The outcome of the election for U.S. Senator between incumbent Democrat Barbara Boxer and her Republican challenger, California Treasurer Matt Fong will most likely hinge on who turns out to vote this November 3rd, according to a recent Los Angeles Times poll. In the latest poll, Boxer is running ahead of Matt Fong among registered voters, 47% to 39%. However, among voters most likely to turn out, Fong beats Boxer by a narrow margin 48% to 43%. Therefore, in an election that draws out a high proportion of registered voters, Boxer may have the advantage. However, if turnout is low, Boxer's reelection is more doubtful.
Among registered voters, Boxer has an eight point advantage over Fong. Not only is this a weak cushion of support six weeks out from election day, but her vote is generally softer than that of Fong. While 65% of Fong voters said they will definitely vote for him this November, just 51% of Boxer voters are as certain of their choice. Thirty-four percent of Fong voters said they will probably vote for Fong or are still considering their choices. Forty-eight percent of Boxer voters give this response. Boxer's support remains softer than Fong's among those most likely to vote. Seven out of 10 Fong voters in this group said they would definitely vote for him, while just 57% of Boxer voters feel as sure of casting their vote for Boxer.
Unsurprisingly, Fong receives his strongest support from registered Republicans, with whom he garners 76% of their vote. Boxer does equally well in her own party, receiving 73% of registered Democratic support. However, Boxer leads Fong among independents (an important swing voter group) by more than 2 to 1: 50% to 24%. Boxer also does better among moderates (51% to 33%) and pulls slightly more support from conservatives (26% of their vote) than Fong does from liberals (12%).
When looking at likely voters, however, Boxer's advantage among these key voting groups begins to melt away. Boxer continues to run well among Democrats (74% of their vote) and Fong does even better with Republicans (83%). However, independents become nearly divided. Furthermore, the gap narrows among moderates, with Boxer receiving 46% of their vote to Fong's 39%. And among likely voters, Boxer does not fare much better with conservatives than Fong does with liberals.
Among registered voters, Boxer also does better in the traditionally more Democratic regions of Los Angeles County (52% to 32%), the Bay Area (58% to 29%), and the rest of North California (53% to 32%). Fong fares better in the rest of Southern California (48% to 38%), which includes the more conservative San Diego, Orange, and Riverside counties. The candidates are running closest in the Central Valley (48% for Fong and 40% for Boxer), a region which often proves critical in tight races. Yet, among likely voters, Fong wins heavily in the Central Valley (56% to 39%) and is tied with Boxer in Los Angeles County and Northern California outside the Bay Area. His lead in Southern California outside of Los Angeles County widens among likely voters (56% to 35%) as well.
Boxer does well among voter groups who historically are less likely to turn out to vote, indicating that she may lose some of her support in a low turnout election. Among registered voters, she leads with unmarried voters, lower income voters, younger voters, Latinos, African Americans, less educated voters, and women (a lead generated by strong support from Democratic women). The two candidates are in a close race among more affluent voters, older voters, whites, more educated voters, and men. Other than in the Central Valley and Southern California outside of Los Angeles County, Fong leads only with Republicans and conservatives among registered voters.
Boxer's advantage with many subgroups disappears when focusing on likely voters.Among likely voters, Fong leads with more affluent voters, college-educated voters, men, and white voters and is tied with Boxer among less affluent voters, voters with a high school education or less, and women. Among likely voters, Boxer leads only with Democrats, liberals, Bay Area voters, and non-white voters.
Much of Fong's vote is a "not Boxer" vote. When registered voters were asked why they would vote for Fong, the highest proportion (29%) said they would do so because they do not like Boxer. Another 22% said they were choosing Fong simply because he is a Republican. More of Boxer's voters cite her qualifications, with 20% saying they will vote for her because she is the most experienced and best qualified. Twenty-one percent cite her stand on the issues (just 14% gave this response regarding Fong) and one-quarter (26%) said they would vote for her simply because she is a Democrat.
Influence of the Clinton Scandal
The size of turnout in any election is difficult to predict. However, it is especially difficult this year, in an election that may be greatly influenced by the scandal surrounding President Clinton.
The survey indicates that Boxer may suffer from the aftermath of Clinton's actions and her own reaction to his behavior. Boxer is a well-known supporter of women's rights, but an equally well-known supporter of President Clinton (with whom she is related by marriage, as well as partisanship). Thirty percent of registered voters and 35% of likely voters said they would be less likely to vote to reelect Boxer knowing she has not been as outspoken against Clinton as she was against Republican Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas and Republican Senator Bob Packwood when allegations of sexual harassment emerged about both men. Fifty-nine percent of registered and 53% of likely voters said her reaction to the Clinton scandal would make no difference in their vote and eight percent said her reaction would make them more likely to vote for her. Unsurprisingly, Republicans said Boxer's reaction to the Clinton scandal will make them less likely to vote for her (53%) than Democrats (12%) and independents (28%).Slightly more men than women also said they would be less likely to vote for her, in particular Republican men (60%). White voters are more likely than African American and Latino voters to give this response as well.
