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Press Release · November 30, 2017

Newsom, Villaraigosa Lead Governor’s Race—Many Are Undecided

Feinstein Has Two-to-one Edge Over de León in US Senate Race

SAN FRANCISCO, November 30, 2017—Six months before the gubernatorial primary, Democrats Gavin Newsom and Antonio Villaraigosa are leading in the top-two primary race among California’s likely voters. In the US Senate primary, incumbent Dianne Feinstein leads fellow Democrat Kevin de León by a two-to-one margin in a matchup of the two candidates.

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

With about a third of likely voters (30%) undecided, 23 percent would vote for Newsom, the state’s lieutenant governor, and 18 percent would vote for Villaraigosa, former Los Angeles mayor. Fewer choose Democrat John Chiang (9%), the state treasurer; Republican and businessman John Cox (9%); Republican Travis Allen (6%), a state assemblyman; or Democrat Delaine Eastin (3%), former state superintendent of public instruction. Among Democratic likely voters, Newsom leads Villaraigosa by 8 points (34% to 26%), with 20 percent undecided. Among Republicans, Cox leads Allen by 9 points (27% to 18%), with 37 percent undecided. Independents prefer Newsom to Villaraigosa (24% to 15%), with 35 percent undecided. Latino likely voters are most likely to choose Villaraigosa (42%). Whites are most likely to be undecided (33%). (Sample sizes for Asian American and African American likely voters are too small for separate analysis.)

About half of likely voters (48%) are satisfied with their choice of candidates in the primary (31% not satisfied, 22% don’t know). Democrats are twice as likely as Republicans to be satisfied (61% to 30%), and 43 percent of independents are satisfied. Only about a quarter of likely voters are following news of the gubernatorial candidates very closely (7%) or fairly closely (18%).

Before being asked about their primary preferences, likely voters were asked to give their impressions of six gubernatorial candidates. More than a quarter of likely voters have favorable opinions of Newsom (39%), Villaraigosa (31%), and Chiang (27%). Fewer have favorable opinions of Eastin (12%), Allen (10%), and Cox (10%). Notably, majorities of likely voters say they have not heard of Eastin, Allen, and Cox. More than half of Republican likely voters say they have never heard of Republican candidates Allen and Cox.

Feinstein Leads across Regions and Racial/Ethnic Groups

Feinstein—who is seeking her fifth full US Senate term—leads de León, the state senate president pro tempore, 45 percent to 21 percent, with a third of likely voters (33%) undecided. (Only candidates with significant news coverage and resources were included in this survey.)

“Senator Feinstein is leading in the top-two US Senate primary next June—reflecting the incumbent’s favorability rating—while the challenger is not well known,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

Among Democrats, Feinstein leads 66 percent to 16 percent. With no prominent Republicans in the race, most Republican likely voters (55%) are undecided (25% support de León, 18% support Feinstein). Feinstein is ahead among independents (43% to 20%), with 35 percent undecided. She leads by double digits among Latinos, whites, and other racial/ethnic groups, as well as among men (40% to 23%) and women (50% to 18%). She has majority support among likely voters in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Inland Empire and leads by double digits across other regions.

Half of likely voters (51%) have a favorable view of Feinstein and 39 percent have an unfavorable opinion. Half (48%) have not heard of de León, while 17 percent say they have a favorable opinion of him and 19 percent an unfavorable one (17% unsure).

New Ideas or Experience? Voters Split over Which Is More Important

Asked about the attributes that are important in a candidate for statewide office, about half of likely voters (48%) prefer new ideas and a different approach, while 42 percent prefer experience and a proven record. Most Democrats (55%) favor experience, while majorities of Republicans (60%) and independents (54%) choose new ideas. Asked a similar question about presidential candidates in December 2015, 46 percent of likely voters favored new ideas and 44 percent favored experience.

Is it more important that candidates for statewide office work with the Trump administration or push back against it? Half of likely voters (51%) prefer that candidates push back, while 41 percent prefer that candidates work with the administration.

Single-Payer Health Insurance, Gas Tax Seen as Very Important Issues

Californians will vote on a state affordable housing bond in November. Many other measures may also qualify for the ballot. The survey asked about the importance of four potential issues:

  • Single-payer health insurance. Most likely voters (59%) say the issue of single-payer health insurance is very important to them. Majorities across parties concur.
  • Repealing the recently enacted gas tax. A majority (54%) say repeal is very important to them. Republican likely voters (85%) are far more likely than independent (46%) or Democratic (36%) likely voters to express this view.
  • State bond for affordable housing. About half of likely voters (48%) say a state bond for affordable housing is very important to them. Democratic likely voters (58%) are more likely than independent (42%) and Republican (37%) likely voters to say so.
  • Expanding the size of the legislature. Just 18 percent of likely voters consider expanding the size of the legislature to be very important.

