Poll Analysis: Can Davis Retain His Job?

The volatility of the recall campaign can spin you around so fast that poll results reported two weeks ago are very old news compared to poll results reported this week. The compressed election has events daily that change the tenor of the race, while television ads are airing constantly. Before the debates and before the court of appeals decided to hold up the election, then allow it to go on, the recall was within three points — 50%–47% in an early September L.A. Times poll; Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante was leading actor Arnold Schwarzenegger by 5 points (30%–25%) and state Senator Tom McClintock was right behind Schwarzenegger with 18%. The momentum seemed to be in Gov. Davis’ favor and it looked like the recall was headed toward failure. But this poll shows that the momentum has shifted toward recalling the governor.

Now a new L.A. Times poll shows there is a 14 point spread between voting yes and no on the recall. With less than a week left to the October 7th election, 56% of likely voters would vote yes on recalling Gov. Davis, while 42% would vote no, not to recall the governor. Just 2% said they were undecided.

The campaigns are now in the home stretch and the airwaves are flooded with Bustamante, McClintock and Schwarzenegger ads, plus Davis’ ads against the recall. However, Schwarzenegger has engaged more of the electorate to look at him as the one who can save the state. The actor has the advantage over the airwaves with his TV ads playing constantly. And the ads are working for him, in addition to his star power and running as an outsider — not beholden to special interests. In follow-up interviews with poll respondents, voters expressed anger and frustration at Davis and the way he has run the state. That is one of the reasons for Schwarzenegger’s advancement to frontrunner.

The second part of the ballot is a vote for a replacement candidate. The ranking of the candidates have changed since the Times’ last poll with Schwarzenegger now receiving more votes than Bustamante. Schwarzenegger receives the support of 40% of likely voters, followed by Bustamante at 32% and McClintock at 15%. Three percent of voters would support Green Party candidate Peter Miguel Camejo. Arianna Huffington, an independent candidate receives less than 0.5% of the vote. Five percent said they would not vote on this part of the recall ballot.

Schwarzenegger has made inroads not only because of Bustamante’s financial woes concerning his financing and Indian tribal campaign contributions, but because he is seen as the candidate of change. The lieutenant governor’s favorability ratings are almost as bad as Gov. Davis’ and voters are split over whether he has the honesty and integrity to be governor of California.

To recall or not to recall

As the earlier September poll suggested, Gov. Davis had to reach out to his core base of voters in order to have the recall measure lose. In this latest poll, it doesn’t seem that he is able to accomplish that feat.

This election is energizing many voters and interest is extremely high. Almost three quarters of likely voters are “very” interested in following the recall election. This is in comparison to the 2002 gubernatorial election when 38% of likely voters in a late October ’02 Times poll said they were “very” interested in following the governor’s race that year. This intensity holds true for whites (76%), Latinos (68%), Democrats (66%), independents* (68%) and Republicans (81%).

*For this analysis, independents include voters registered in minor parties.

Party and political ideology: More than seven out of 10 (72%) of Democratic likely voters say they would vote against the recall, while almost three in 10 (27%) would vote for it. Davis has to do better among his own party in order to remain in office. In 2002 he barely beat Republican candidate Bill Simon (47%–42%) where he received about 80% of the Democratic vote. The governor is still having a problem with non-liberal Democrats. More than a third of likely voters in this group would vote to recall the governor, while 64% would vote against the recall. Still, a fifth of liberal Democrats would also vote to recall the governor, while 79% would vote no on the recall.

Not surprisingly, roughly nine in 10 likely Republican voters support the recall, while 11% are against it. Conservative Republicans likely to vote are overwhelmingly for the recall (92%) as they always were , while non-conservative Republican voters are now more inclined to support the recall than they were in early September. Now, 82% of moderate Republican likely voters support the recall and 18% oppose the measure. In the earlier poll, 28% said they would vote against the recall, while 68% would support it.

Middle of the road voters are somewhat divided as to whether to recall the governor or not (51% for recall, 46% against). This finding does not bode well for Gov. Davis. In the earlier September poll, 53% of voters in this group said they would vote against the recall, while 43% would support the ballot measure.

