New Polling In The Governor’s Race

Tony Quinn
Political Analyst

Is there a real race for governor after all?  You would not know it given coverage of the race, of which there has been practically none, nor the campaigning pace of the leading contender, Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.  But in fact, early fall polling does show some evidence that the race may actually be getting tighter.

After the primary, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) released its first general election poll.  PPIC is a highly respected poll, so there is every reason to trust its results.  Its July 26 poll showed Newsom at 55 percent, Cox at 31 percent, a 24 point margin.  These results tracked the 2016 presidential race in which Donald Trump competed with Kansas Gov. Alf Landon, the 1936 GOP presidential candidate, to see who would have the worst showing of any Republican in California history.  It was a tie, both got 32 percent. 

So it would have made sense to expect Republican gubernatorial candidate John Cox to run at about that level in 2018.  An earlier poll by Survey USA showed the race at Newsom 58 percent, Cox at 29 percent.

And then we had no independent polls until mid-September when Reuters/Ipsos, a national polling firm, came out with their findings that showed Newsom at 52 percent and Cox at 40 percent, only a 12 point margin.  That was followed up by several polls from Thomas Partners Strategies, a public relations firm, showing the race margin at between four and 12 points.

These polls are all apples and oranges since they use different methodologies.  But then on September 27, PPIC came out with its second gubernatorial poll and this one showed Newsom at 51 percent, Cox at 39 percent, a margin of only 12 points.  So between the first and second PPIC polls, Newsom has lost four points and Cox has gained eight points, and the 24 point Newsom margin in June has been halved to 12 points.

So what is going on?  Is there a sudden pro-Republican surge taking place in California?  That seems hardly the case.  Trump continues to consume all the political oxygen in America and fights like the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination have hardly helped things for the GOP in this state.

I think the trend is far more subtle, a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the political establishment in this one party state, which means dissatisfaction with the ruling Democrats, and growing questions about their competence to do even simple things.

Over this summer, two interesting things have happened.  First, much of the state has burned up due to wildfires, and the state response has seemed disingenuous at best.  While Gov. Jerry Brown campaigns worldwide against climate change, there was no preparation for the effects of a drought, perhaps acerbated by climate change, in California.  The forests simply dried up and with no thinning of dead trees and overgrown areas, rural California was just waiting to burn.

So for all the bureaucracy, all the speeches, all the conferences on climate change, no one thought about wildfires.  But scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimate that the smoke from 500,000 acres of wildfires emits the equivalent of the annual greenhouse gas emissions from six large coal fired power plants.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, our 6,649 wildfires thus far in 2018 have burned more than 1.5 million acres, and the fire season isn’t even over yet.  As a result, California has managed so far this year to contribute the equivalent of greenhouse gas emissions from 18 large coal fired power plants.

So through the misfeasance of its leaders, California has all by itself managed to contribute more greenhouse gas to global warming than probably any other part of the country.

And where was the Democratic controlled legislature during all of this?  Much too busy, it seems, banning plastic straws rather than dealing with forests, although finally they did put some money into this year’s budget to better manage the forests.

But closer to home, there is the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the long lines and growing frustration that something simple as renewing drivers license is such a dismal experience.  Californians may begin to wonder why state government cannot efficiently manage the DMV.  But even worse, they may begin also to question how it will be when state government runs all our health care under the single payer system that Newsom promises to implement.

If California health care is be run like the DMV, the new system may resolve medical issues by simply making people stand in line until they die.

Californians may also be aware that this state, once the great springboard of prosperity for the middle classes, now has the nation’s highest poverty rate, lousiest highways and highest home prices.

These disparate issues may well be planting doubt in the voters’ minds about maintaining the same political crew in power.  However, it is a very long haul for John Cox or any other Republican this year with the party’s national brand in tatters.

But then stranger things have happened; Massachusetts and Maryland, two of America’s most Democratic states, elected Republican governors four years ago and both are overwhelming favorites for re-election this year.  Someday, maybe soon, could California join that trend?

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