voters. For more information on methodology, see page 21.

Mark Baldassare is president and CEO of PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has directed since 1998.

The Public Policy Institute of California is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. We are a public charity. We do not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor do we endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Research publications reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of our funders or of the staff, officers, advisory councils, or board of directors of the Public Policy Institute of California.