Likely voters who are independents are voting 53% to 40% in favor of the recall, while 7% are undecided. The vote against the recall by this group dropped seven points from the earlier September poll where 47% of voters were against the recall. The share of independent voters who support the recall has not changed. This also does not bode well for the governor. Another finding that is not in Davis’ favor is the fact that 26% of voters who supported Davis in the 2002 gubernatorial election are now voting to oust him from office.

The likely voters in this poll are made up of 30% who describe themselves as politically liberal, 31% who consider themselves middle-of-the-road, and 37% who describe themselves as conservative.

State registration figures show that Democrats make up 44% of the electorate, Republicans make up 35% and independents (and minor party registration) are 21% of the electorate. The Times’ likely voters are made up of: 47% Democrats, 12% independents and 41% Republicans.

Race: Latinos likely to vote are divided as to whether to recall the governor or not (49%–48%). This may be some good news for the governor as this is a turnaround from the last Times poll where this group supported the recall (53%) to 41% against. Bustamante running to replace Gov. Davis drains Latino votes away from voting against the recall — more so than with all likely voters. A quarter of Latinos who support Bustamante as the next governor say they will vote for the recall. (Compared to just about one in 10 of likely voters overall.) Although we don’t have enough blacks and Asian Americans to break out as separate subgroups (The Times only looks at groups with more than 100 respondents in them), blacks are overwhelmingly against the recall and Asians are somewhat inclined to vote against the recall. (Likely voters in this poll are made up of 67% whites, 8% blacks, 16% Latinos and 8% Asians.)

Gender: There is no gender gap in this current survey as there was in the earlier September poll. Both men and women are supporting the recall (58% and 54% respectively). In the earlier poll, men supported the recall (57%), while women were against it (54%).

Education: Voters who have a college degree or more are splitting their votes — 49% for the recall and 48% against the recall. Once again, this finding shows that another group is moving from the no on recall column to splitting their vote. The voters with a high school diploma or less are now for the recall (58%) to 40% against the recall; in the earlier September poll, this group was split (48% to 51%).

Union members: There is still some work to be done to convince this group — who is usually loyal to Gray Davis and the Democratic Party — that voting no on the recall is in their best interest. The findings have not changed since the earlier Sept. poll. More than half (54%) of union members likely to vote are supporting the recall, while 43% are against it.

Regional breaks: Surprisingly, Los Angeles, a very Democratic county, is now voting in favor of the recall measure. A majority (53%) of LA county voters support the recall, while 46% are against it. This is not good news for the governor. However, seven in 10 Bay area voters are against the recall. Voters in the rest of northern Ca. are split (50%–49%). Three out of five voters in the rest of southern Ca. and 78% of Central Valley voters are voting for the recall. Voters living in coastal counties are leaning against the recall (51%), while voters living in inland counties are overwhelmingly for the recall.

Ratings of Gov. Davis

Gov. Davis continues to rack up poor job and favorability ratings. Almost two-thirds of likely voters disapprove of the way the governor is handling his job, while roughly a third approve. Among most demographic groups Davis receives poor marks; however, Democrats, blacks, Jews and liberals are the groups that give him positive job performance marks. Voters in the Bay Area are split.

The same holds true for his favorability ratings. More than three out five likely voters have an unfavorable opinion of the governor, while 37% have a favorable opinion. He gets positive marks from Democrats, blacks, Jews, liberals and the Bay Area.

Drivers licenses for illegal immigrants

The passing of legislation to allow illegal immigrants to receive driver’s licenses does not sit well with most voters. Sixty three percent of likely voters disapprove of this legislation, including 57% who disapprove “strongly,” while nearly a third approve. Davis’ intention was to shore up his Latino vote by signing the bill, but in so doing, alienated the white voters. Nearly six in 10 Latino likely voters approved of the legislation, including 45% who approved “strongly,” but 68% of white voters disapproved, including 61% who voiced strong disapproval.

