Two Democrats in this year’s race for California governor have emerged as the clear favorites in the June primary, according to a new Public Policy Institute of California poll. It shows Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa locked in a virtual tie.
Newsom tops the seven-candidate field at 23 percent of likely voters — right where he was in the last PPIC survey conducted in mid-November. Villaraigosa gained ground — up from 18 percent in November to 21 percent now — thanks to modest surges in support among Democrats and Latinos.
Under California’s primary system, the top two finishers in June — regardless of political party — advance to the November runoff.
The other five candidates — Democrats John Chiang and Delaine Eastin and Republicans Travis Allen, John Cox and Doug Ose — failed to reach double digits in this PPIC poll or the previous. That suggests they have work to do to climb back into the race.
However, they can take heart that the PPIC poll indicated that more than a third of Republicans and independents, along with about 15 percent of Democrats, are still undecided — with the primary still four months away.
It’s important not to overstate the latest results. It’s just one poll, and Villaraigosa’s gains straddle the margin of error. Other polls with different methodologies show Villaraigosa farther behind Newsom — sometimes significantly. And surveys this early in an election cycle, particularly in a year where voter turnout in the June primary will be difficult to predict, often end up simply measuring candidates’ name identification.
But the PPIC findings on the surface suggest that Newsom and Villaraigosa are the favorites to square off in November, and that the rest of the field has yet to find traction.
Newsom has led the pack in every poll and has more campaign cash on hand than the other six candidates combined.
His support and favorability are remarkably consistent from the previous PPIC survey (23 percent of the vote, 39 percent favorability rating) to this one (23 percent of vote, 40 percent favorability).
Villaraigosa has gained support among Democrats and Latinos — with his share of the vote rising 6 percent in each subgroup. His favorability rating also rose from 31 percent to 40 percent, with significant gains among Democrats, independents, voters under 55 and minorities.
State Treasurer Chiang and former state schools chief Eastin have yet to make inroads against their fellow Democrats. Chiang polled at 9 percent for the second consecutive PPIC survey, while Eastin bumped up a notch from 3 percent to 4 percent.
On the Republican side, Allen, an Orange County Assembly member, swapped places with Cox, a San Diego businessman. The November poll showed Cox at 9 percent and Allen at 6 percent; the new survey pegs Allen at 8 percent and Cox at 7 percent. Ose, a former Sacramento-area member of Congress who just entered the race last month, comes in at 3 percent.
Newsom’s campaign sought to get ahead of the PPIC poll by releasing internal polling Wednesday that showed the lieutenant governor with roughly triple the support of Villaraigosa, who was tied for second with Chiang. Newsom’s team also pointed to a poll released last week that also showed him with a solid lead. Those surveys were conducted with different methodologies than the PPIC poll.
The PPIC poll also shows California U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein maintaining her wide lead in her re-election race. She tops her only prominent rival, Democratic state Senate leader Kevin de León, 46 percent to 17 percent.