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Press Release · March 21, 2018

Newsom Solidifies Lead, Cox Gains Ground, Feinstein Maintains Edge over de León


SAN FRANCISCO, March 21, 2018—Democrat Gavin Newsom has surged ahead of Antonio Villaraigosa in the state’s gubernatorial race, and Republican John Cox has made headway among the state’s likely voters. Senator Dianne Feinstein maintains her 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 (28%) is the top choice among likely voters, followed by Republican John Cox (14%), Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa (12%), Republican Travis Allen (10%), and Democrats John Chiang (6%) and Delaine Eastin (5%). A quarter of likely voters (24%) are still undecided. In the January PPIC poll, Newsom (23%) and Villaraigosa (21%) were in a virtual tie, with 7 percent supporting Cox.

A majority of likely voters (55%) are satisfied with candidate choices in the gubernatorial primary, with Democrats (71%) much more likely than independents (48%) or Republicans (42%) to be satisfied.

Among likely voters, Democrats prefer Newsom to Villaraigosa by 17 points (39% to 22%), with 17 percent unsure. Republicans choose Cox over Allen (33% to 25%), with 30 percent unsure. The top two candidates among independents are Newsom (29%) and Cox (15%). Latinos are more likely to support Villaraigosa (37%), while whites are more likely to support Newsom (31%).

With the June primary less than three months away, nearly half of likely voters are following news about the candidates very (14%) or fairly (34%) closely. Interest in the race has increased 18 points since January and has nearly doubled since last December.

Feinstein Holds Steady Lead in US Senate Race

Senator Dianne Feinstein continues to lead Kevin de León by double digits (42% to 16%) among likely voters, with 39 percent undecided. Among Democrats, two-thirds (66%) support Feinstein. Most Republicans (71%) are undecided, as are 43 percent of independents. Feinstein leads across racial/ethnic groups, and among men (35% to 21%) and women (48% to 13%).

“Gavin Newsom and Dianne Feinstein have solid leads in the gubernatorial and senate races,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “Yet many voters remain undecided, raising questions about the outcomes in the top-two primary.”

Asked how satisfied they are with their choice of candidates in the US Senate race, likely voters are divided (47% satisfied, 44% not satisfied). A large majority of Democrats (73%) are satisfied and a similar share of Republicans (72%) are not.

Among likely voters, Feinstein’s job approval rating is 54 percent. Most Democrats (75%), 42 percent of independents, and 24 percent of Republicans approve of her job performance. California’s junior US senator, Kamala Harris, has a 45 percent approval rating among likely voters.

Immigration Top of Mind

When asked which issue they would most like to hear gubernatorial candidates talk about between now and June, about a quarter of likely voters (23%) say immigration or illegal immigration, with guns, gun control, or school safety the second most frequently named issue (10%). Among those who mention immigration or illegal immigration, 25 percent support Cox, 17 percent support Newsom, 15 percent support Allen, and 13 percent support Villaraigosa.

On March 6—while the PPIC survey was in the field—the US Justice Department announced it was suing California for its sanctuary policies. Asked just after the announcement, a majority of California’s likely voters (55%) said they support the state and local governments making policies and taking actions to protect the legal rights of undocumented immigrants. Among registered voters, a large majority of Democrats (79%) and a majority of independents (54%) are in favor, while most Republicans (78%) are opposed.

About half of likely voters (49%) in California think the federal crackdown on undocumented immigrants is mostly a bad thing. Stark partisan differences emerge among registered voters, with 74 percent of Democrats saying it’s a bad thing, while 81 percent of Republicans say it’s a good thing. Younger adults ages 18 to 34 are more likely than older residents to say the crackdown is bad.

Amid state-federal tension over immigration policy, Governor Jerry Brown’s approval rating has held steady, with 54 percent of likely voters approving of his job performance. The legislature’s approval rating is 45 percent.

Despite the president’s call for a border wall, a solid majority of likely voters (62%) continue to oppose building a wall along the entire Mexican border. Across parties, 90 percent of registered Democrats and 69 percent of independents are opposed, while a large majority of Republicans (71%) are in favor.

“As federal-state tensions rise, Californians still strongly support the state’s role in protecting undocumented immigrants’ rights and overwhelmingly oppose building a border wall,” Baldassare said.