In addition to the disapproval of the legislation, 43% of voters said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate that supported the legislation allowing illegal immigrants to received driver’s licenses; 41% said it would make no difference and 13% said it would make them more likely to vote for a candidate. Among those voters who said they would be less likely to support a candidate because of their support for the legislation, 83% would support the recall. Nearly half of white likely voters said they would be less likely to support a candidate who supports the legislation, while Latinos are split — 32% said it would make them more likely, 37% said it would make no difference in their vote and 27% said it would make them less likely to support a candidate.

Court ruling

Almost nine out of ten likely voters said that knowing that a panel of judges ordered the recall election postponed, then the decision was reviewed by a larger panel of judges who overturned the ruling which put the recall back on schedule does not make a difference in how they would vote in the recall election. Nine percent of voters said it would make them more likely to vote for the recall. Just one percent said it would make them less likely to vote for the recall.

Domestic partner law

Half of all likely voters support the legislation that was signed by Davis that gives same-sex domestic partners nearly all of the rights and responsibilities granted to married couples in the state. Republicans (58%) and conservatives (67%) are opposed to this bill. While men are somewhat divided, women are far more tolerant over the bill’s passage — 54% of women voters support the bill.

Replacement candidates: the race to the finish

In the race to win a plurality of votes to replace Gray Davis if voters turn him out of office, Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken an eight point lead — 40% to 32% — over his closest rival, Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante, a Democrat, while his fellow Republican, state senator Tom McClintock, trails the two front runners at 15%.

A Times poll taken earlier this month (when Ueberroth, a third Republican, was still in the running) showed Bustamante with a five point lead over Schwarzenegger. In an earlier August Times poll, the lieutenant governor led Schwarzenegger by thirteen points. This latest survey shows that the slip in Bustamante’s lead between August and September then became a slide, ending with the lieutenant governor behind by eight points with just one week to go before the election.

Tom McClintock, while maintaining his double-digit third place status, has failed to capitalize on the promise of an upward trend found in the last Times poll, and remains firmly under 20%, the favorite of a core group of conservative Republicans. Other candidates such as Green Party member Peter Camejo have likewise gained no ground, garnering only 3% of the vote while less than 1% now say they would vote for independent candidate Arianna Huffington. Five percent said they didn’t plan to vote for anyone at all.

Amid concentrated media attention and intense popular interest generated by the circumstances surrounding the recall, voters have made up their minds about which candidate to support to a degree unprecedented in previous elections. Eighty-four percent of likely voters overall said they are certain they will vote for the candidate they chose, including 93% of Bustamante’s voters and 89% of Schwarzenegger’s. Many of McClintock’s backers indicated they still may leap, however. More than four in 10 said they probably would vote for him or that they were still considering their choices. Fifty-eight percent said they were certain they would stick with their candidate.

When asked to choose between Bustamante and Schwarzenegger in a hypothetical 2-way match-up, Schwarzenegger was the clear winner among all likelies by 51% to 38%. About two-thirds of McClintock’s voters would choose Schwarzenegger in that case, 10% said they would choose “someone else,” while 7% just wouldn’t vote. Camejo and Huffington voters tended toward Bustamante. If McClintock sticks to his assertion that he will not withdraw, it will continue to be a three-way race.

Expressing their frustration with California’s current economic state of affairs, 37% of likely voters said they want the next governor to concentrate on the budget deficit, something Schwarzenegger has promised to do without raising taxes while Bustamante has said he would raise the “sin taxes” on tobacco and alcohol. The economy and education also were high on voter’s lists of important issues with about two in ten mentioning one or both of them. A growing proportion — now 13% — indicated immigration issues were on their mind while 8% mentioned giving driver’s licenses to immigrants who are here illegally.

Two thirds of those who would vote no on the recall say they plan to also check the box next to Cruz Bustamante’s name just in case. Eight percent of the anti-recall voters will vote for McClintock, 4% will vote for Schwarzenegger, 5% for Camejo, 1% for Huffington, and 3% for someone else. One in 10 said they wouldn’t vote for a replacement candidate at all. Among those who want to turn Davis out of office, 67% would vote for Schwarzenegger, 21% for McClintock, and 6% for Bustamante.

