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Poll: Karen Bass and Rick Caruso likely to face November election

Days before Los Angeles’ first open mayoral primary in nearly a decade, Rep. Karen Bass and billionaire developer Rick Caruso appear to be heading for a runoff in November, with Bass building a small advantage as the campaign is coming to an end.

Bass (D-Los Angeles) enjoys strong support among women, who make up the majority of voters likely to vote, and white liberals, according to a new UC Berkeley Institute of Government Studies poll co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Times.

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

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

The virtual certainty that Bass and Caruso will progress to the second round comes after a frantic few weeks of campaigning across the city, which has included increasingly personal and partisan attacks launched from each side. Caruso supporters have attacked Bass’s congressional attendance record, while Bass supporters have spoken nonstop about the businessman being a previously registered Republican and his prior ties to opposing politicians to abortion.

Since Caruso announced his candidacy in February, Times polls have found the contest to be largely a two-man race, with Caruso and Bass appealing to contrasting support bases.

Concern over rising crime drove Caruso’s campaign, which early attracted strong support from more conservative Angelenos, especially white voters. Over time, however, he also won over a growing number of Latino and black male voters, according to the poll.

Bass’s support was slower to consolidate. Since Berkeley’s last IGS poll in April, however, previously undecided voters have made up their minds and some other candidates have dropped out of the race.

When that happened, Bass gained ground with the largest segments of the city’s electorate — her fellow Democrats, Liberals and women. She also maintained a strong lead among black women.

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

“Caruso fares much better with Republican, more conservative voters and voters more concerned about crime. Bass fares better with the more traditional Democratic constituency.

White voters who identify as liberal make up nearly a third of the likely electorate for the primary, according to the poll. In April, Bass was ahead of Caruso 40% to 15% with them, and 34% were undecided. Now only 13% of them remain undecided, and its lead with this group has increased to 66%-8%.

The race features a large gender gap that works to Bass’ advantage. She leads Caruso by 19 points among women, who make up just over half of likely voters, according to the poll. He leads by 8 points among men.

But the poll also revealed some areas where Caruso has made impressive gains. Bass, one of two black members of the Los Angeles delegation to Congress, was to flee with black voters. But Caruso was able to cut back on his support as he gained traction among black men.

Black women favor Bass by a significant margin, but Caruso appears to be at least equal and possibly ahead among black men. The poll can’t say for sure because the margins of error increase with smaller subgroups of voters.

Likewise, Caruso has a lead among Latino men, while Bass appears to be leading among Latino 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 among Latino voters. Her neighborhood is predominantly Latino and her campaign is based on her personal story of growing up in poverty.

But De León’s campaign did not gain traction. He raised and spent far less money, and the poll found him in third place with 6%, where he was in April.

The fact that he gets the support of just 1 in 5 Latin American voters will be a disappointment for De León, said USC professor Manuel Pastor.

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

“It’s no surprise to me that Caruso is doing well here,” Pastor said. “What we might see is that being a businessman, which may raise suspicion among progressives, doesn’t raise as much suspicion as it appears among Latino voters.”

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

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

This is the third mayoral race poll the Times has conducted in partnership with the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies ahead of Tuesday’s primary. The poll was conducted online in English and Spanish, with 1,204 registered voters in the city of Los Angeles. Based on voting history and declared interest in the June election, the poll identified 816 eligible voters.

The margin of sampling error for the sample of likely voters is about 3.5% in either direction. A complete 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% undecided voters.

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

The November election always draws significantly higher turnout than the June primary, and in heavily Democratic Los Angeles, that larger vote likely works to Bass’ advantage, many political pundits say. But with the race getting off to a close start and many undecided voters, Caruso’s ability to spend huge amounts on the campaign makes the outcome unpredictable.

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

“Are these additional voters automatically in Karen Bass’s camp as they would be if she ran against Larry Elder?” Mitchell asked. “It’s not as simple and dry, I think, as people might think. There could be pockets of that extra voter pool coming in overall that are actually good for Caruso.

Caruso has already invested nearly $40 million of his own fortune in racing, much of it spent on advertising. On the other hand, Bass and the independent spending committee that backs her have spent just over $5 million.

His money means Caruso’s face is ubiquitous on the airwaves, on the radio and on mailers in voters’ mailboxes. His message was rooted in three issues: crime, homelessness and public corruption.

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

“There will be more casual voters, and it’s a general election opener, and the city is pretty mad about city hall corruption and homelessness,” Murphy said.

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

The share of likely voters who feel less safe, 48%, is up from what it was in the recent past, but safety has not become as universal a concern as homelessness. Just over half of likely voters said they felt about as safe as four years ago (43%) or felt safer (9%).

Three-quarters of Caruso voters say they feel less safe now, compared to one-third of Bass voters.

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

The MP wants the department to return to its authorized level of around 9,700 officers. Caruso wants the department to hire more and have 11,000 sworn officers.

Of those who said they would vote for Bass in the primary, 43% said they wanted the department to develop at least some of it. Almost all, 95%, of Caruso’s supporters expressed this preference.

For memory :

08:09 on June 5, 2022An earlier version of this article incorrectly said that about 3 in 10 Karen Bass supporters disapprove of the work the LAPD is doing. About 3 in 10 approved of the work the LAPD is doing.

Nearly half of Caruso voters approve of the work the LAPD is doing, while 3 in 10 have no opinion and less than 1 in 4 disapprove. 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 approving.

In this poll, pessimism about the government’s handling of the homelessness crisis remained pervasive. Nearly 90% of likely voters said homelessness in California had worsened in recent years.

About 4 in 10 likely voters said the California government “has gone too far in defending the rights of homeless people at the expense of local residents,” while about 3 in 10 said the opposite. Caruso’s supporters were much more likely to believe the government had gone too far to defend the rights of homeless people.

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

“Seeing homelessness as a problem is a pretty universal thing, regardless of ideology or partisanship,” Schickler said. “If you tackled the public policy solutions there, you might have some differences.”