Gov. Jerry Brown (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
Gov. Jerry Brown (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s one of the most familiar sayings in the world of politics: the only poll that matters is the official one taken on Election Day. But polls do offer a snapshot in time of a campaign … which is why a brand new glimpse into the 2014 race for governor is so interesting.

And here it is: Neel Kashkari, the preferred pick of many in California’s Republican establishment, looks to have less support from voters in his own party than Gov. Jerry Brown.

Yes, you read that right — less than six weeks from the June 3 election, a new statewide poll shows the veteran Democratic governor with more Republican support than one of the most talked about Republican challengers.

The poll from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California finds Brown with 46 percent support among likely voters overall, a five-fold lead over any of his potential challengers.

But among Republicans, he’s the choice of 7 percent of those surveyed, while Kashkari only musters 5 percent GOP voter support.

A small plurality of Republican voters — 20 percent — favor Tim Donnelly, the Tea Party-aligned assemblyman from San Bernardino County. Andrew Blount, the mayor of Laguna Beach, barely edges the governor among Republicans with 8 percent support. The vast majority of GOP voters — 58 percent — are undecided.

The PPIC survey is just the latest statewide to show Donnelly, a staunch conservative who gets a warm reception from die-hard GOP audiences, as the de facto frontrunner. And yet his support remains relatively small, with some political observers arguing that Donnelly has limited appeal beyond core Republican voters. Some have started publicly saying they fear a Brown vs. Donnelly fall matchup could hurt the GOP’s chances in other races.

And yet Kashkari, a former federal official who crafted the TARP effort of 2008 and a first-time candidate for office, clearly has failed so far to make any noticeable inroads among likely voters. And it’s not as though he’s not trying: the 40-year-old Newport Beach resident has been traveling the state for more than a year, he’s released relatively substantive position papers on jobs and education (the latter coming just Tuesday), and it’s hard to browse a California news or political website without seeing a “Kashkari for Governor” ad pop up on the screen.

Meantime, Brown seems to be unaffected by the increasing number of attacks being launched by either Kashkari or Donnelly; the PPIC poll finds 56 percent of likely voters think he’s doing a good job as governor. That number is higher than his base support in PPIC’s question about the actual primary election, but that may be because some voters don’t feel the need to vote for Brown in June … given he’s assured a spot on the November ballot, and this is the first statewide June election in which all voters can vote for all candidates (with only the top two advancing to the fall ballot).

If Kashkari can gain any traction with voters, education issues could be part of his arsenal. The PPIC poll, which is largely about how Californians view K-12 and higher education, shows Brown is on thinner ice with the electorate when it comes to schools. Just 33 percent of likely voters approve of his work on public schools. And on Tuesday, Kashkari released his thoughts on schools — which, in a nutshell, are to send tax dollars to individual schools and let them pretty much do whatever they want with it.

Fifty percent of adults polled by PPIC say the quality of education in California schools is a big problem, and 55 percent say have the same high level of worry about the state budget’s treatment of schools. The governor’s signature education reform — last year’s shift of more unrestricted dollars to English learners and students from low-income families — draws support in this poll, but just 27 percent of those surveyed actually knew of the program by name.

Brown’s support among Republicans, who may see him as the most moderate of the Democratic voices in Sacramento, is even higher when it comes to his approval numbers. 31 percent of GOP voters think he’s doing a good job as governor.

Measuring Brown’s appeal among Republicans depends, of course, on whether any given poll has a reasonably sized sample of GOP voters. Only 28 percent of California voters polled by PPIC identified themselves as Republican, with 44 percent as Democrats and 22 percent as independents. That’s pretty much in line with official voter registration stats, but it might be an undersampling for the June election, where historically GOP turnout has been strong.

But no one knows that a larger Republican sampling would have meant anything different … and so, for now, these numbers raise some interesting questions. Can Kashkari, who has only about a third of the support of Donnelly, keep bashing Jerry Brown and hope to make it to the November ballot? Or does he have to start attacking the GOP frontrunner?

Can Donnelly win enough of the huge 58 percent of undecided GOP primary voters in the PPIC poll to emerge victorious?

And, perhaps most fascinating … will even more Republicans decide that, absent a better choice, they’ll cast a vote on June 3 for one of the most iconic Democrats in California history? This poll suggests that’s not the craziest idea out there.

  • nosyjme

    The ONLY people who would vote for jerry brown are people who were NOT around last time he was gov… they had a saying back them ” IF IT’S BROWN, FLUSH IT DOWN” That still holds true today!!!!

  • Carla Virga

    Donnelly is the BEST candidate for CA Governor. He is a man of the people; and unlike his opponents, he will serve the people rather than himself and the banks, unions, corporations, and political party. As a conservative patriot, not politician, Donnelly is feared by establishment Republicans and scoffed at by Democrats..


John Myers

John Myers is Senior Editor of KQED's new California Politics and Government Desk.  A veteran of almost two decades of political coverage, he was KQED's longest serving  statehouse bureau chief and recently was political editor for Sacramento's ABC affiliate, News10 (KXTV). John was moderator of the only 2014 gubernatorial debate, and  was named by The Washington Post to two "Best Of" lists: the 2015 list of top state politics reporters and 2014's list of America's most influential statehouse reporters.

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