A 54% majority of Latino likely voters said they would cast their vote for Bustamante, up slightly from 47% in the poll from three weeks ago. Thirteen percent said they would vote for McClintock and 24% for Schwarzenegger. There are too few blacks and Asians in this survey to specifically break out their votes, but by about two to one, blacks are backing Bustamante over Schwarzenegger. Asians on the other hand, picked Schwarzenegger by two to one over both Bustamante and McClintock.

Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante

Bustamante has not yet managed to repair his reputation among the state’s voters, the survey found. More than half of the state’s voters hold an unfavorable opinion of the lieutenant governor, up slightly from the poll three weeks ago, and they are divided between the 48% who say he has the honesty and integrity to be governor and the 45% who say he does not.

This negative impression among voters may stem from positions he has taken on various issues and from the barrage of criticism rained on him by campaign rivals who excoriate his acceptance of funds from Indian tribes who own and operate casinos in the state. While likely voters’ impression of the Indian tribes who own gambling casinos is quite positive (52% favorable vs. 36% unfavorable), it is possible that Bustamante’s critics have succeeded in associating him with the unpopular incumbent Governor Davis, whose critics say he has pandered to special interests in exchange for campaign funds. Forty percent of likely voters overall, half of independents and 20% of Democrats say they are less likely to vote for Bustamante because of his acceptance of funds from the tribes when as governor he would negotiate compacts and contracts with them.

Likewise, the lieutenant governor has taken an unpopular stand on some issues. More than six out of 10 likely voters disapprove of legislation passed by Davis and the Legislature last month which gives driver’s licenses to some immigrants who are here illegally. Forty-three percent of likely voters, including two in 10 of his own party and 43% of independents, say they are less likely to vote for a candidate who supports it, which Bustamante does. He has also proposed modifying Prop 13 which is widely considered the third rail of California politics.

With time running out, Bustamante needs to quickly rally support among his core constituency if he wants to have any hope of putting together a winning bid to take over the state’s helm. While a majority — just over six in 10 — Democrats are backing Bustamante, that is well below the 81% who voted for Davis in 2002. Only 21% of independents and 2% of Republicans are joining the Bustamante bandwagon, compared to the 39% and 12% who backed Davis. Even 15% of self described liberal Democrats plan to vote for a candidate other than Bustamante, while only 48% of moderate Democrats back him. He has three out of four liberal Democrats behind him and 54% of the Latino vote, but only 35% of union households and 48% of Bay area voters, both groups who voted in majorities to put the Democratic governor back in office in 2002.

Bustamante has just has not connected with many voters. Likely voters see McClintock as having the most relevant experience of the replacement candidates and Schwarzenegger as being the strongest leader of the bunch. Only 6% of voters who watched the debate last week thought that Bustamante won and fewer than one in four thought he was the most knowledgeable.

Actor and businessman Arnold Schwarzenegger

Schwarzenegger is winning a two-thirds majority vote among members of his own party, a 44% plurality of independents, and has attracted 15% of Democrats. He is the candidate still left standing who appeals most to those in the center — his support among self-described moderates has doubled from 21% to 42% since the last Times poll in early September when Ueberroth was still in the race. He has also consolidated his support among independents and members of his own party. Republican support has solidified behind Schwarzenegger— rising from 45% in the last survey to 66% in the latest, and likewise he has become a plurality favorite among independents, rocketing from a 14% share among that group then to 44% now.

Likely voters see Schwarzenegger as being the strongest leader of the group of replacement candidates, and even though only 8% say he has the most experience for the job, half have accepted his assertion that he will reduce the influence of special interests in Sacramento.

Conservative Republicans, who were split between Schwarzenegger’s candidacy and McClintock’s in the last survey are now firmly in the Schwarzenegger camp, voting two to one for the more centrist candidate over McClintock, who a majority of the conservative GOP feel is too far to the right to win.

Schwarzenegger still does better among men than among women, who evenly split 36% to 36% between Bustamante and Schwarzenegger, however he is gaining ground — that is a ten point gain for Schwarzenegger among women since the last survey.

