State Controller Steve Westly has taken a double-digit lead over Treasurer Phil Angelides in the Democratic contest for governor, but nearly half of likely voters in the June 6 primary are undecided, a new Los Angeles Times poll has found.
The race remains highly volatile: More than half of those who support Westly or Angelides say they could change their minds.
With both still unfamiliar to many Californians, Westly has gained an edge in part by outspending Angelides on biographical television ads. But neither man has started airing negative commercials, which could yet scramble the dynamics of the race. Voting by mail starts in nine days.
For now, Westly leads Angelides among likely Democratic primary voters, 33% to 20%, with 45% undecided.
On the Republican side, the poll found signs of a rebound for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom the Democratic nominee will face in November. Schwarzenegger’s popularity has risen across a broad spectrum of voter groups since the last Times poll in October, when he was pushing a conservative ballot agenda roundly defeated weeks later.
Now, 44% of California’s registered voters approve of Schwarzenegger’s job performance, up from 37% in October. But his recovery is shaky: 53% still give him negative job ratings.
More troublesome for the governor: 48% say they will definitely or probably not vote for him in November. Just 31% say they will definitely or probably support his reelection.
Another difficulty for the incumbent is the surly mood of California voters. The poll found that 61% of them see the state as seriously on the wrong track, their grimmest outlook since they ousted Gov. Gray Davis in the 2003 recall.
At the top of voters’ minds is illegal immigration, the topic of a raging congressional debate that has sparked protests and counter-protests across the nation. For the first time in more than a decade, immigration has surpassed education as the top concern of California voters. Just behind those two topics is the soaring price of gasoline.
Those issues appear to have made more of an impact than the other races on the ballot, shrouded by their absence thus far from the airwaves. The best known of the rest of the candidates, former Gov. Jerry Brown, was leading by better than 2 to 1 over Los Angeles City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo in the Democratic race for attorney general.
With the election a little more than five weeks away, voters are paying scant attention to the Democratic primary for governor. Barely a third of likely Democratic primary voters say they are very interested.
“It’s just too early for me to pay attention,” poll respondent Jana Grover, a retired Oakland teacher, said in a follow-up interview. “I have to wait until it gets down to the wire.”
Although many have no opinion of the two Democrats, Westly already leads Angelides among every major group of likely voters in the primary, including men, women, Latinos and residents of all California regions.
The controller runs ahead even among groups targeted by Angelides, such as liberals and union members -- a sobering turn given Angelides’ endorsement by organized labor. Likely voters in the Democratic primary say Westly would do a better job than Angelides on schools, the economy, the state budget and the environment.
Overall, Westly has left a favorable impression on 58% of likely voters in the primary; Angelides, 52%.
Westly “comes across as very personable,” said Nikole Wilson-Ripsom, 35, an Oakland nonprofit organization administrator who likes the candidate’s background as a former dot-com businessman and Stanford University instructor.
Suzanne Lewis, 55, a Democrat who lives in Valley Village, is leaning toward Angelides, partly because of his vow to reduce college tuition. “It’s a good start,” said Lewis, a publicist. “We have to think about the future.”
For now, in the absence of attack ads, just a sliver of Democrats hold unfavorable opinions of either candidate. Lewis, for example, frowned on Westly’s alliance with Schwarzenegger in a 2004 bond campaign.
And Jared Ikeda, 65, a retired Salinas planning consultant, dislikes Angelides’ record as a developer. “I’m not particularly fond of sprawl,” Ikeda said.
Beyond personal background, a key factor in the Democratic contest is which candidate has the best shot of beating Schwarzenegger. By 37% to 18%, likely voters in the Democratic primary see Westly as more apt than Angelides to oust the governor.
Schwarzenegger’s fate could indeed hinge partly on who wins the Democratic nomination, the poll suggests. In a hypothetical match-up among registered voters, Westly would unseat the governor, 48% to 39%, if the general election were held today, while Angelides and Schwarzenegger would be tied at 43% apiece.
