Field Poll: Tight Races for CA Attorney General, Lt. Governor

Field Poll: Tight Races for CA Attorney General, Lt. Governor

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SAN FRANCISCO—Just four days before voters go to the polls, the race for attorney general is virtually deadlocked, with San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris trailing Republican Steve Cooley by just one percentage point, according to the latest Field Poll.

The new poll, released Saturday in collaboration with New America Media, shows that Democrat Harris, who lagged Cooley by four points in last month’s poll, has pulled even—38 percent to 39 percent—although a significant proportion of the electorate remains undecided.

Meanwhile, in the lieutenant governor’s race, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom maintained a steady five-point lead over Republican incumbent Abel Maldonado, 42 percent to 37 percent, but here, too, a big undecided vote makes the race hard to predict.

Women prefer Harris by an 11-point margin (43 percent to 32 percent), while men support Cooley by a 12-point margin (45 percent to 33 percent). “It’s becoming a battle of the sexes,” said Mark DiCamillo, the Field Poll’s director.

“One reason Cooley is narrowly leading the race, still, is because he’s done better than most Republicans as district attorney of Los Angeles,” DiCamillo said.

Geographic differences are also playing a significant role in the race for the office currently occupied by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown. Where voters live is heavily influencing which candidate they are likely to support on Election Day, DiCamillo said.

In Los Angeles, Cooley’s home turf, Harris is leading by 7 percentage points. But in the rest of Southern California and the Central Valley, Cooley is ahead by comfortable margins, while Harris has an overwhelming edge in the Bay Area and Northern California.

With roughly one-fourth of California’s electorate residing in Cooley’s backyard, “On election night, many observers will be closely watching the vote in Los Angeles County,” DiCamillo said.

Harris also enjoys widespread support among African Americans (69 percent to 14 percent) and Latinos (50 percent to 27 percent), but many Asian-American voters remain undecided despite the fact that Harris is Indian-American and black. “They haven’t given much thought to the attorney general race yet,” DiCamillo said.

According to the poll of 1,500 registered voters, Chinese-American voters narrowly favor Cooley, but a whopping 48 percent are “undecided or other.” Vietnamese Americans also lean toward Cooley, 29 percent to 19 percent, but 53 percent remain undecided. Korean Americans, on the other hand, seem more settled and favor Harris, 37 percent to 29 percent. The poll was conducted in six languages from Oct. 14-26.

Vincent Pan, executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, said many Chinese voters still don’t know enough about either candidate to make a decision.

“It is likely that there hasn’t been as much media coverage or relevant voter outreach for the attorney general race,” Pan said.

How will Chinese voters make their decision in the next five days?

“It’s hard to know,” Pan said. “It may be as late-minute as someone handing out in-language literature about one of the candidates on Election Day.”

DiCamillo speculates that Chinese-American voters will opt for Harris because like her, many reside in the Bay Area.

Jeff Lustig, professor emeritus of government at Sacramento State and editor of Remaking California: Reclaiming the Public Good, said class might also influence how various Asian groups vote.

“Wealthy Asian voters will support the death penalty, so they might conclude that Kamala is easy on crime,” Lustig speculated. “Those Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Thai voters who are not upper-class could have relatives in the criminal justice system, so they may lean towards voting for her.”

In the lieutenant governor’s race, the undecided vote heading into the election is a sizable 21 percent.

Voter attitudes could change swiftly in these last few days, DiCamillo said.

Three months ago, Maldonado, a Latino, was losing the Latino vote to Newsom by 20 points. Now the Republican candidate has narrowed the gap to 6 percentage points (37 percent to 43 percent), despite the fact that Latinos generally lean heavily Democratic.

“Latinos are historically late voters,” DiCamillo said. “When there’s movement towards the end of a race, you can expect it to continue. “

If Maldonado convinces Latino voters that he is ‘one of them,’ I wouldn’t be surprised if he carries their vote on Tuesday,” DiCamillo added.

An overwhelming majority of African-Americans favor Newsom, as do smaller proportions of Chinese and Korean voters. But here again, the undecided group remains substantial. Women and young people (age 18-39) also support Newsom over Maldonado by an average of 9 percentage points.

Lustig, who taught at Sacramento State for 20 years, predicted that young people will show up to vote because of Prop. 19, the ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. “I think Prop. 19 will skew the electorate in the progressive direction,” Lustig said.