If the Los Angeles mayoral election were held tomorrow, three candidates would be elbowing for the lead: City Councilman Eric Garcetti, City Controller Wendy Greuel and County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. That comes from a new poll, conducted by the Center for the Study of Los Angeles and based on interviews of 1,600 city residents. The results of the survey will be formally released this week.
There are reasons not to give those results too much weight. It’s almost a year until voters will cast ballots; not all the candidates who may run have entered; money is still being amassed; messages for the campaign have yet to be refined, debates held and advertisements aired. Moreover, the numbers reflect only those voters who stated a preference, and more than half of the registered voters polled said they don’t yet know enough about the candidates to have a favorite.
Nevertheless, the early look is telling. Garcetti was favored by 21% of the registered voters who had an opinion, Greuel by 24% and Yaroslavsky, who has not even announced his candidacy, by 23%. With a margin of error of 2.89%, that’s essentially a dead heat. City Councilwoman Jan Perry finished a distant but credible fourth, with 16%. The other contenders, former First Deputy Mayor Austin Beutner and radio personality Kevin James, finished in the single digits, though James did significantly better than Beutner, garnering 7% to Beutner’s anemic 2%.
Those numbers help illustrate the variation in early name recognition, and thus highlight the different tasks that the candidates confront. Beutner, for instance, may have to spend freely to introduce himself to voters; the good news for him is that he’s rich and can afford it.
Where the poll is even more revealing is in its hints about where each candidate’s base of support is likely to be. There, the results may be particularly encouraging for Garcetti and Greuel. Garcetti is the clear leader among the city’s largest ethnic group (41% of Latinos back him), and Greuel leads among union households (26% support her), which turn out to vote in large numbers. Garcetti also appears best poised to pick up those voters who are most supportive of the current mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa. Of the Villaraigosa supporters who rate his performance an A or a B, more than 59% back Garcetti.
That’s interesting, because while Villaraigosa has worked reasonably well with Garcetti, there’s no real love between them. Villaraigosa has often frustrated the City Council with his aloofness and vanity, and Garcetti had to navigate that resentment during his tenure as president of the council. Villaraigosa so far has declined to endorse a candidate, but he’s thought to favor either Greuel, whom he likes, or Beutner, who served in his administration. The question these numbers pose, then, is whether Villaraigosa’s supporters would abandon Garcetti if the mayor gives his nod to someone else.
And then there is the race’s wild card, Yaroslavsky. The supervisor’s long rumination on whether to jump in has become one of the race’s defining — and, to Yaroslavsky’s admirers, infuriating — characteristics. He sets deadline after deadline for when he’ll make up his mind, and then doesn’t. To some, that’s proof of his indecisiveness, and thus of his unsuitability to be mayor.
But the poll results suggest another possibility: that staying out of the fray is not hurting him and that his deliberation may be smart politics, not just hand-wringing. Without having raised a dollar or even declared his interest in the office, Yaroslavsky is the solid favorite among those who think Villaraigosa has performed poorly (58% of those who give the mayor a D or an F favor the supervisor), and he polls competitively in most regions of the city. One conspicuous weakness is among Latinos, however: Just 2% of those polled backed Yaroslavsky, who fought off an attempt earlier this year to create a second majority-Latino supervisorial district that would have carved up his constituency.
As for Greuel, she enjoys the broadest spectrum of support. Although she’s the favorite of union households, she polls well with non-union members as well. She does about equally well in the Valley and the rest of the city and about equally well among men and women.
Her weakness, if it is one, is that she doesn’t have a stalwart base anywhere. Latinos prefer Garcetti, blacks favor Perry, whites like Yaroslavsky; she holds her own with Garcetti among the poor, but they don’t vote much, and trails Yaroslavsky a bit among the rich, who do. The only category in which she enjoys a commanding lead is among those who have lived in Los Angeles between six and 15 years (35.5% of that odd demographic favors her).
This is a long campaign, and the eventual winner may not even be on this list. But as of this moment, Greuel, Garcetti and Yaroslavsky are the candidates — or potential candidates — worth watching.