County Supervisor Susan Golding and managed growth advocate Peter Navarro have opened a slim lead over San Diego City Councilman Ron Roberts in a competitive three-way race for mayor of San Diego, according to the results of a poll conducted by The Times.
With 36% of the electorate still undecided less than two weeks before election day, Golding is favored by 25% of the 526 registered voters surveyed. Navarro is supported by 19% and Roberts is the choice of 11%.
Among the 261 voters likely to turn out in the June 2 primary, however, the race tightens, with Golding at 27%, Navarro at 23% and Roberts at 17%, the results show.
Because 25% of likely voters are still undecided and most voters with preferences said they may still change their minds, Navarro and Golding appear to be locked in a particularly tight race, said Times Poll Director John Brennan.
Roberts remains within striking distance of Navarro, but faces a difficult task in attempting to squeeze into the widely expected November run-off election, Brennan said.
The top two vote-getters will compete in the Nov. 3 election unless any candidate captures more than 50% of the vote in the primary--an unlikely prospect.
"Name recognition appears to be driving this election at this point, more than issues," Brennan said. "The standing of the candidates can be directly tied to their name recognition."
That is starkly evident from the finding that just 15% of those polled are very interested in the race to succeed retiring San Diego Mayor Maureen O'Connor. In contrast, 36% said they were closely following the presidential race that will feature California Republican and Democratic primaries the same day.
Amid the Los Angeles riots and high-profile elections for president, U.S. Senate and Congress, the mayoral candidates appear to be fighting a losing battle for the attention of San Diego voters.
The fourth major candidate, Tom Carter, received 4% in the poll among all registered voters and 5% among likely voters surveyed. Accountant Bill Thomas received 4% among the registered voters and 1% among likely voters. Magician Loch David Crane received 1% support in each category.
But for each of those three candidates, 8 in 10 of the people questioned said they knew too little to form an opinion about them.
The margin of error in the survey of registered voters is 5 percentage points. The sampling error among likely voters is 7 points. The poll was taken last Thursday and Friday.
Voters ranked crime (22%), education (22%), jobs (18%) and growth (14%) as the major issues on their minds in the first open-seat mayor's race since 1986.
Surprisingly, in a year when much is being made of voter discontent in general and incumbent politicians specifically, 63% of San Diegans polled said they believe that city government is "basically sound." Two-thirds also expressed satisfaction with the communities in which they live.
As they look toward choosing the next mayor, many voters are still unable to pick the best candidate on key issues such as the economy, crime, character and change. That finding reinforces the survey's conclusion that each candidate's name identification is one of the most powerful forces determining voter preference.
But among those who have formed an opinion, Golding is marginally preferred as the candidate to tackle San Diego's crime problem and revive its struggling economy, according to the survey.
Despite her opponents' efforts to link Golding with her ex-husband, Richard T. Silberman, who is serving time in federal prison for his role in laundering what he believed was drug money, more pick Golding as the candidate with the best record on honesty and integrity than any of her opponents. Silberman is former chief of staff for Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr.
But a 46% plurality of voters is unsure on that question.
Golding even leads Navarro, who has positioned himself as the race's most powerful agent of reform, when voters are asked which candidate is the best choice for those who want change.
"I personally think Susan is leading because she is positioned well for the campaign," said George Gorton, Golding's campaign consultant. "She has been talking about crime and growth and jobs, and doing so in a responsible fashion."
From a strategic standpoint, Golding enjoys the powerful advantage of name recognition--three quarters of the voters have formed an opinion about her, compared to just 52% for Navarro and 48% for Roberts--and a broad base of voter support among demographic groups.
The only woman in a race that includes five men, Golding has been reaching out to women with apparent success. In the poll, she receives 31% of the women's vote, compared to 19% for Navarro and 6% for Roberts. But even among men, she runs evenly with Navarro and slightly ahead of Roberts.
"I think that a woman will bring about better change and they're far more honest than the men," said Rebecca McLemore, a 66-year-old Encanto resident who told pollsters she will vote for the 46-year-old supervisor.
But while Golding's favorability rating of 47% is the highest of all the candidates, so is her unfavorability score of 27%. Male voters and those who believe that the city is not currently governed see her in a particularly harsh light.
Golding's support is soft; just 4 in 10 of her voters say they will stick with her no matter what happens before election day. But Navarro and Roberts face the same problem.
Though he is not as well known as Golding, Navarro, perhaps the most controversial figure in local politics today, surprisingly enjoys a better favorable-to-unfavorable rating than his two closest competitors. His 38% positive to 14% negative ranking suggests that he could expand his support by generating positive name recognition in the campaign's final weeks.