Ratings of the Candidates
Further suggesting Boxer's vulnerability, her ratings are only lukewarm.Forty-seven percent of registered voters approve of the job she is doing as U.S. Senator, while 30% disapprove. Likely voters are slightly more disapproving, with 47% rating her positively and 37% negatively. Again, unsurprisingly, Boxer's job rating is higher with registered Democrats (61% approve and 14% disapprove) than it is with Republicans (30% approve and 54% disapprove). There are two positive indicators for Boxer in her job approval rating: Boxer's rating is stronger with Republican women (34% approve and 50% disapprove) than Republican men (27% to 58%). And among moderate Republicans she gets a 49% to 36% approval rating as well(both important target groups in a close election).
Independent voters are more likely to be undecided in their view of Boxer (37%), but lean toward approving of her more than disapproving (38% to 25%). Furthermore, while two-thirds of liberals approve of her job performance, 51% of moderates do so, and just 31% of conservatives hold this view. Half of voters have a favorable overall impression of Boxer while one-third give her an unfavorable review in this regard. As with her job approval rating, she receives better ratings from Democrats and Independents (66% and 51% favorable, respectively) than Republicans (26%). She also does better with liberals (73%) and moderates (52%) than conservatives (31%). Boxer continues to get slightly better reviews from moderate Republicans (who are divided in their view) than conservative Republicans.
Both Boxer's approval rating and impression are stronger with the same groups that give her a higher proportion of their vote: women, younger, less educated, African American, Latino, Los Angeles County, and Bay Area voters.
Fong's ratio of favorable to unfavorable ratings is stronger than that of Boxer, with nearly 3 out of 4 voters familiar with him having a favorable impression of the challenger (40% favorable to 14% unfavorable). Sixty-four percent of Republicans and 56% of conservatives rate him favorably, compared to 26% of Democrats, 21% of independents, 22% of liberals, and 38% of moderates. Fong's favorable rating is stronger with men than women, and stronger with conservative Republicans, older voters, more educated voters, Southern California voters outside of Los Angeles County, Central Valley voters, and white voters.However, Fong remains unknown to 43% of the electorate, compared to the only 15% unfamiliar with Boxer. Fong is more unknown among women than men (47% to 39%) and Democrats and independents (51% and 62%) than Republicans (27%). He is also less familiar to younger voters, less affluent voters, Northern California voters, African American voters and Hispanic voters (Boxer's strongest supporters). This finding suggests that as voters learn more about Fong his support may rise.
Issue Positions and Perceptions of the Candidates
Many political observers have focused on the contrast between the liberal Democrat Boxer and the conservative Republican Fong. However, voters appear to be less aware of these distinctions. While 41% of registered voters and 50% of likely voters believe Boxer's views are more liberal than their own, 30% and 32%, respectively, describe them as about the same and nine percent of registered and seven percent of likely voters believe she is more conservative than themselves (16% and 10% are uncertain). Just 28% of likely and registered voters view Fong as more conservative than they are, with 29% of registered and 33% of likely voters believing his views are about the same as theirs and six percent and seven percent of both groups calling him too liberal. However, 34% of registered and 30% of likely voters are not sure where Fong's views fall in relation to their own, giving him room to define himself in a more moderate light.
Voter groups more amenable to Fong are also more likely to perceive Boxer as too liberal, including more men than women, older voters, affluent voters, white voters, voters in Southern California outside of Los Angeles County, and Central Valley voters. This perception may make it more difficult for Boxer to make inroads among the higher turnout groups. Abortion is also an issue that is used to divide the liberals from the conservatives. And, in this election year, it has emerged as a strong issue in the gubernatorial race, with Democrat Gray Davis promoting his pro-choice stance against Republican Dan Lungren's pro-life position via a television commercial. The survey results show that Boxer's view of abortion (that it is the choice of the women) comes closer to that of more voters than that of Fong's (who would place restrictions on abortion after the first three months of pregnancy).
Fifty-one percent of registered voters believe Boxer's position better reflects their own, while 39% choose the position of Fong (among likely voters the result is closer: 48% to 41%). Independents and moderates share Boxer's view over Fong's in high proportions: 57% to 35% for independents and 53% to 37% for moderates. One-third of registered Republicans (men and women) and conservatives also say Boxer's position comes closer to their own. Moderate Republicans are more divided in their view over whose position on abortion comes closest to their own, with 48% choosing Boxer's and 41% Fong's.
In general, Boxer's position on abortion is preferred over that of Fong's by higher proportions of voters regardless of gender, age, income, or race. Voters in the Central Valley and Southern California outside of Los Angeles County are divided in their opinion.
Another advantage for Boxer is that more registered voters believe Boxer better understands people like themselves than does Fong (45% to 31%).The gap narrows among likely voters, 43% for Boxer and 39% for Fong. Views in this area also break along partisan and ideological lines, however, independents and moderates believe Boxer better understands people like themselves by nearly a 2 to 1 ratio. The same subgroups who show greater support for Boxer are also more likely to believe that she understands people like themselves. Fong's strongest subgroups are more likely to be divided in their view.
How the Poll Was Conducted
The Times Poll contacted 1,651 Californians, including 1,270 registered voters and 684 likely voters, by telephone September 12Ð17. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the state. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and non-listed numbers could be contacted. The entire sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education, region and registration. The margin of sampling error for the entire sample and for registered voters is plus or minus three percentage points; for likely voters it is four points. For certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. Although Asian Americans were interviewed and included in the sample, there were not enough of this group to break out separately.