Poll: Karen Bass, Rick Caruso likely face November election

Days before Los Angeles’ first open mayoral election in nearly a decade, Rep. Karen Bass and Rick Caruso, the billionaire developer, appear headed for a November runoff, with Bass grabbing a small advantage as the campaign draws to a close.

Bass (D-Los Angeles) benefits according to a new survey from the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies published by the Los Angeles Times.

Bass is supported by 38% of likely voters in the poll conducted May 24-31. Caruso, who has bombarded the Los Angeles airwaves with millions of dollars in advertising, has 32%.

With 15% of likely voters saying they are still undecided, one of the two could still win the primary, but either candidate is unlikely to win the 50% they need to avoid a November runoff.

The near-certainty that Bass and Caruso will advance to the runoff comes after a hectic few weeks of campaigning across the city that have included increasingly personal and partisan attacks hurled from every camp. Caruso supporters have attacked Bass’ record attendance in Congress, while Bass supporters have spoken nonstop about the businessman, previously registered as a Republican, and his past ties to anti-abortion politicians.

Since Caruso announced his candidacy in February, Times polls have found the competition largely a two-person race, with Caruso and Bass appealing to opposing bases of support.

Concerns about rising crime were the driving force behind Caruso’s campaign, which early on garnered strong support from more conservative Angelenos, particularly white voters. However, over time he has also won over a growing number of Latino and Black male voters, the poll found.

Bass’ support was slower to consolidate. However, since the last IGS poll at Berkeley in April, previously undecided voters have made their choice, and several other candidates have dropped out of the race.

When that happened, Bass gained traction with most of the city’s electorate—its Democrats, Liberals, and women. She has also maintained a strong lead among black women.

“It still looks pretty close, although Bass may have cemented her position a bit,” said Eric Schickler, a professor of political science at Berkeley and co-director of the IGS.

“Caruso is much better off with Republican, more conservative voters and voters who are more concerned about crime. Bass does better with the more traditional Democratic constituency.”

The poll found that white voters who identify as liberals make up almost a third of the likely electorate for the primary. In April, Bass led Caruso by 40% to 15% with 34% undecided. Now only 13% of them are undecided and their lead in this group has grown to between 66% and 8%.

The race features a large gender divide that benefits Bass. She leads Caruso with 19 points among women, who make up just over half of likely voters, according to the poll. In the men’s category, he leads by 8 points.

But the survey also revealed some areas where Caruso has made notable progress. Bass, one of two black members of the Los Angeles delegation to Congress, had been expected to run away with black voters. But Caruso was able to limit their support by gaining ground among black men.

Black women prefer bass by a wide margin, but Caruso seems to be at least balanced among black men and maybe even ahead. The poll cannot say for sure, as the margins of error widen among small subgroups of voters.

Similarly, Caruso has a lead among Latino males, while Bass appears to lead among Latina voters.

A third candidate — Councilman Kevin de León — who previously served in the state Senate and challenged Senator Dianne Feinstein for her seat in 2018, had hoped to do well with Latino voters. His district is predominantly Hispanic, and his campaign is based on his personal history of growing up in poverty.

But De León’s campaign hasn’t picked up steam. He’s raised and spent far less money, and the poll put him in third place at 6%, where he was in April.

The fact that he has support from just 1 in 5 likely Latino voters will come as a disappointment to De León, USC professor Manuel Pastor said.

“Caruso spent a lot of money on television, and that’s an important way Latinos get their political information, and he also spent a lot of money on Spanish-language television,” Pastor said.

“I’m not surprised that Caruso is doing well here,” Pastor said. “What we might see is that being a businessman, which can raise some suspicion among progressives, doesn’t evoke as much suspicion among Latino voters as it seems.”

Rounding out the field is activist Gina Viola with 2% support, as does Alex Gruenenfelder Smith, a 20-year member of the Echo Park Neighborhood Council. Both run grassroots campaigns aimed at the city’s progressive voters.

Two other candidates, City Atty. Mike Feuer and councilman Joe Buscaino dropped out of the race last month, with Feuer supporting Bass and Buscaino Caruso.

