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Some Thoughts on Turnout and Other Thoughts on the Governor’s Race

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Many observers have marveled at the weird turns the campaigns for Governor have taken during the Primary season. Democrat Gavin Newsom has been campaigning hard for Republican John Cox. Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa and his allies have been campaigning for Republican Travis Allen. John Chiang (D), has been all over TV campaigning for himself, but making zero headway with the voters. The amount of money spent on ill-fated campaigns has been staggering, enough to make a third world country rich, or build an NFL stadium. But, seriously, all that money and all that competition has bought something good: higher voter turnout.

Consider that four years ago, the lackluster Donnelly-Kashkari Republican side of the ballot was more than matched in lacklusterness by incumbent Jerry Brown running the anti-campaign. The result was an election in which only one in four voters bothered to cast a ballot. Holy smokes, these 2018 Primary campaigns – despite all the machinations-over-issues-strategizing—are riveting in comparison. And, with all the money spent communicating to voters, turnout will increase. Instead of three in four registrants not showing up, this time only about two out of three will shirk their civic duty. CERC predicts turnout at just over 30%; call it 32%.

That doesn’t sound like a big change, but it is. Competition and, like it or not, money spent on campaigns breed higher voter turnout and that’s what this primary has produced. The turnout today will be nowhere near the heydays of yester-primaries, when in the 1950s, 60s and 70s more than half the electorate participated in Gubernatorial Primaries. But this is a situation where beggars can’t be choosers. Californians should be happy (though maybe not self-congratulatory) to have arrested what seemed to be an inexorable slide to 10% of the population deciding for the other 90%.

And things are looking up turnout-wise for November. That’s because Newsom will get his wish, facing Cox in a classic – if lopsided – Democrat-Republican duel that is likely to bring out the GOP base. Had Cox not made the run-off, Republicans would have little reason, other than repealing the gas tax, to cast their ballots. Down-ballot Republicans can now breathe easier with a partisan at the top of the ticket.

Our final poll, conducted a week before Registrars close the polls, shows Newsom commanding the field, Cox safely in second, Villaraigosa mired in a third place dogfight with Allen and Democrats Delaine Eastin and Chiang languishing uncompetitively.

Each of the three trailing Democrats are interesting in their own way. Villaraigosa was supposed to be able to use a huge geographic base in Los Angeles to muscle through the field to the right of Newsom. Our polling shows he was entirely unable to leverage LA. Further, the Latino vote is not rallying to Villaraigosa. Latinos see this election as less important than other June elections, are less likely to vote than non-Latinos, and, although they don’t dislike the former Los Angeles Mayor, they also don’t have a problem with the former San Francisco Mayor (or Chiang or Eastin). The upshot: Latinos will vote for Newsom over Villaraigosa by as much as a 2 to 1 margin!

Eastin puzzles because, in the supposed “year of the woman,” and running against two known philanderers, she’s picking up fewer votes from women than from men. Chiang, the only Asian in the field, can’t seem to excite Asians. He’d probably argue that was never his strategy, and we’d applaud his eschewing of tribal politics. However, when voters in Asian neighborhoods are supporting Newsom six to one over Chaing, that is astonishing.

Our final estimate of the vote, with undecideds assigned to the candidates and with a 4.4% margin of sampling error, looks like this…

• Newsom 33%
• Cox 24%
• Villaraigosa 17%
• Allen 10%
• Eastin 6%
• Chiang 5%
• Other 5%

Keep in mind that an election is not over until all the votes are counted, and in California that takes an awfully long time.
Full topline, crosstabs and analysis of Competitive Edge’s pre-primary Gubernatorial polls are at cerc.net/resources/research

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