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USC Dornsife/LA Times poll: Race for California’s top education post in virtual dead heat

Gov. Jerry Brown’s approval numbers highest since taking office; he maintains large lead over challenger Neel Kashkari

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll surveys likely voters. (Photo: Tom Arthur via Creative Commons)

At a time when education has surpassed the economy as the top priority for California voters, the race for State Superintendent of Public Instruction is neck and neck, according to the latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

Among likely voters, incumbent Tom Torlakson leads challenger Marshall Tuck by a slim margin of 32-29 percent. Among all registered voters, Torlakson has a 30-28 percent lead over Tuck.

The context for the tight race is the emergence of education as the most important issue in the election for governor of California. Forty-two percent of likely voters rated education as their number one priority, followed by the economy (37 percent), water and drought issues (27 percent), crime and public safety (16 percent), taxes (17 percent), and the state budget deficit (13 percent).

There’s no precedent for what’s happening in this race.

Dan Schnur

“There’s no precedent for what’s happening in this race,” said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and executive director of the Unruh Institute of Politics of USC.

“I can’t think of a down-ticket office in recent California history that’s received so much attention,” Schnur said. “Some of that is the relative lack of competition at the top of the ballot, some of it is lack of extremely compelling ballot initiatives, but a lot of it is the emergence of education as such a top-tier issue for California voters. What you’re seeing in this race is a predictor for a very long and divisive debate over education reform in California.”

While Tuck is supportive of the ruling in Vergara v. California, which in June found the state’s tenure and layoff policies for public school teachers to violate the constitutional rights of students, Torlakson has been among those seeking to appeal the ruling.

Governor’s race

Jerry Brown, Neel Kashkari,

Jerry Brown, left, and Neel Kashkari face off in the governor’s race. (Photos from the candidates’ websites)

In the race for governor, incumbent Jerry Brown continues to hold his lead over Republican challenger businessman Neel Kashkari. Fifty-six percent of registered likely voters said they would cast their ballot for Brown, while 37 percent would vote for Kashkari. Brown’s support has remained relatively steady since a September 2014 USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll; Kashkari’s support has climbed by one point.

California voters also said they believe Brown would do a better job than Kashkari when it came to addressing specific issues including addressing poverty (49-24 percent); education (47-30 percent); water and drought (45-27 percent); the economy and jobs (44-34 percent); public transportation (44-26 percent); the state budget deficit (43-33 percent); crime and public safety (43-31 percent); prisons (40-29 percent); taxes (38-34 percent); and high-speed rail (37-27 percent).

Name recognition also remains something of a challenge for Kashkari. When likely California voters were asked if they knew the name of the Republican candidate for governor, only 30 percent of voters identified Kashkari. Sixty-seven percent were unsure of the candidate’s name altogether. Recognition for Kashkari has ticked up slightly since the September 2014 poll, when 25 percent of likely voters named him as the Republican candidate and 75 percent were unsure.

Brown’s approval rating continues to climb at 60 percent, slightly higher than his 57 percent job approval rating in the September poll, and a double-digit increase from his 44 percent approval rating in April 2011, soon after he took office. Brown’s disapproval numbers remain steady at 33 percent, a one point increase since September.

California now has one of the most popular governors in the country, even as the state faces some unique challenges in terms of water and other big issues.

Drew Lieberman

“California now has one of the most popular governors in the country, even as the state faces some unique challenges in terms of water and other big issues,” said Drew Lieberman, vice president of Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. “People are giving him credit. He’s much more closely associated with the things that have gotten better in the state since taking office than with any pessimism or concern over the big issues.”

However, 46 percent of likely voters still say the state is headed on the “wrong track,” though that number has been decreasing over time. Forty-nine percent agreed with that statement in the September 2014 poll compared to 82 percent who agreed in a March 2010 USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll. Forty-one percent of likely voters feel that the state is going in the “right direction,” up slightly from 37 percent in September 2014.

Ballot propositions

According to the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, Propositions 1 and 2, which Brown has been promoting leading up the election, as well as Prop. 47 have strong majority support from likely voters. Likely voters oppose Propositions 45 and 46.

