Rick Caruso has made significant strides in the mayoral race, closing much of the gap with Rep. Karen Bass, but the billionaire businessman is still double-digit behind the people who are likely to vote.
Those findings from the latest poll by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, sponsored by The Times, highlight key dynamics as the mayoral race moves into final weeks:
Bass, backed by most elected Democratic leaders in California, has a strong hold over her fellow partisans, who make up the bulk of the Los Angeles electorate. Backed by tens of millions of dollars of his personal fortune, Caruso has a way forward, but one that hinges on getting potential supporters who vote infrequently to show up for a mayoral election with few other big draws on the ballot.
Still, Caruso, whose ubiquitous face recently returned to the airwaves in the region, has been gaining ground from a month ago. Of all registered voters, he is now just 3 percentage points behind, 34%-31% – within the poll’s margin of error. That’s less than a 12-point difference in August.
Among likely voters, however, Bass continues to lead by 15 points, 46%-31%, down from a 21-point lead a month ago.
Determining which voters are likely to end up in an election is a complicated task for pollsters. The Berkeley survey, which was accurate in the June primaries, defines likely voters as those who have voted in recent elections in the past and who indicated they were highly interested in voting this fall.
Those likely voters tend to be older, wealthier and whiter and are more likely to be registered Democrats and identify as strongly liberal than the electorate as a whole.
“The useful information in a poll is with likely voters because elections are decided by people who actually vote,” said Bill Burton, a Democratic strategist and former aide to President Obama who worked on Councilor Joe Buscaino’s mayoral campaign and supports Bass.
The way forward for Caruso, the poll suggests and outside analysts agree, is to increase turnout among voters who seem less interested in the race so far.
That would include many Latino voters, whose involvement in the race has so far lagged behind other groups. In fact, Caruso and Bass are close to Latino voters, while Bass has a big lead among black voters — she is one of only two black members of the Los Angeles congressional delegation — and among white voters.
Caruso has a lot of potential support among voters who have voted in at least some previous elections, but whose interest in the race has been too low for pollsters to consider them likely voters. Angelenos who voted in at least one previous election and said they were only moderately interested in voting preferred Caruso over Bass 33%-14%, with about half undecided. A similar margin existed among respondents who indicated that they had little interest in voting.
Caruso brings some key assets to the effort to motivate those voters: According to data from media tracking company AdImpact, he will spend at least $20 million on TV advertising this fall. He has also invested heavily in a recruiting and door-knocking operation to motivate less engaged voters. Those operations have a strong focus on predominantly Latino communities, such as Boyle Heights and the eastern San Fernando Valley.
Working against him is a history of fairly low turnout in municipal elections and a lack of other compelling races on the ballot. While there are several contentious congressional elections in the region, none of them take place in the city of Los Angeles, and most statewide races in California don’t seem competitive.
“I don’t think there’s any reason for anyone to show up in this election who won’t already be showing up in this election organically. What I mean by that is that if you don’t always vote, you won’t show up,” said Adam Probolsky, an Orange County pollster who does extensive work in the city, including mayoral race polls and surveying property opponents. sales tax that will be on the November ballot. The proceeds of that proposed tax, which Caruso opposes and Bass has not taken a position on, would largely fund the construction of homes for the homeless and poor Angelenos.
Latino voters show a big gap between those involved in the race and those who aren’t. Bass leads 36%-29% and is viewed more favorably among Latino likely voters; with the wider pool of all registered Latino voters, Caruso leads 34%-25% and has a slightly higher preference.
A similar phenomenon is unfolding in the densely populated San Fernando Valley, where Bass and Caruso are essentially level, 41%-40%, among likely voters, but Caruso leads by a dozen points, 40%-28%, among registered voters. In August, registered voters in the Valley favored Caruso by just 2 points.
In addition to reminding people that he’s on the ballot and getting his supporters to vote, Caruso has begun relentlessly attacking Bass in the air and on the internet — for a scholarship she received to attend USC school for social work and a speech she gave at a Scientology event more than a decade ago. Bass has hit back in her own advertising, trying to tie Caruso to the college admissions bribery scandal that took place while he was on USC’s board.
The current poll began surveying voters just as Caruso began his barrage of general election ads. That attack appears to have had an effect on Bass’ image in at least some key areas of the city.
In August, 61% of registered voters on the Westside voted in favor of Bass. That number has fallen to 43% in the current poll, with 27% saying they have an unfavorable opinion and 30% saying they have no opinion.
Across the city, Bass is favored by 53% of likely voters and 40% of registered voters. Only a quarter of voters in both categories have an unfavorable image of her.
“The negative advertising must have some effect there,” said Berkeley IGS survey director Mark DiCamillo, who has polled California voters for decades.
“When people change their mind about a candidate, it usually happens in two phases. It doesn’t go from ‘I like them’ to ‘I hate them’. It goes from ‘I like them’ to ‘I’m not sure’, and that’s where we are with the overall electorate – at least on the west side.”
Despite the decline in favor, the survey found that voters viewed Bass as more honest, ethical and experienced than Caruso, while the businessman was deemed more fiscally responsible.
Bass has focused on building her strength among Democrats and Liberals — highlighting her history as an abortion rights advocate and characterizing her opponent as an invader who only turned into a Democrat to run for mayor.
Caruso had been a Republican for much of his adult life. He says he changed sides because the GOP got too extreme. He maintains that he supports abortion rights and has always been, even though he has financially supported anti-abortion politicians in the past, including Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the leader of the Republican Senate.
Even with Caruso’s $62 million outlay for this campaign and deep investment in voting, the makeup and demographics of those who appear or post on election day are strongly in Bass’ favor.
Among registered voters who are Democrats, Bass leads by about 25 percentage points, and among likely voters who are registered Democrats, she leads by nearly 40 points. This advantage of the city’s largest voting bloc has existed since the primaries.
One issue that may still be shaking the race is homelessness, Probolsky said. Anger at the issue could bring rare voters to the polls, he said.
The poll found that voters believe homelessness has an effect on their lives and that the mayor is able to do something about the crisis. Of the likely voters, 91% said homelessness affects their lives directly or indirectly, and 55% said the mayor can have a major impact in solving the crisis. Another 30% said the mayor can only play a minor role in solving the Los Angeles homelessness problem.
Bass has put forward a plan to bring 15,000 people in by trying to squeeze as much as possible out of the current system to expand interim and permanent housing.
That is a much smaller scale than Caruso envisions. He wants to build 30,000 temporary homes in his first year of office. To realize this expensive plan, he wants to build tiny houses for 15,000 people and temporarily accommodate another 15,000 people in ‘sleeping pods’ in existing structures, such as warehouses and empty buildings.
Caruso continues to speak out loud on the issue, trying to link Bass to policy failures from previous administrations and the growing number.
For voters, “There’s no reason for me to show this election unless I’m passionate about voting all the time — with one caveat, and that’s homelessness,” Probolsky said.
“If that’s all he’s talking about between now and… [election day]he could potentially bring some of those people to actually show up.”
The Berkeley IGS survey was conducted Sept. 22-26 of 1,688 Los Angeles-registered voters, 1,349 of whom were likely to vote in the November election. The sample was weighted to match the census and voter registration benchmarks. Due to the weighting, accurate estimates of the margin of error are difficult, but the results are estimated to have a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points either way for the full sample of registered voters and 4 points for the sample of likely voters.