For Schwarzenegger, prospects for a second term are less bleak than they seemed in the fall. He has strengthened his base of Republicans, conservatives, men, whites and residents of inland counties. Among senior citizens, his job approval score leaped from 36% to 56%.
Geri Myers, 61, a retired GOP flight attendant from Westchester, plans to support him -- as she did in the recall -- mainly to check what she sees as out-of-control state spending. “He’s been forcing California not to raise taxes,” she said.
Even after his year of political misfortune, Schwarzenegger carries broad personal appeal for many voters. A narrow majority holds a favorable impression of the former film star.
Yet with his reelection vote now six months away, the governor still faces an array of trouble. Solid majorities of Democrats, independents, liberals, moderates, Latinos and voters in counties along the coast disapprove of his job performance.
His difficulties are especially pronounced among women: 54% say they definitely or probably will not vote for him, and 58% disapprove of his job performance.
“It bothers me that he swaggers and postures,” Grover said. “And I don’t think it’s a great steppingstone, to go from movie star -- especially the kind of star he was -- to governor, for God’s sake.”
By contrast, a lesser 43% of men say they will not vote for Schwarzenegger, and 47% disapprove of his performance.
In a state dominated by Democrats, Schwarzenegger is also falling short of the support he needs in two crucial regions where any Republican must win big majorities to prevail statewide: the Central Valley and the populous areas of Southern California outside of Los Angeles County. In both regions, a little more than a third of voters say they’ll back Schwarzenegger.
Another weakness for the governor is California’s growing ranks of independent voters, a group whose support he needs to offset the Democrats’ edge over Republicans in the state. The poll found that 53% of independent voters would probably or definitely not vote for Schwarzenegger, and fewer than one in four plan to back his reelection.
Central to voters’ disappointment is the notion that Schwarzenegger did not live up to his promise after sweeping into office in a campaign launched and nurtured by stardom: 53% say he has not met their expectations. Even a third of Republicans say Schwarzenegger has fallen short of their expectations.
Key to the governor’s troubles is his education record: 55% of voters disapprove of his handling of schools. Labor unions spent tens of millions of dollars last year on television ads slamming him for breaking a deal to restore several billion dollars in school money that was diverted to balance the state budget.
“I’m hoping to get a person in there who really tunes in to the schools like he said he was going to,” said Democrat Suzanne Bothwell, 60, a state child-care licensing worker who lives in San Leandro. “Then it turned out he was not particularly supportive.”
Voters also lean against Schwarzenegger on immigration, but are split almost evenly on his economic and environmental records.
Aside from the race for governor, the only contest to capture the public’s attention is the Democratic primary for attorney general. Likely voters in the primary strongly favor Brown, now mayor of Oakland, over Delgadillo, 56% to 23%. More than two-thirds of Democrats hold a favorable impression of Brown, but 70% know too little about Delgadillo to form an opinion.
In November, the Democratic nominee will face GOP state Sen. Chuck Poochigian of Fresno. Nine out of 10 California voters have no opinion of Poochigian. Both Democrats hold double-digit leads over Poochigian in potential November match-ups.
Candidates in other primary races are also strangers to most voters. In the GOP contests for controller and treasurer, roughly two-thirds of likely voters have no opinion of the candidates. On the Democratic side, most likely voters are unfamiliar with the party’s contestants for controller or secretary of state.
In the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi is ahead with 25% of likely voters, followed by state Sens. Jackie Speier of Hillsborough at 15% and Liz Figueroa of Fremont at 11%, with 48% undecided.
The poll also cast doubt on prospects for Proposition 82, filmmaker Rob Reiner’s proposal to increase income taxes for those making more than $400,000 a year, in order to establish free preschool for all 4-year-olds.
Most likely voters in the June 6 election take no position on the measure. When read the full ballot description of what it would do, 49% support it, 40% oppose it and 11% are undecided.
