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Radically Different Polls Suggest Uncertainty In California Governor, Senate Races

Jeff Chiu / AP Photo

Democratic Candidates for California Governor Delaine Eastin, from left, Gavin Newsom, Antonio Villaraigosa and John Chiang speak at a NARAL Pro-Choice California event in San Francisco, Tuesday, Jan. 30, 2018.

Jeff Chiu / AP Photo

Two recent polls have muddied the waters of the top election races in California, but political analysts say they may be outliers.

A SurveyUSA poll last week showed former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa closing the distance behind fellow Democrat Lt. Gavin Newsom. Meanwhile, a Berkeley IGS poll indicated Villaraigosa falling behind not just Republican businessman John Cox, as he has in some past surveys, but also Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen.

In the U.S. Senate race, the Berkeley poll also showed Democratic U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s lead softening in comparison to past support. More shockingly, it also showed the sudden rise of a virtually unknown Republican challenger, James Bradley, from out of a field of 11. In the poll, Bradley had closed within range of former state Senate leader Kevin de León, who is challenging Feinstein from her left.

Berkeley IGS poll director Mark DiCamillo has discussed howthe survey methodology changed, and political analysts have floated different ideas of why the surprising results came up in these polls.

But Geoffrey Skelley of the University of Virginia Center for Politics says it’s important to take any individual poll with a heavy grain of salt, particularly in a primary election featuring many candidates and a high level of undecided voters.

“It’s sort of a fool’s errand sometimes, because you don’t have a lot of data or the data is all over the map,” Skelley said. “You sort of have to look at the overall averages among recent polls.”

That longer view shows a few constants, according to Skelley.

“We could say only two things fairly confidently,” Skelley said. “Dianne Feinstein will get a shot at winning re-election in November in the Senate. And Gavin Newsom, there’s really no reason to think he won’t make it to November.”

Under California's primary system, the top two June finishers — regardless of political party — advance to the November general election.

After Newsom, polls have generally shown Villaraigosa and Republican John Cox vying for the second slot in the November general election, and, in the Senate race, de León solidly behind Feinstein.

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