Nearly half of registered California voters are still undecided in the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Dianne Feinstein and state Sen. Kevin de León, according to a new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.
Feinstein, who is seeking a fifth full term, holds a 36% to 18% lead over De León among registered voters who said they are going to vote in November, while 46% of registered voters remain undecided, according to the poll.
Though Feinstein is ahead by nearly 20 points, it’s a low level of support for such a long-serving incumbent, said GOP strategist Mike Murphy, an analyst for the poll.
“She’s just underperforming. There’s no passion for her at all,” Murphy said. “Her numbers are just surprisingly low.”
The poll shows Feinstein’s support below the 44% of the primary vote she received on the June 5 ballot. De León got 11% of the vote, securing the second spot in the November general election.
The number of undecided voters was similar to the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll conducted shortly before the primary that showed 41% of likely voters were undecided in the race.
Undecided voters at this point are largely Democrats who are waiting to see how the race between the two Democrats shapes up, said Bob Shrum, a former Democratic operative who is the director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC.
In the months ahead, Feinstein’s massive cash advantage and broad name recognition will mean she has a better chance of reaching those undecided voters and convincing them to give her another term, Shrum said. De León struggled to raise money during the primary and secure the second spot on the general election ballot, edging out a Republican who was a virtual unknown for most of the race.
Murphy said undecided voters will likely end up backing Feinstein because she’s always been there.
De León has said he is hoping that now that the primary is behind him, he’ll have a better chance of appealing to donors who want a change and will give him the resources to spread his message. But convincing people to fund his campaign could prove difficult, especially when Feinstein won the primary by such a large margin.
The poll shows Feinstein leading among voters who said they place a high value on education, healthcare, taxes, jobs and housing. Even on immigration, which has been a longtime signature issue of De León, the sponsor of the state’s new sanctuary state policies, Feinstein has an advantage.
Murphy said that despite De León’s 12 years in state government, the poll shows he isn’t yet defined by a specific issue that resonates with voters, and that could be an insurmountable problem.
“Right now he’s just the other name on the ballot who’s a Democrat, and I don’t think that will be enough,” Murphy said.
Although Feinstein led among all age groups in the poll—particularly people over age 65— De León did best among people under age 45. Still, more than 55% of people in that age group said they were undecided about who to support.
Throughout the primary De León made specific appeals to the more progressive wing of the state Democratic Party by positioning himself as an anti-Trump warrior, but the poll found Feinstein holds a substantial lead with liberal and moderate Democrats, most of whom have made up their minds.
It’s among registered Republicans and those with no party preference where more than 54% of voters say they are undecided, according to the poll. There’s a big question of whether Republicans will even vote in the Senate race without a Republican on the ballot, leaving the undecided voters with no party preference as the prime targets for trying to close the gap in the next few months.
Shrum said the results don’t make that appear likely.
“When you look at these numbers he would have to pull off some stupendous gains across the board in order to make this race close,” Shrum said.
The online survey of 893 Californians, including 767 registered voters and 498 primary voters, was conducted between June 6 and Sunday in English and Spanish. The margin of sampling error was 4 percentage points in either direction.
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Jill Darling, survey director of the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research, contributed to this report.