Feinstein Still Weak; Gas Tax Polling

By Jim Ellis

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D)

California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D)

Oct. 18, 2018 — Survey USA released a poll of the California electorate, one more political study that finds Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) failing to establish command in her race against fellow Democrat Kevin de Leon, a Los Angeles state senator.

The S-USA data (Oct. 12-14; 1,200 California adults; 964 registered California voters; 762 likely California voters) sees Feinstein again locked at 40 percent support versus 26 percent for de Leon. This is the sixth survey from four different pollsters that finds the Senator in the mid to low 40s since the June 5th jungle primary. But de Leon fares much worse, failing to break 30 percent in any of the half-dozen ballot test questions.

While all of the research suggests that Sen. Feinstein is politically weak, she will not lose this race. Though she brought in only $982,000 for the third quarter — a low number when campaigning in a state the size of California and understanding that many Democratic House candidates have brought in millions during the same period — de Leon raised just $254,000 and has a mere $309,000 cash-on-hand for the period ending Sept. 30. This is a low figure for a congressional race, let alone for a place that’s 53 times as large as a single CD.

California Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles)

California Senate President Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles)

The other feature potentially making the California Senate race a wild-card contest is the vote drop-off that we will see when comparing turnout for this office to the rest of the statewide ballot.

In 2016, when two Democrats were competing for an open Senate seat — the now-Sen. Kamala Harris vs. then-Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Garden Grove) — fewer votes were cast for that contest than in any other statewide election, including all of the ballot propositions. In fact, over 1.9 million more people voted in the presidential race than in the Senate race, and 1.3 million more chose to decide the last ballot initiative that banned single-use plastic bottles.

What occurred was a plethora of Republican voters simply skipping the Senate race rather than supporting one of the two Democrats. With de Leon running to the ideological left of Feinstein the Republican vote will likely drop even further, which becomes an interesting factor.

Looking at other California polling results according to the Survey USA data, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) holds a 52-35 percent lead over attorney and former presidential candidate John Cox (R) in the governor’s race, which is no surprise. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is ineligible to seek a third consecutive term and fifth overall. Brown first served as governor, in the days before term limits, from 1975-1983, and returned to the office at the beginning of 2011. He is both the state’s youngest and oldest governor.

An intriguing part of the California ballot includes Proposition 6, which would repeal the 12-cent per gallon gas tax that automatically increases to 23 cents during the summer/fall cycle that runs through Dec. 1. GOP leaders were able to qualify this ballot measure not only to eliminate what they believe is an onerous tax, but to give Republicans greater reason to participate in the 2018 election.

Survey USA tested Ballot Proposition 6 and found the vote to repeal leading the status quo, 58-29 percent. Therefore, keeping Republicans somewhat energized over this tax repeal should help their turnout number, which could mean winning some close US House races that otherwise might be lost.

Democrats will enjoy a strong election result in California this year, retaining all of the statewide races. But, Sen. Feinstein’s win percentage will be below her career average, and Republicans may well be successful in leading a repeal of the controversial gas tax increase. While we appear headed to a mixed-result national election, the California political contests, at least to a small degree, may follow suit.

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