Gavin Newsom continues to lead in governor’s race
BERKELEY » It’s still nine months away, but Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom continues to lead the pack of contenders in next June’s “top two” primary election for governor, according to a UC Berkeley poll released Friday.
Results show that the Democrat, a former San Francisco mayor, is favored by 26 percent of likely voters.
Three other candidates vying for second place are trailing far behind, including former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a Democrat who garnered only 10 percent of likely voters in the poll, which was conducted by UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies.
Two Republicans, San Diego businessman John Cox and Orange County Assemblyman Travis Allen, posted similar numbers: Cox was favored by 11 percent of likely voters, Allen by 9 percent.
The number of likely voters who favor Newsom changed little from a Berkeley IGS poll in May, when it was 22 percent.
But it’s still early and most California voters aren’t paying much attention to the race, said Larry Gerston, a professor
emeritus of political science at San Jose State University.
“Newsom still leads, but his lead is not nearly enough to separate him from everybody else if you are thinking about the top two’’ vote-getters who will advance to the November election regardless of party. “Newsom is only at 26 percent, which is only a quarter of the electorate,’’ Gerston said.
And as promising as the early numbers may be for Newsom, the poll shows that a third of likely voters are still undecided in the race, which has a crowded field of six major candidates that also includes state Treasurer John Chiang and former state Schools Superintendent Delaine Eastin, both Democrats.
Chiang placed fifth, attracting 7 percent of likely voters, while Eastin came in last with 4 percent.
“There’s a heckuva lot of undecided,’’ said Melissa Michelson, a political science professor at Menlo College in Atherton. “This really still could go to anybody.’’
Newsom’s early polling lead and huge fundraising advantage — he raised $5.3 million during the first six months of 2017 — are big factors, Michelson said.
“But I don’t see that he’s got a lock,’’ she said. “Gavin’s pretty popular up here where we all know him from his days in San Francisco.’’
Yet once more people — especially ethnic voters — begin paying attention to Villaraigosa, the ex-mayor of the state’s most populous city, they may well ask, “Do we want the white guy, or somebody who maybe has a better understanding of communities of color?’’ she said.
That’s not to say that Newsom doesn’t have a good record with ethnic voters, Michelson said. But when people vote, she said, “they want someone who looks like them.’’
To poll director Mark DiCamillo, the most interesting part of the survey were the issues it identified “that are not only important overall to the electorate, but are important to the supporters of each of the candidates,’’ he said.
Newsom’s supporters ranked their top priorities as health care policies (80 percent), followed by climate change (71 percent), environmental policies (67 percent) and the economy and jobs (also 67 percent).
Except for health care policies (at 76 percent), Villaraigosa supporters’ concerns are much different: Economy and jobs ranked highest (at 83 percent), followed by health care, race relations (64 percent), immigration and policies affecting undocumented immigrants (60 percent), and housing (also 60 percent).
By contrast, voters backing either of the two Republican candidates, Cox and Allen, offered a third set of issue priorities. Among three of their top four issues: crime and law enforcement, immigration and policies affecting undocumented immigrants, and state spending policies.
Notably, DiCamillo said, “health care is a big issue with Democrats, both Newsom and Villaraigosa. But it does not emerge as an issue for Republicans.’’
The poll shows that Newsom’s support is strongest among Democrats, African-Americans, Northern California voters, white voters and those with household incomes of $100,000 or more.
Villaraigosa, meanwhile, leads among Latinos and voters born outside the U. S. He’s also competitive with Newsom in Southern California and among voters who make less than $40,000 a year.
Both he and Chiang, who on Thursday were in Mountain View attending an event hosted by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, brushed aside the poll results.
“Where are we today?’’ Villaraigosa asked a Bay Area News Group reporter who showed him the poll. “Let’s see. September of 2017, and the primary’s in June. We’re a long way from the primary and a long way from the general.”
He called the polls “a snapshot in time,” adding that he is knocking on doors, campaigning up and down the state for votes.
“It is what it is,’’ the former mayor said of the poll. “Take it with a grain of salt.”
Chiang said the numbers will change once candidates start to spend a lot of money.
While the race may be about name identification today — which he acknowledged will be a “particu- lar challenge” for him, “we know we have a strong and resounding message about who’s actually been there doing the work to improve the quality of life for all Californians,” Chiang said.
“We’re going to target the voters and talk about the work we’ve done in regards to housing, making sure we build a sound and strong financial future for all Californians and how we improve the education system — those are areas that we can distinguish ourselves,” he said.
The survey was conducted online in English and Spanish by YouGov, an international marketing research firm, from Aug. 27 to Sept. 5. The poll of 1,000 likely voters has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points for the candidates. The margin is 6 percentage points for the issues identified in the governor’s race.