Schwarzenegger has attacked rival Democratic candidate Cruz Bustamante and Republican candidate McClintock for their acceptance of campaign contributions from owners of Native American gambling casinos because he says the tribes are trying to buy influence over negotiation of compacts with the state. His critics have attacked Schwarzenegger’s stance as hypocrisy in light of active solicitation of funds for his own campaign among real estate developers, contractors and other business donors who might also have business with the state. This argument does not resonate with many voters, however. By two to one (61% to 31%), more likely voters said that Schwarzenegger’s acceptance of campaign funds from business people makes no difference to their vote one way or another than said it would make them less likely to vote for him.

Sixty-two percent of likely voters said that Schwarzenegger has the honesty and integrity to be governor, including 38% of Democrats, 70% of independents and 86% of Republicans.

State Senator Tom McClintock

Six in 10 likely voters have a favorable impression of staunchly conservative Senator Tom McClintock, including just under four in 10 Democrats, and 52% of independent and other party voters. Even a third of liberals said they have a favorable opinion of him, perhaps echoing Huffington’s comment during the debate that at least you always know where Tom McClintock stands. The widely followed debate (more than two-thirds said they watched or listened to it and 13% said they saw later coverage of it) may have boosted his image in the state, as the number who said they hadn’t heard enough about him to have an opinion dropped from 27% in a Times poll in early September to 11% in this poll. His favorable rating increased by sixteen points over that time, while the proportion of those who have an unfavorable impression of the state senator has remained virtually unchanged.

Even though pressure has been mounting on McClintock to drop out of the race and many influential members of his party, including Darryl Issa who put this recall on the ballot, have endorsed Schwarzenegger, the senator continues to declare that he will stay in the race until the end. This survey shows that popular opinion in his party is also running toward wanting him to quit — six in 10 Republicans said he should drop out to consolidate the vote behind Schwarzenegger. Eight in 10 Democrats would like McClintock to stick it out until the end.

McClintock is the kind of Republican that the state’s right wing would love to see take the top California office. More than nine out of ten Republican likely voters who identify as conservative have a favorable opinion of him, and 95% said he has the honesty and integrity to be governor. A four in 10 plurality of likely GOP conservatives who watched the debate said he won it compared to 32% who felt Schwarzenegger had done the best job. Nearly six in 10 of that group said McClintock seemed the most knowledgeable about the issues facing California.

However, pragmatism is triumphing over ideology. Nearly half of conservative Republican likely voters said that they think McClintock is too far to the right to have a realistic chance of being elected. Six in 10 of the party’s right wing said he should drop out of the race to consolidate the vote behind Schwarzenegger. Only about a third (35%) said he should stay in to give voters a choice. This may be why even though more than three out of every five McClintock likely voters is a conservative Republican, twice as many of that group said they will support Schwarzenegger at the polls (a candidate who is pro-choice, favors some gun control, and supports gay rights) as said they would choose McClintock, who adheres to the conservative agenda on both social and fiscal issues.

Proposition 54

Proposition 54, the Classification by Race, Ethnicity, Color or National Origin Initiative Constitutional Amendment has taken a back seat to the recall. The only ads that have run so far are from the Bustamante campaign which urges a no vote on the proposition. If the election were held today, it would lose, 54% to 31%. There are no clear majorities in favor of this initiative, but 48% of Republicans and 47% of conservatives said they would vote yes on this proposition.

How the Poll Was Conducted

The Times Poll contacted 1,982 Calif. adults, including 1,496 registered voters and 815 voters considered likely to turn out on Oct. 7. The survey was conducted by telephone Sept. 25–29. An additional random sample of the state was also surveyed* over the same period and added to the sample which brought the total number of Latino likely voters in the survey to 137. The entire sample of adults was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age and education as well as to registration figures provided by the secretary of state. The margin of sampling error for likely voters is 3 percentage points in either direction; among Latinos it is 8 points.

Surveys conducted during busy campaign seasons are subject to influence by news events and can also be affected by factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. Telephone numbers for Times Poll samples are randomly selected from the set of all telephone exchanges in the state, which allows all Calif. residents equal chance of being contacted without regard to listed or unlisted numbers or their presence on registered voter lists. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. All racial and ethnic groups are proportionally represented in this survey, even when there may not be enough in the sample to be specifically mentioned. Field work for the random Latino sample was conducted by Interviewing Services of America.