Finally, the poll affirmed the unpopularity of President Bush in California. His job rating has hit a new low: 31% of registered voters approve of his performance and 66% disapprove.
The survey, supervised by Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus, interviewed 1,399 registered voters by telephone from April 21 to 27. Among them were 879 likely voters in the June 6 election, including 471 likely to cast ballots in the Democratic primary and 351 likely to vote in the Republican primary.
The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for registered voters and all likely voters in the June 6 election. The margin is plus or minus 5 percentage points for likely voters in each of the party primaries.
Times staff writer Mark Z. Barabak, Times Associate Polling Director Jill Darling Richardson and Data Management Supervisor Claudia Vaughn contributed to this report.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Attitudes on the governor’s race
Among likely Democratic primary voters
Q. Who do you think would do a better job of handling ...
*--* Angelides Westly Don’t know Economy 21% 32 37 State’s budget 20% 31 38 Public education 18% 31 40 Environmental issues 17% 31 42
Q. Which candidate has the best chance of beating Arnold Schwarzenegger in the November election?
Angelides -- 18%
Westly -- 37%
Both/no difference -- 13%
Neither -- 5%
Don’t know -- 27%
Among registered voters
Q. Arnold Schwarzenegger is running for reelection as the Republican candidate for governor of California. Would you ...
Definitely/probably vote for him -- 31%
Definitely/probably not vote for him -- 48%
Still considering the choices -- 18%
Don’t know -- 3%
Q. Do you approve or disapprove of the way Arnold Schwarzenegger is handling the following state issues:
*--* Approve Disapprove Don’t know Economy 45% 47 8 Environment 41% 36 23 Public education 34% 55 11 Immigration 28% 49 23
Q. Do you approve or disapprove of the way Arnold Schwarzenegger is handling his job as governor?
*--* Now October ’05 April ’04 Approve 44% 37% 69% Disapprove 53 59 22 Don’t know 3 4 9
Note: All results are among statewide adults. All questions are summarized. For full/exact wording of questions along with poll results and analysis, go to: www.latimes.com/timespoll. Some results may not add up to 100% where some answer categories are not shown.
How the Poll Was Conducted
The Times Poll contacted 1,863 adults in California by telephone April 21 through 27, 2006. Among them were 1,399 registered voters, of which 879 were deemed likely to vote on June 6. Included are 471 likely to vote in the Democratic and 351 in the Republican primaries. Likely voters were determined by a screening process, which included questions on intention to vote, certainty of vote, interest in the campaign and past voting history. Telephone numbers were randomly selected from among a list of all exchanges in the state, allowing contact with both listed and unlisted numbers. Multiple attempts were made to contact each number. Additional Latino voters were contacted in a separate random sample to allow more accurate analysis of their subgroup. Adults in the entire sample were weighted slightly to conform with census proportions for sex, ethnicity, age, education, region and the secretary of state’s report of party registration. The margin of sampling error for all adults is plus or minus 2 percentage points. For registered voters and all likely voters it is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For Democratic and Republican primary likely voters it is plus or minus 5. For certain other subgroups, the margin of error may be somewhat higher. Poll results may also be affected by factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. Although voters of all racial and ethnic groups were interviewed and are included as part of the overall results, some may constitute too small a subgroup of the sample to be separately reported. Interviews in all samples were conducted in both English and Spanish.
Source: Los Angeles Times Poll
If the Democratic primary were being held today, for whom would you vote?
Phil Angelides 20%
Steve Westly 33%
Someone else 2%
If the candidates in the November election were Arnold Schwarzenegger and . . .
Steve Westly, the Democrat?
*--* Now 10/05 Schwarzenegger 39% 33% Westly 48 38 Don’t know or 13 29 other candidate
Phil Angelides, the Democrat?
*--* Now 10/05 Schwarzenegger 43% 34% Angelides 43 37 Don’t know or 14 29 other candidate
Note: The first question was asked of likely Democratic primary voters and the others of registered voters.
Source: Los Angeles Times Poll