ENCINITAS — A new poll shows Democrat Catherine Blakespear holding a narrow lead over her opponent Republican challenger Matt Gunderson in the race for the 38th State Senate District seat.
The survey, conducted by the polling firm Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates, or FM3, paid for by Blakespear’s campaign, shows that the Encinitas mayor received 42% of support from likely voters in District 38. In comparison, 38% of those polled indicated support for Gunderson (19% of district residents were undecided in the poll).
The poll was conducted with 851 likely voters in District 38 who were surveyed via telephone and online; FM3 said that the poll holds a 3.6% margin of error.
The survey asked voters, “If the November election for State Senate were held today, for whom would you vote if the candidates were: (ROTATE) Catherine Blakespear, Mayor of Encinitas, a Democrat; and Matt Gunderson, Small Business Owner, a Republican?”
Gunderson and Blakespear are both vying to replace State Sen. Pat Bates (R-Laguna Niguel), who has held the seat since 2014 and cannot seek re-election due to term limits.
The same poll by FM3 also conducted a separate survey where likely voters were asked who they would vote for after being provided with both positive and negative messaging statements about both candidates (with those statements provided by Blakespear’s campaign).
In the second survey, Blakespear’s lead widened somewhat, with 49% of polled voters indicating support for the Encinitas mayor and 40% expressing that they would vote for Gunderson (11% were undecided in the secondary poll).
“Consistent with the June primary polling research, this historically red district continues to be highly competitive and lean Democratic,” FM3 said in a statement about the poll. “While voters are split in their views of President Biden and Governor Newsom, on a generic ballot test, 49% indicate they are likely to support a Democrat in the State Senate race, compared to 42% likely to support a Republican. This margin corresponds closely to the primary vote in June, in which Democrats cumulatively received beat Republicans by eight points.”
Katie Merrill, general consultant for Blakespear’s campaign, said of the poll results, “Blakespear has real accomplishments and real governing experience. From standing up for a woman’s right to choose, to taking illegal guns off of her city’s streets, to supporting small business owners, her record appeals to the kinds of voters who will decide this race. It’s no surprise either that voters fundamentally reject what used car salesman Matt Gunderson is trying to sell them.”
But in a statement, Gunderson downplayed the results of Blakespear’s poll and expressed that his campaign’s internal polling suggested that the Republican held a steady lead in the race.
“We are not surprised that she thinks being up a few points in her own survey after many years as a politician is a good thing — she’s been out of touch with the real issues affecting our community as both the Mayor of Encinitas and the Chair of the incredibly ineffective and wasteful regional transportation agency, SANDAG,” said Gunderson’s campaign manager Chris Marsh.
“Our polling shows Matt Gunderson with a strong lead once voters become aware of Blakespear’s ineffective leadership in Encinitas and the scandalous handling of SANDAG’s multiple scandals. SANDAG’s continuous push for the additional mileage tax on San Diego commuters is just the latest outrage Blakespear refuses to be honest and open about.”
Thad Kousser, a political scientist at UC San Diego, said Blakespear’s poll seems to have been well conducted in terms of methodology.
“This is a reasonable poll, as the data they’re focusing on in the question is not an argument for or against candidates but just the information that voters see on election day — the occupation and party,” Kousser said. “The most meaningful polls replicate the voter experience closely, and this poll provides good context for what a generic ballot should be. So I would say that this isn’t just a puff piece for Catherine Blakespear; it shows that she has a lead but isn’t a lock in this district.
“This specific polling company [FM3] has a reputation as a brand name for polling. I’m reassured that we have the exact text of the question. Also, online or live interviews provide more reliable estimates than robo-dial polls. There’s nothing ringing alarm bells as far as methodology goes at this point.”
But Kousser said the poll’s results are not necessarily a victory for Blakespear. The political analyst expressed that Blakespear appears to have lost ground in the initial poll results compared to the generic ballot survey that FM3 conducted, which found that 49% of voters were likely to vote for a Democrat versus 42% who leaned Republican.
“How she’s polling right now is worse than a generic Democrat because when you ask if they want a Republican or Democrat elected, that was a seven-point lead, but when voters are asked about her specifically, she only has a four-point percentage lead,” Kousser said. “Typically, with the established Democratic candidate, we’d see her run over and above the generic ballot results for the race. So this tells me that she has not gotten her name out enough for people to give her an advantage above generic Democrats.
“She comes from a large city [Encinitas], but this is a state senate district with a million voters, so what this reflects is not anything personally about her necessarily, but it reflects the challenges of coming from a mid-sized city to running for a district that’s larger than some congressional districts as well as a couple of states.”
Carl Luna, a political scientist from the University of San Diego, said that the poll, while far from definitive in its results, seemed to indicate a level of momentum for Blakespear approaching November.
“You have to take these numbers with a grain of salt, but it’s better to have momentum going in your direction,” Luna said. “Her numbers are somewhat anemic, but I think she goes into the fall with just a bit more momentum than Gunderson, who came in first in the primary but not by an overwhelming margin.”
Luna expressed his view that Gunderson, up to this point in time, hasn’t conducted effective messaging to adequately distinguish himself from his opponent in the eyes of voters.
“He’s suffering somewhat from the problem of being a moderate Republican in an age where that doesn’t get you the same street support you get from aligning with your base,” Luna said. “People are running on basic issues such as density, homelessness, etc., and one of the problems with Gunderson being a moderate is that a lot of the positions he takes a look on paper very similar to those of Blakespear and that typically gives an established candidate an edge.”