Half Say Midterms More Important Than in Recent Years

As midterm elections for Congress approach in November, half of likely voters in California view this year’s election as more important than in the past, with Democrats (59%) more likely than Republicans (42%) and independents (42%) to say so.

If the election for the US House of Representatives were held today, a majority of likely voters (53%) say they would vote for or lean toward the Democratic candidate, while 39 percent say they would vote or lean Republican. Independent voters are slightly more likely to prefer the Republican candidate (45% to 37%). Women prefer Democrats by double digits (58% to 34%), while men are divided (47% Democrat, 44% Republican).

A clear partisan divide emerges when likely voters are asked if they would prefer a representative who has experience in—or is new to—politics. An overwhelming majority of Democrats (73%) prefer experience, while a majority of Republicans (56%) prefer someone new to politics.

Just 22 percent of California’s likely voters approve of Congress’s job performance, but 53 percent approve of their own representative in the US House.

Bipartisan Support for Water Bond, But Partisan Split on Housing, Rail

With disappointing rainfall and snow pack totals this winter and talk of another possible drought, 53 percent of likely voters say that the supply of water is a big problem in their part of the state. Asked about the governor’s proposal to build tunnels in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta—starting with one tunnel and later adding a second—42 percent of likely voters say this is very important for the future quality of life and economic vitality of California.

By comparison, fewer likely voters (32%) say the high-speed rail is very important for the state’s future. Among registered voters, Democrats (67%) are more likely than independents (48%) and far more likely than Republicans (28%) to be in favor of the high-speed rail.

Californians will vote in June on Proposition 68 to fund water infrastructure projects. Asked if they would vote for such a bond measure, two-thirds of likely voters (66%) say they would vote yes. An overwhelming majority of Democrats (78%) and a strong majority of independents (66%) say they would vote yes, compared to about half of Republicans (51%).

About two-thirds of likely voters (64%) would also vote yes on a bond measure to pay for affordable housing, which will be on the November ballot. Partisans are more divided on an affordable housing bond than on a water measure, with 85 percent of Democratic likely voters and 64 percent of independents saying they would vote yes, compared to 33 percent of Republicans. Still, a majority of likely voters across the state’s regions—except in Orange/San Diego (49%)—would vote yes on an affordable housing bond.

New Tax Law Unpopular, Record Support for More Gun Restrictions

The survey asked about two other issues that are the topic of nationwide debate: the new federal tax law and laws covering the sale of guns. Just 36 percent of likely voters approve of the tax bill signed into law by the president in December (58% disapprove). Asked about the overall effect of the law, 40 percent say it will be mostly negative, 27 percent say it will be mostly positive, and 29 percent say it will not have much of an effect.

Following the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, do Californians think the laws covering gun sales should be more strict, less strict, or kept as they are? Most likely voters (70%) think laws should be stricter, 24 percent say they should be kept as they are now, and only 6 percent think they should be made less strict.

The share of California likely voters who think laws should be stricter is up 15 points since PPIC last asked this question in May 2017—and is the highest it has been since this question was first asked in 2015. An overwhelming majority of registered Democrats (87%) and a strong majority of independents (68%) say gun laws should be stricter. Notably, almost half of Republicans (48%) now say the laws covering gun sales should be stricter, up from 28 percent in 2017. Strong majorities of adults across all regions and across all age, education, income, and racial/ethnic groups hold this view. Notably, strong majorities of Californians in both congressional districts held by Democrats (77%) and districts held by Republicans (63%) support stricter laws. Women (80%) are much more likely than men (65%) to support stricter laws.

“In the wake of recent mass shootings, Californians have responded with record-high support for stricter gun limits as many Republicans now join Democrats in calls for action,” Baldassare said.

About the Survey

This PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from the James Irvine Foundation and the PPIC Donor Circle. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,706 California adult residents, including 1,193 interviewed on cell phones and 513 interviewed on landline telephones. Interviews took place from March 4–13, 2018. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.

The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.4 percent for all adults, ±3.7 percent for the 1,404 registered voters, and ±4.5 percent for the 931 likely voters. For the 1,244 adults asked question 34a about state action to protect undocumented immigrants from March 7–13, it is ±4.1 percent. For more information on methodology, see page 22.

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.