“Ballot initiatives could affect partisan turnout in statewide and legislative races in the November 2018 election,” Baldassare said. ”Most Republicans and relatively few Democrats say that the issue of repealing the gas tax is very important to them.”

A Solid Majority Likes the Top-Two Primary

Five years after it was first used in California, the top-two primary system gets positive reviews from likely voters, with 60 percent saying it has been mostly a good thing. Under the system, voters cast primary ballots for a candidate of any party, and the two top vote getters—regardless of party—advance to the general election. The survey asked about another new process that will be phased in beginning in 2018: registered voters in participating counties will automatically be sent a ballot that can be returned by mail, taken to a drop-off location, or cast in person at any vote center in a county. A strong majority of likely voters (74%) see this change as mostly a good thing.

More Optimism about the State than about the Nation

About half of Californians (53% all adults, 49% likely voters) say that things in the state are generally going in the right direction. Far fewer (29% adults, 27% likely voters) say that things in the US are going in the right direction.

These views are reflected in Californians’ evaluation of their elected leaders at the state and national levels. Slim majorities approve of the way Governor Jerry Brown is handling his job (53% adults, 53% likely voters), and nearly half approve of the state legislature (49% adults, 46% likely voters). Far fewer approve of the way President Trump (28% adults, 34% likely voters) and Congress (22% adults, 15% likely voters) are handling their jobs. While 75 percent of Republicans approve of the Republican president, just 21 percent approve of the Republican-led Congress.

Congressional Tax Proposals Unpopular with Californians

Majorities of Californians (58% adults, 62% likely voter) oppose congressional Republicans’ tax reform proposals, which were being debated and voted on in the House of Representatives as the PPIC survey was taken. Most Republicans (58%) favor the proposals, while majorities of Democrats (84%) and independents (59%) are opposed.

Asked about the impact of the tax reform proposals on them and their families, 39 percent of adults and 41 percent of likely voters say they expect to be worse off. About a third (35% adults, 33% likely voters) expect to be about the same. Fewer (16% adults, 20% likely voters) expect to be better off.

Would lowering taxes for large businesses and corporations help the economy? Only about a third (29% adults, 35% likely voters) say yes. They are more likely to say it would hurt the economy (44% adults, 41% likely voters). Fewer (22% adults, 20% likely voters) say it would make no difference.

“Most Californians oppose the tax reform proposals from the Republicans in Congress,” Baldassare said. “Few believe the proposals would leave them better off personally or benefit the economy.”

Just 35 percent of adults and 27 percent of likely voters favor the elimination of deductions for state and local income taxes and sales taxes. Fewer than half of Californians across parties, regions, and demographic groups favor this proposal. However, nearly half of Californians (49% adults, 45% likely voters) favor limiting the home mortgage interest deduction to the first $500,000 of debt.

Strong Support for Letting Undocumented Immigrants Stay

An overwhelming majority of Californians (86%) say there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the US legally if certain requirements are met. Strong majorities across parties express this view. Nearly half of Californians say they worry a lot (28%) or some (20%) that someone they know could be deported. Notably, 57 percent of Latinos and 48 percent of residents born outside the US say they worry a lot.

Consensus among Partisans: A Third Major Party Needed

A year after the contentious national election, about half of Californians (48%) have a favorable impression of the Democratic Party and a quarter (26%) view the Republican Party favorably. A large majority of Democrats (72%) have a favorable view of their party while a smaller majority of Republicans (59%) have a favorable impression of theirs. Majorities of independents have an unfavorable view of both the Democratic Party (53%) and the Republican Party (68%). And most Californians (60% adults, 64% likely voters) say that both parties do such a poor job that a third major party is needed.

About the Survey

This PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from the James Irvine Foundation, the California Endowment, and the PPIC Donor Circle. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,704 California adult residents, including 1,108 interviewed on cell phones and 596 interviewed on landline telephones. Interviews took place from November 10–19, 2017. 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, ±3.9 percent for the 1,391 registered voters, and ±4.3 percent for the 1,070 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.