ENCINITAS — A new poll funded and released by Catherine Blakespear’s campaign for the 38th State Senate District appears to show the Encinitas mayor leading Democratic primary rival Joe Kerr but trailing Republican opponent Matt Gunderson in the race to replace outgoing State Sen. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel).
In the original poll, paid for by Blakespear’s campaign and conducted by California-based research firm FM3 & Associates, initial results show Gunderson leading the way with support from 36% of polled voters, Blakespear with 21%, Kerr at 11% and approximately 32% of voters reporting as undecided.
In a revised version of the same poll, where participants were given biographies and additional information about each candidate — provided by Blakespear’s campaign — Gunderson’s lead over the Democrats narrowed slightly with 40% of participants supporting the Republican, 36% saying they would vote for Blakespear, and 14% supporting Kerr (12% of voters in the secondary poll were undecided).
The survey was conducted via phone and online interviews with 400 random respondents selected as “likely primary voters,” according to FM3.
The mayor’s campaign issued a press release claiming that the poll is a clear win for Blakespear, foreshadowing a “trouncing” of her primary rival come June.
“…Democrats overwhelmingly choose Blakespear over her Democratic challenger,” Blakespear’s press release states. “The poll confirms what many long suspected — that Blakespear and Gunderson will easily advance to the November runoff. Further, the poll shows that the combined Democratic vote outpaces the Republican vote, laying the groundwork for a Democratic win in November.”
Great news — according to the latest and first publicly released poll for Senate District 38, our campaign is poised to win!
— Mayor Catherine Blakespear (@Cblakespear) April 6, 2022
Gunderson’s campaign manager Stephen Puetz also issued a statement on the poll’s release, emphasizing the poll shows Gunderson possessing a commanding lead over both Blakespear and Kerr.
“Releasing an internal survey that clearly shows Blakespear and the other candidate in the race are losing badly, combined, to Matt Gunderson is just the latest in a string of perplexing decisions and positions taken by Catherine Blakespear since Gunderson got into the race,” Puetz said.
Kerr’s campaign also responded to the polls, arguing the revised poll was slanted in Blakespear’s favor since her own campaign wrote the candidate descriptions that were given to surveyed voters.
Kerr also took issue with the claims made in Blakespear’s press release, expressing that the mayor’s statement reflects how out of touch she is with the interests of District 38 residents.
“Catherine Blakespear’s internal poll is completely biased,” Kerr said. “Contrary to her false claim that I am a ‘relatively unknown Democratic challenger who lacks a strong record of accomplishment,’ over the course of my career I have sponsored over 200 pieces of public safety legislation that were passed at both the state and national levels. Every poll shows that a Democrat will carry this seat; it’s just a matter of what kind of Democrat the voters in our district feel is the best fit.”
Voters should view both of Blakespear’s polls with a measure of skepticism, as any candidate funding a poll has a clear motive to frame the survey in a way that portrays his or her own campaign in as strong a light as possible, according to John Thomas, owner of Thomas Partners Strategies, a California-based campaign strategy and consulting firm.
“There’s a couple of reasons for [Blakespear] to release this poll. It’s primarily driven by the desire to help the candidate raise more money,” Thomas told The Coast News. “Campaigns are always trying to project strength while convincing people to give money, and then also cutting off opponent’s money, doing voter contact, and so hopefully having a spending and voter contact advantage come election time.”
Thomas, a campaign strategist and registered Republican, explained the revised or “informed” poll — which shows Blakespear holding a wider margin over Kerr and in a much closer race with Gunderson — appears to be less credible than the original “uninformed” poll, as the information about the respective candidates provided to voters in the informed poll was likely skewed in Blakespear’s favor.
When taking the informed poll into account, Blakespear’s campaign noted in a press release the combined Democratic share of the vote (48%) was greater than the share of the vote garnered by Gunderson (40%).
However, Blakespear’s campaign claimed “voters were read short, equally positive descriptions of each candidate,” but chose not to disclose the survey contents for either poll, raising questions about its language and balance.
“Did they give all three candidates an equal share in the biographies? We really have no idea what they said about Catherine or Joe, and anyone can write a ‘positive bio’ to influence the outcome. This was likely all for fundraising,” Thomas said. “My hunch is that they probably gave Catherine twice as much a voice. So I really do not buy this informed ballot poll, although the uninformed ballot poll appears to be much more credible.”
From a strategic standpoint, Thomas questioned the decision by Blakespear’s campaign to publicize the survey’s results, as both polls appear to be clearly favorable for Gunderson.
“Just looking at the data presented here, I would analyze this and say that the Republican is probably going to get elected,” Thomas said. “This poll shows him starting in a pretty good spot and so yes I would think that Gunderson prevails in this one.”
Additionally, Thomas noted that nationally, the midterm elections appear to be favoring GOP prospects and that District 38 itself, while recently redistricted, has typically leaned red in the past.
“My hunch is that this race won’t be close at all,” Thomas said. “It’s a horrible year for Democrats and the winds are blowing in the Republican direction, including in this district. If the race is leaning slightly Republican now with [Blakespear’s] own data, the district will probably end up leaning really heavily Republican.”
In a show of transparency, Kerr released the full contents and results of his campaign’s own poll, conducted in March, to The Coast News. The poll shows Blakespear with a much narrower lead over her primary rival, with 18% of respondents favoring the mayor and 14% saying they would vote for Kerr.
Additionally, 25% of polled voters said they would vote for Gunderson in a general election, while 27% of voters were undecided.