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CA Gov. Race Proves Partisan Politico Pros Still Don’t Get It

Author: Jeff Powers
Created: 24 May, 2018
Updated: 21 November, 2022
3 min read

The latest Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll shows very clearly that none of the campaign pros spending millions in campaigns for Republican and Democratic candidates for Governor understand independent voters or see any value in learning about them.

Some of this indifference is rooted in the partisan theory that “independents don’t vote in the primary.” That is simply not the case and how can a campaign dismiss No Party Preference (NPP) voters who represent 25% of voters in California?

Early turnout numbers so far, have independents representing 17% of the total votes cast (143,000 voters):

The drive-by analysis confirms that independents are turning up at about 2/3 the rate of partisan voters. A remarkably high number given that both the Republican and Democratic parties are spending millions of dollars on get out the vote programs and “member communication” that's legally restricted to voters registered to their parties.

Imagine how much higher independent turnout would be if even ONE candidate actually campaigned to independent voters with something other than the very partisan messages that led them to become 'independent voters’ in the first place. But, even putting that aside,143,000 votes is more than enough to make consultants for whichever candidates finish 3rd, 4th, and 5th vulnerable to second guessing. If they were lawyers it would be a malpractice action.

PPIC Poll Shows NPP Spread

A detailed look at the PPIC poll shows independents spreading their votes across all the candidates. Not a surprise since none of the campaigns made any effort to frame their candidate as having any particular interest in or to independents.

You can be certain that will change the day after the primary for the top-two survivors.

What will also be clear is that the 3rd, 4th and possibly even 5th place finishers could have landed in the top-two by simply consolidating as little as 25 to 30% of the nonpartisan vote.

Source: PPIC 

What's an Independent worth?

Even at 17% turnout, 30% of independents is worth 5 points.

If ONE candidate had targeted the habitually ignored independents and bumped turnout with those independents, the campaign would see an additional 1.5 to 3 point bonus.

Instead, the partisan consultants continue to run campaigns the same way they ran them in closed primaries.

So, with every campaign "trapped" in the past, is there a chance one of the top-two survivors will break ground with independents?

Villaraigosa Makes His Move

The latest PPIC poll would suggest that the Villaraigosa campaign is outpacing the slow field. The former Mayor of L.A. jumped 5 points from April to May with independent voters, and now stands just below the top-two at 14%.

Both leaders, John Cox and Gavin Newsom, saw huge drops in NPP support from April to May by 5 and 7 points respectively.

Villaraigosa benefits from some inherent advantages amongst certain groups of independents. Most significantly, he enjoys the support of a well-funded school reform movement that saw his willingness to challenge failing schools and the L.A. Teachers Association as evidence of a Democrat willing to act independent of Democratic interest groups.

He is also able to specifically hone in on the sizable number of Latino voters who are independents.

But, the surge for Villaraigosa has come just as his campaign finally started targeting independent voters.

Recent mailers contained the words independent, and in a video released this week, the former mayor of Los Angeles makes a point to say, "I'm NOT a Democrat for the powerful and will be a governor who empowers you."


Too little, too late? And will any of his opponents make last minute plays for the independent vote?

Either way, what is already clear is that no campaign seized the opportunity to establish their candidate as the clear leader for the fastest growing group of voters in California.

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