This is the third mayoral campaign poll The Times, in partnership with the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, has conducted in the run-up to Tuesday’s primary. The poll was conducted online in English and Spanish among 1,204 registered voters in the city of Los Angeles. Based on past voting history and expressed interest in the June election, the poll found 816 voters were likely to cast their ballot.

The sampling error margin for the probable sample of voters is approximately 3.5% in either direction. A full description of the survey methodology is available on the IGS website.

Among the broader universe of registered voters, the race is within the margin of error between Bass at 25% and Caruso at 23%, with 35% of voters undecided.

Facing a head-to-head runoff in November, Bass Caruso leads with 37% to 33% of all registered voters, with 30% undecided.

The November election always attracts a significantly larger turnout than the June primary, and in heavily Democratic Los Angeles, that larger vote likely works in Bass’s favor, many policy pundits say. But with the race starting close and many voters undecided, Caruso’s ability to spend huge sums on the campaign makes the outcome unpredictable.

Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc. and a California policy pundit, noted that Caruso’s relative popularity among Latinos could help him come November when more people vote.

“Are those extra voters automatically in Karen Bass’ camp like they would be if she were running against Larry Elder?” Mitchell asked. “It’s not as cut and dry, I think, as people might think. There could be pockets of this additional pool of voters coming into the General that are actually good for Caruso.”

Caruso has already poured almost $40 million of his own fortune into the race — much of it on advertising. On the other hand, Bass and the independent spending committee that supports them have spent just over $5 million.

His money has meant Caruso’s face has been ubiquitous on the airwaves, on the radio and on mailings in voters’ mailboxes. Its message is rooted in three themes: crime, homelessness and public corruption.

“This race is all about an thematic candidate like Caruso saying he’s had enough, we need change and is an enterprising guy versus another friendly Democratic politician who’s afraid to rock the boat,” said Republican strategist Mike Murphy lives in Los Angeles and is friends with Caruso and has worked with him in the past.

“There will be more casual voters, and this is an opening in the general election, and the city is angry enough about the corruption and homelessness at City Hall,” Murphy said.

In the general election, crime is likely to continue to play a key role in the race. Caruso has garnered strong support from voters who say they now feel less secure – just under half of likely voters.

The proportion of likely voters who feel less safe is 48%, higher than in the recent past, but safety is not as universal a concern as homelessness. Just over half of likely voters said they felt about as confident as four years ago (43%) or more confident (9%).

Three quarters of Caruso voters say they now feel less confident, compared to a third of Bass voters.

A key difference between Bass and Caruso is how big they think the LAPD should be.

The congresswoman wants the department to expand back to its approved level of about 9,700 officers. Caruso wants the department to hire more and have 11,000 sworn officers.

Of the people who said they would vote for Bass in the primaries, 43% said they wanted the division to grow at least some. Almost all, 95% of Caruso supporters, expressed this preference.

For the record:

8:09 am, June 5, 2022A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that about 3 in 10 supporters of Karen Bass disapproved of the LAPD’s work. About 3 out of 10 of them agreed with the LAPD’s work.

Nearly half of Caruso’s voters approve of LAPD’s work, while 3 in 10 have no opinion and less than 1 in 4 oppose. Bass voters are almost a mirror image, with nearly half disapproving of the police department’s work, nearly 4 in 10 expressing no opinion and about 3 in 10 agreeing.

Pessimism about the government’s handling of the homeless crisis remained pervasive in this survey. Nearly 90% of likely voters said homelessness in California has gotten worse in recent years.

About 4 in 10 likely voters said the California government “went too far to protect the rights of the homeless at the expense of local residents,” while about 3 in 10 said the opposite. Caruso supporters were much more likely to think the government had gone too far to protect the rights of the homeless.

Similarly, voters were roughly even (47%-44%) on whether the government should prioritize clearing camps from parks and neighborhoods or providing services to people living in camps. Caruso voters were about three times more likely to support clearing camps, while Bass voters were about three times more likely to support the provision of services.

“Seeing homelessness as a problem is a pretty universal thing, regardless of one’s ideology or partisanship,” Schickler said. “If you look into the public policy solutions there, you might see some differences.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-06-05/final-poll-bass-leads-la-mayor Poll: Karen Bass, Rick Caruso likely face November election

Alley Einstein

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