Exit poll: Harris dominates Senate rivals

Even with 34 U.S. Senate candidates on the ballot, an exit poll of absentee voters shows that Kamala Harris is lapping the field.

Slightly more than half report having voted for Harris, more than three times the level of support for her closest rival in Tuesday’s top-two primary, fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez.  Republicans would need a strong late consolidation of support behind Duf Sundheim to have any hope of preventing an all-Democratic general election.

The online survey of 15,000 voters – they were polled as they returned their ballots — was conducted for Capitol Weekly over the past two weeks by Sextant Strategies and Research, with data and tools from Political Data Inc., a political information marketing company with Republican and Democratic candidates.CA Logo

The firms have partnered with Capitol Weekly to provide data-based coverage of the 2016 elections. We also hope to provide a public resource to other journalists, campaigns and political observers who are trying to unpack and understand California’s June 7 primary election.

This report on the U.S. Senate contest is our first full exit survey. The current state of the exit poll can be viewed here. It will be updated daily as our pool of respondents continues to grow.

As we have previously reported, this Senate contest has been vexing for pollsters and observers.  There are two prominent Democratic candidates — Harris, the current state attorney general, and Sanchez, a 10-term congresswoman from Orange County.

On the Republican side, there are three strong candidates with a statewide presence: Duf Sundheim and Tom Del Becarro, both former state GOP chairmen, and Ron Unz, a Silicon Valley investor who has been at the forefront of statewide ballot measures with an unusual brand of conservatism.

Add to these five main candidates two Republicans who have run statewide in the past and you still are not even a quarter of the way through the 34-candidate field.

This exit poll, distributed via voters’ email addresses, is reflective of the absentee voters who have already turned in ballots.  This is a non-representative sample of the overall electorate, but our point is not to predict the outcome as much as to understand the votes that are being cast before the first June 7 polling place is open for business. A total of about 2.3 million absentee ballots have been returned, as of June 2.

While the exit poll is presented with its raw results, a weighting of the sample for the entire universe that has returned ballots thus far, adjusting for age, gender, party and ethnicity, shows little variation.

Raw Exit Survey Weighted Result
KAMALA D. HARRIS Democratic, Attorney General of California 53% 52%
LORETTA L. SANCHEZ Democratic, California Congresswoman 13% 14%
DUF SUNDHEIM Republican, Small Businessman/Mediator 8% 9%
THOMAS G. DEL BECCARO Republican, Business Attorney/Author 4% 4%
PHIL WYMAN Republican, Attorney/Businessman/Rancher 4% 3%
GREG CONLON Republican, Businessman/Attorney/CPA 2% 2%
RON UNZ Republican, Entrepreneur/Writer/Publisher 2% 2%

A close look at the full exit poll offers valuable information to help understand the shape of the contest.

In breaking 50% in the poll, Kamala Harris leads in every age, ethnic, income and gender subgroup.  In fact, the only subgroup in which Harris does not lead is among Republicans, where she is currently running third behind Sundheim and Del Becarro. Harris is outright dominating the race with better than half of the vote among both Democrats and No Party Preference voters. Generally, early voters are more partisan and more likely to be influenced by the endorsements of their party.

Harris is leading among early Latino voters, who are very dissimilar to the rest of the Latino voter population.  The median Latino voter is only 40 years old, but the median age among Latinos who have voted by mail is 57.  Looked at through economic stability terms, the Latinos who have already voted are 25% more likely to be homeowners.

So, while other polls show Latino population strongly backing Sanchez, those voters have not shown up yet, and are more likely to be voting at the polls.

She leads in every Congressional District other than the 46th which is represented by Sanchez; the 38th represented by her sister, Linda Sanchez, and the 21st in the Central Valley.

The close race for the top-two primary lies between the second and third place candidates.

In fact, the key question of the election will be whether a Republican can make it into the second spot and ensure a two-party runoff in November.

The current polling has given plenty of evidence against this, but with a late infusion of $600,000 by Republican investor Charles Munger, Sundheim appears the most likely Republican to slip into that second spot.  But whether it’s Sanchez, Sundheim or someone else, absent a major surge in support in the final week of absentee returns and on Election Day, they will have a major challenge on June 8 to explain how they can close a significant gap in the general.

A brief note on methodology
Capitol Weekly’s exit polling is driven by online surveys.  But unlike online surveys that are self-selecting by people who may or not be actual voters, these surveys are invitation only, with uniquely identified survey links sent to voters only after Political Data Inc. has flagged those voters as having returned an absentee ballot.

This methodology allows us to build a large dataset of responses and dig deeper than traditional polling.  We can, for example, identify the relative performance of candidates within ethnic, age, income and partisan subgroups at a statistically significant level that could not be achieved with a more common small sample.

Ed’s Note: Jonathan Brown is the president of Sextant Strategies. Paul Mitchell, vice president of Political Data Inc., and Alan Nigel Yan, an intern from UC Berkeley, assisted with this story.

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