Proposition 1, which would authorize $7.545 billion in general obligation bonds for state water supply infrastructure projects, has the support of 61 percent of likely voters with 25 percent in opposition. That number has dropped only slightly since a September 2014 USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, which found 64 percent of likely voters supporting the initiative, with 22 percent in opposition.

Fifty-four percent of likely voters favor Proposition 2, with 26 percent opposed. The ballot initiative would require an annual transfer of state general fund revenues to a budget stabilization account, with half the revenues being used to repay state debts and the remaining funds earmarked for emergencies or budget deficits.

Proposition 47 also enjoys a strong lead with 56 percent of likely voters backing the initiative and 27 percent in opposition. The initiative would require a misdemeanor sentence instead of a felony for certain drug and property offenses, but is inapplicable to persons with prior conviction for serious or violent crime and registered sex offenders.

Proposition 45, which would require the state insurance commissioner’s approval before a health insurer can change its rates or anything else affecting the other charges associated with health insurance, faces an uphill battle to pass. Forty-six percent of likely voters oppose the initiative, while 36 percent support it.

Proposition 46 is opposed by forty eight percent of likely voters, and supported by 37 percent of likely voters. Amongst all registered voters, Proposition 46 supporters and opponents are tied at 42 percent.

Support has declined by wide margins since the September 2014 poll, when 61 percent of likely voters favored the proposition and 29 percent opposed it.

The ballot initiative would require that doctors be drug tested and also requires that a statewide prescription database be reviewed before certain controlled substances are prescribed to patients, and increases the cap for medical negligence lawsuits from $250,000 to account for inflation.

Voters are willing to pass propositions when they see significant problems that need resolution.

Dave Kanevsky

“Voters are willing to pass propositions when they see significant problems that need resolution,” said Dave Kanevsky, vice president of Republican polling firm American Viewpoint, part of the bipartisan team with Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research.

“They’re willing to take on the water bond because of the drought. They understand the issues that California has had with deficits and the budget problems over the past 15-plus years. Then recently, with prison overcrowding and the lawsuits that have resulted, they’re willing to take on some prison and sentencing reforms. This election is showing that voters are willing to pass ballot propositions when they see something rising to the level of a significant problem or crisis.”

The amount of money spent to oppose Propositions 45 and 46 also play a part in their low support, Schnur noted.
“Propositions 1, 2 and 47 are facing little or no financial opposition, while the campaigns for Propositions 45 and 46 are being heavily outspent,” he said.

California statewide offices

Democrats take the lead in races all the way down the ballot among likely voters. For lieutenant governor, Democrat Gavin Newsom (52 percent) leads Republican Ron Nehring (35 percent); for secretary of state, Democrat Alex Padilla (45 percent) leads Republican Pete Peterson (41 percent); for controller, Democrat Betty Yee (46 percent) leads Republican Ashley Swearengin (38 percent); for treasurer, Democrat John Chiang (52 percent) leads Republican Greg Conlon (34 percent); for attorney general, Democrat Kamala Harris (51 percent) leads Republican Ronald Gold (37 percent); and for insurance commissioner, Democrat Dave Jones (47 percent) leads Republican Ted Gaines (36 percent).

High-speed rail

Californians are slightly less inclined to want to halt the state’s high-speed rail project, according to the poll. When asked whether construction of California’s high-speed rail line should be allowed to go ahead or if it should be stopped, voters were nearly split. Forty-eight percent said the rail project should stop, while 44 percent said that it should proceed.

These results reflect a minor shift in sentiment from the September 2013 Poll, which showed that 52 percent of voters said the project should be stopped, as opposed to 43 percent who would want the project to go forward.

The poll, the largest statewide survey of registered voters, sampled 1,537 California voters from Oct. 22-29, 2014, and includes a significant oversample of Latino voters as well as one of the most robust cell phone samples in the state. The survey was conducted by Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and Republican polling firm American Viewpoint, and has a margin of error of +/- 2.9 percentage points.

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USC Dornsife/LA Times poll: Race for California’s top education post in virtual dead heat

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