The 42-year-old founder of Prevent Los Angelization Now! enjoys fairly broad-based support. He outpolls Golding 30% to 25% among voters who believe the city is poorly run and leads among renters 25% to 18%. Navarro is also ahead among the tiny group of voters who cite "being an outsider" as a top attribute for the next mayor.
The race's two leaders run almost evenly among some other groups that are inclined to support Navarro: Liberals, Democrats and less educated voters.
"I think what really sold me on Peter . . . was that he spoke the language, he spoke Spanish," said Mary Jo Fay, 43, an unemployed City Heights nurse who attended the San Diego Organizing Project rally last week.
"The other reason was because Peter said, 'These other guys are 20-year politicians, give me a chance.' And I like his platform," said Fay, who participated in the survey.
Jenny Dean, Navarro's press secretary, said that she was "not surprised at all that we're ahead of Roberts and moving in on Golding. Peter has painted himself as a man who is compassionate about certain issues, and I think Ron hasn't convinced anyone that he's compassionate about anything."
Roberts has carved out a relatively narrow niche among voters, with 18% support among Republicans, 15% among men, and 14% among upscale voters, the well-educated, homeowners, and conservatives. He runs well among people likely to vote and could benefit from a low turnout election.
But he faces the twin problems of poor name recognition and the worst positive-to-negative rating (27% to 21%) of the three top candidates, despite an advertising campaign that has heavily emphasized his All-American family and his personal rags-to-riches success story.
In addition, more Golding voters cite Navarro as their second choice than Roberts. A plurality of Navarro voters consider Golding their second choice. That finding diminishes the 49-year-old councilman's chances of swinging the front-runners' voters into his camp.
Nevertheless, John Wainio, a Roberts' campaign consultant, said the councilman's private polling shows a similar horse race but a favorable block of undecided voters.
"Where we place a lot of confidence is in what we know about that huge undecided block," Wainio said. "They're the people most interested in the Roberts message" of clamping down on crime and fostering job creation.
However, the Times poll shows that the large group of undecided voters do not fit Roberts' voter profile either--in fact they do not appear to be natural constituents of any candidate. They are not very aware of or favorably disposed toward any of their choices.
How the Poll Was Conducted
The Times Poll interviewed 526 registered voters in the city of San Diego, by telephone, May 21 and 22. Of those, 261 were identified as likely to vote in the June 2 mayoral primary. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the city. Random-digit dialing techniques were used to ensure that both listed and non-listed numbers had an opportunity to be contacted. Results were weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education and household size. The margin of sampling error for the sample of all registered voters is plus or minus 5 percentage points. For certain subgroups, the error margin is somewhat higher. For example, the error margin on the sample of likely voters is plus or minus 7 points. Poll results can also be influenced by other factors such as question wording and the order of question presentation.
TIMES POLL: San Diego Mayor's Race
If the primary election for mayor of San Diego were being held today, for whom would you vote?
Registered Likely Candidate voters voters Susan Golding 25% 27% Peter Navarro 19% 23% Ron Roberts 11% 17% Tom Carter 4% 5% Bill Thomas 4% 1% Loch David Crane 1% 1% Someone else -% 1% Don't Know 36% 25%
Among women, Golding gets 31% to 19% for Navarro and 6% for Roberts.
Men divide almost evenly: Golding 19%, Navarro 19% and Roberts 15%.
Among Republicans: Golding 26%, Navarro 15% and Roberts 18%.
Among Democrats: Golding 24%, Navarro 22% and Roberts 4%.
Would you describe the manner in which the city of San Diego is governed these days as basically sound or unsound?
Opinion Percentage Basically sound-- 6% essentially good Basically sound-- 56% needs some improvement Unsound--needs 12% many improvements Unsound--needs 22% fundamental overhauling Don't know 4%
What are you looking for most in a candidate for mayor this year? (Two replies accepted.)
Qualification Percentage Honesty 50% Experience 13% Political outsider 8% Strong leader 36% Can bring change 27% Agrees with me on the issues 14% Cares about people like me 25% Other 6% Don't know 3%
What is the one issue you would most like to see the San Diego mayoral candidates address? (Two replies accepted)
Issue Percentage Jobs / Unemployment 18% Business climate / 8% jobs leaving city / General Dynamics Crime 22% Drugs 7% Gangs 3% Police 6% Jails 1% Helping homeless 9% Get homeless off streets 2% Public transit 2% Street repairs 1% Water 2% Sewage 5% Housing 2% Excessive growth / 14% overdevelopment Health care 2% Economy 2% Education / schools 22% Immigration 5% Pollution / environment 5% Taxes 3% Airport 5% Budget 5%
Source: Los Angeles Times Poll of 526 registered San Diego city voters May 21-22, including 261 likely voters.