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Republicans in dead heat to challenge California governor, election poll finds

Survey shows that Gov. Jerry Brown maintains high approval ratings and wide lead over challengers

Wu_Suzanneby Suzanne Wu

According to results from a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, just days before the open primary election on June 3, Gov. Jerry Brown maintains a wide lead over two Republican challengers for the state’s highest office.

Businessman Neel Kashkari has pulled into a statistical dead heat with California State Assemblyman Tim Donnelly to determine the opponent who will face Brown in the general election in November.

If the general election were held today, Brown would defeat Donnelly 54-26 and Kashkari 55-27, according to the results of the poll. Brown’s support is buoyed by strong approval numbers and the lowest levels of pessimism about the state’s future in the history of the poll.

The largest statewide survey of registered voters, this survey sampled 1,511 California voters from May 21-28 and includes a significant oversample of Latino voters as well as one of the most robust cell phone samples in the state.

Determining the Republicans’ ideological direction

In other state polls, Kashkari trailed Donnelly in the race to challenge Brown in November. But the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll indicates that recent advertising spending may have paid off for Kashkari, with the candidate pulling into a statistical tie with Donnelly. Among likely voters in the primary election, Democratic incumbent Brown has 50 percent of the vote, compared to 18 percent for Kashkari and 13 percent for Donnelly, with 10 percent of likely voters still undecided.

Thirty-two percent of likely Republican voters said they would vote for Kashkari in the primary election on June 3, compared to 21 percent for Donnelly and 17 percent for Brown. Twenty-three percent of Republican likely voters are still undecided.

Given that Brown has no opposition from the left, the battle in the primary is who will win the Republican vote.

David Kanevsky

“Establishment Republicans beat Tea Party candidates in Georgia, Kentucky, Idaho and Oregon last week. If the trend continues in California — and there’s growing evidence it might — we may be witnessing a national trend toward a more moderate national Republican Party. If the Tea Party candidate wins in California, the internal party struggles will continue and likely exacerbate,” said Mike Madrid, co-director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, USC Unruh Institute of Politics fellow and Republican strategist. “With the Republican race in a statistical dead heat and with unprecedented levels of low voter turnout, a relatively small number of voters will be determining the ideological direction of the Republican party in California — and perhaps the image of the GOP nationally.”

Solid Democratic support for Brown

Among Democratic likely primary voters, Brown gets 73 percent of the vote, with 6 percent for Donnelly and 3 percent for Kashkari. Among likely voters who indicated no party preference, 54 percent said they plan to vote for Brown in the primary election, 9 percent for Donnelly and 9 percent for Kashkari.

Eighty-three percent of voters who said they voted for Brown in 2010 plan to vote for him again, with 2 percent for Donnelly and 3 percent for Kashkari. Among voters who cast their ballot for Meg Whitman in 2010, 6 percent say they plan to vote for Brown, 30 percent for Donnelly and 41 percent for Kashkari.

No one is declaring victory on the economy, but voters are giving Brown credit for making progress.

Drew Lieberman

“Given that Brown has no opposition from the left, the battle in the primary is who will win the Republican vote. Right now, it is too close to call, but Kashkari appears to have the momentum and edge with key primary voting groups,” said David Kanevsky, research director of Republican polling firm American Viewpoint, part of the bipartisan team with Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner that conducted the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll. “Whichever candidate advances to the general election, the race should tighten once the GOP nominee solidifies their base. The challenger needs everyone who voted against Brown in 2010. That won’t be enough to win, but you need to walk before you can run.”

Rising optimism for California’s future

Compared to 77 percent of voters who felt pessimistic about California’s future when Brown was elected, fewer than half of voters — 46 percent — said the state is on the “wrong track” in the latest poll. And optimism about the state’s future has more than doubled: In the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, 37 percent of voters say the state is headed in the “right direction,” compared to 15 percent in November 2010.

“No one is declaring victory on the economy, but voters are giving Brown credit for making progress,” said Drew Lieberman, vice president of Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. “There are strong quantitative signs that people think he’s doing a good job and are willing to reelect him based on merits not just partisanship.”

Fifty-four percent of voters overall approve of the job being done by Brown, a double-digit increase from his 44 percent approval rating in April 2011.

Fifty-four percent of voters overall approve of the job being done by Brown, a double-digit increase from his 44 percent approval rating in April 2011. Brown’s disapproval numbers have remained virtually unchanged, with 32 percent disapproval in the latest poll, compared to 33 percent disapproval in April 2011.

“Gov. Brown is in a formidable position on the eve of the primary. Not only do a strong majority of California voters approve of the job he’s doing, but those voters also give him solid marks on several issues facing the state, including crime and public safety, health care and the economy,” said Rodriguez, co-director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, Unruh Institute fellow and Democratic strategist.

On individual issues, voters gave Brown high ratings on crime and safety, with 50 percent approving of the job being done by the governor on this issue, and 35 percent disapproval. The governor received his second-highest approval rating on the economy and jobs, with 47 percent approval and 44 percent disapproval. On education, 45 percent of voters approved of the job being done by Brown and 43 percent disapproved. On health care, 46 percent approved and 38 percent disapproved. Voters gave Brown the lowest marks on prisons, with 30 percent approval and 46 percent disapproval.

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll surveyed 1,511 registered voters from May 21-28, 2014. The full sample carries a margin-of-error of +/- 2.9 percentage points and the likely voter sample carries a margin-of-error of +/- 4.4 percentage points.

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