The Los Angeles mayoral race was rapidly closing as it entered its final week, with Rick Caruso taking a deep lead from Rep. Karen Bass, putting him within striking distance in the contest to lead the second-largest city of the country.
Bass continues to hold the edge, 45% to 41% among likely voters, with 13% saying they remain undecided, according to a new poll from the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, co-sponsored by The Times. But the advantage of Bass is within the poll’s margin of error and surprisingly smaller than the 15-point margin she lasted a month from.
Bass support, a long electedhasn’t declined significantly – she maintains strong support among major voter groups, including women, liberals and registered democrats.
But Caruso, a billionaire businessman and developer, steadily gained ground as previously undecided voters made up their minds. His push has been fueled by tens of millions of dollars spent on attack ads that appear to have succeeded in casting doubt on Bass in the minds of many voters.
He retained big advantages among relatively few conservative and Republican voters in Los Angeles while blazing important trails among Latinos, moderates and people living in the San Fernando Valley.
Bass leads through the rest of the city, relying on the electorate’s polarized view of Caruso, the support of the state’s Democratic establishment, and the liberal tilt of the city’s electorate. She leads among likely white and black voters, according to the poll.
The investigation follows several other public and private polls that showed a significant tightening of the competition.
“This race could go both ways,” said United Way of Greater Los Angeles senior manager Tommy Newman, who is work with a coalition to pass a council tax measure in the November ballot and is a keen observer of local politics
“Nobody has that in the bag. There’s been a huge fuss with Latino voters. The question is, will that correlate to votes?” Newman said.[Caruso] is probably running the most robust grassroots campaign we’ve ever seen in a mayoral race. In a tight race, that’s where the campaigns on the pitch count.
The tightening of the race came during a period when the mayoral campaign was somewhat eclipse by the scandal that began with a leaked audio recording of three city council members and a union leader making racist remarks during a discussion last year over the drawing of a new city council district borders.
The resulting fury has concentrate attention to racial and ethnic tensions in the city.
The poll found that 69% of registered voters said relations between various racial and ethnic groups were just good or bad, while only 23% said they were excellent or good.
However, the survey does not show a clear impact of the scandal on the race for mayor.
Bass and Caruso have called on anyone involved in racist comments to resign. They also each used the moment to make the points they had been pushing throughout the campaign.
For Caruso, the scandal reflects a continuation of what he sees as the Corruption plaguing City Hall and highlighted the need for an outsider to clean up the city government. Bass said the scandal offered the city a moment to come together and talk about its divisions while finding ways to bridge them.
The poll found that voters who place a high priority on building coalitions between racial and ethnic groups favor Bass.
Which clearly had a the effect is Caruso’s money.
As both campaigns now turn to efforts to get the vote out, Caruso has spent about $13 million to muster about 300 to 400 door knockers that have fanned out across the city to remind voters of the election. The on-the-ground operation is designed to boost participation from people — especially Latino voters — who have shown an interest in Caruso but won’t necessarily vote unless pushed.
This effort was aided by the onslaught of publicity. Since primary school, Caruso has been intended spending $26 million on TV, radio and digital ads in the general election through Tuesday. That’s more than eight times the $3.3 million Bass is expected to spend, according to data from media tracking firm AdImpact.
Bass will also be boosted by a number of independent on-air supporters, including unions representing carpenters and electricians and a pro-Bass political action committee funded by workers and Hollywood money. These groups, which cannot legally coordinate with the Bass campaign, plan to spend several million on ads supporting the congresswoman.
Much of Caruso’s advertising is in Spanish. With canvassing aimed at Latino voters, this ground seems to be paying off. In Berkeley’s latest IGS poll just over a month ago, Bass led among likely Latino voters by 6 points, 35% to 29%; it now trails 17% in this group, 48% to 31%. However, many of Caruso’s Latino supporters do not consistently vote in every election, making turnout a challenge for him.
“You have to give Caruso a lot of credit. He’s making big inroads in that segment, but they’re not regular voters,” said Mark DiCamillo, who ran the poll and has been polling California voters for decades.
“He’s making breakthroughs where he didn’t have those breakthroughs in June” in the primary, DiCamillo said. “The whole question is, will this be enough? It will definitely be close.
Bass’ biggest advantage remains his overwhelming support among liberals — the voters who define the shape of the Los Angeles electorate.
In the recent election, Liberal voters propelled Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who campaigned with Bass last week to victory in Los Angeles in the 2020 Democratic primary and propelled progressive candidates to the forefront in this year’s primary.
If their grip holds, Bass will likely win.
Bass leads by 40 percentage points among likely voters who identify as somewhat liberal (64% to 22%) and by about 60 percentage points among those who are strongly liberal (74% to 12%).
Those liberal voters are the bulwark that could block Caruso’s continued growth in support in the San Fernando Valley, where he now leads by 9 points (45% to 36%). Bass remains ahead in every other part of town with margins of nearly 20 points. The only exception is the South LA and Port area, where Bass leads 48% to 43%.
“It’s problematic for Caruso,” said USC political science professor Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro. Bass “has his base of support. We’ll see if Bass’ structural advantage holds.
In recent weeks, the campaign has featured a flurry of attacks on issues such as each candidate’s ties to USC. Caruso blasted Bass for socket a $95,000 scholarship to pursue a graduate program, while Bass has offensive him for his participation in response to a sexual misconduct scandal.
But Caruso’s advertisements have been much more frequent. Their effect can be seen in the increase in the share of voters who hold an unfavorable opinion of Bass and in an erosion of his standing among registered Democrats.
About half of the electorate still views Bass favorably, but the share of likely voters who view her unfavorably has risen 10 points since September to 35%.
Among Latino voters, a third now have an unfavorable opinion of Bass, up from a sixth in September.
Bass continues to have a more favorable image than Caruso, however. In the current survey, 43% view it favorably and 42% unfavorably, compared to 38% to 40% last month.
Caruso has won some support among Democrats, who make up the majority of Los Angeles voters. In September, only 19% of likely Democratic voters backed him. Now 28% do. That’s still far less support than Bass, who is backed by 56% of Democrats, with 14% undecided, but it represents a significant breakthrough from the businessman, who has been a Republican for much of his life. life and only amended his registration with the Democratic Party in January.
About 20% of voters surveyed had already voted. Caruso had a slight lead among them – 49% to 46%. He also leads among voters who said they plan to vote in person on Election Day. Bass fared much better with voters who planned to send in or drop off their ballots, leading 50% to 33% among them, according to the poll.
Beyond negative publicity, central policy arguments of the race focused on homelessness and public safety. Those two issues, along with the economy and education, are what voters say the next mayor needs to prioritize.
Most voters consider fighting climate change and building coalitions between people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds to be less important, despite being top priorities for Bass supporters.
Even though Caruso is trailing, voters think he would do a better job on crime, the economy and homelessness. They think Bass would do a better job on education, climate change and building coalitions.
The Berkeley IGS Poll was conducted October 25-31 among 1,437 registered voters in Los Angeles, 1,131 of whom were deemed likely to vote in the November election. The sample was weighted to match census and voter registration benchmarks. Due to the weighting, precise estimates of the margin of error are difficult, but the results are estimated to have a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points in either direction for the full sample of registered voters and 4 points for the sample of probable voters.
Times editor Julia Wick contributed to this report.