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Survey shows Villaraigosa closing in on Newsom in governor's race

FILE: Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, left, and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appear at the 26th Annual Empowerment Congress Summit gubernatoral town hall on Jan. 13, 2018 at USC. Courtesy of the Empowerment Congress

The race for California's next governor appears to be tightening, according to a new survey that has Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa nearly tied among likely voters.  

The Public Policy Institute of California's latest statewide poll released late Wednesday found 23 percent back Newsom and 21 percent support Villaraigosa. Among Democrats specifically, the survey found the two candidates in a dead tie, with each drawing 32 percent of likely voters' support. 

Among other major candidates, Democrat John Chiang, the state treasurer, drew support from 9 percent of  the likely voters surveyed. Republicans Travis Allen, John Cox and Doug Ose received 8 percent, 7 percent and 3 percent, respectively. Democrat Delaine Eastin, the only woman among the top candidates, drew just 4 percent. 

That all other major candidates drew backing in single digits signals that Newsom and Villaraigosa, both Democrats, could have a clearer path to the general election faceoff. California's June 5 primary will advance the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, to the Nov. 6 general election.

Significantly, a large segment of those polled, 24 percent, say they don't know who they'll vote for.

"For Republicans in particular, the voters are unsure, and that's raising the number of undecideds," said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

The results show minor shifts since a PPIC statewide survey released in late November. At that point, 23 percent of likely voters backed Newsom and 18 percent of likely voters backed Villaraigosa. Full results of that survey are available online.

The latest survey also found U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein continues to hold a strong lead over Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León with 46 percent support to 17 percent. Both are Democrats.

De León is struggling with a lack of strong statewide name recognition. The survey found 64 percent of likely voters indicated they had not heard of de León or didn't know enough about him to have an opinion.

"People are gravitating toward the candidates that they're familiar with," Baldassare said, noting that name recognition is also a factor in the governor's race. 

The researchers also asked those polled about the state Legislature's handling of sexual harassment allegations against lawmakers and staff workers. Nearly half said they were closely following the news about harassment and misconduct at the state Capitol. 

But those surveyed are divided in their views about how Democratic leaders are addressing sexual harassment: 39 percent approve and 36 percent disapprove.

The survey is based on results from phone interviews with about 1,700 Californians that took place between Jan. 21 and Jan. 30. During that month, two of the first major town halls and debates for the governor's race took place. The first was held at USC on Jan. 13 and the second was conducted in English and Spanish at UCLA on Jan. 25. 

This story has been updated.