Now that U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D) will be taking the role as Vice President, California Governor Gavin Newsom is tasked with deciding who will take her place. 

A recent survey from the USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy polled registered California voters on who should be the next Senator. 

What You Need To Know

  • The USC Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy recently conducted its California Issues Poll which asked registered voters in the state who they would want to take Kamala Harris’ seat in the senate

  • Voters said they want a “fresh face” but someone with legislative experience to take on the role

  • The survey was conducted in the last week of October, just before the election

  • Voters also weighed in on key issues that are important to them and rated wildfires, climate change, and the coronavirus pandemic as top concerns

The Institute's Academic Director, Christian Grose, tells Inside the Issues the California Issues Poll conducted in the last week of October was representative of the state as a whole and had 1,155 participants who were asked questions about the type of person they would like to see in the role as well as, of the names being floated as potential picks, who they would choose for the job.

“It includes Democrats, Republicans, and Independents in proportion to the numbers they have in the state,” Grose said. “So, it’s basically a snapshot of what the voters think.”

Voters were asked if they wanted a fresh face in the seat or if they would prefer someone with a lot of experience.

“About three-quarters of voters said they wanted a fresh face,” said Grose.

When asked if they want someone that can work as an ally with California Sen. Diane Feinstein (D) or someone who would be distinct from the legislator, about three-quarters of participants said they want someone distinct from Feinstein.

And when it comes to experience, they prefer someone with legislative experience over executive experience. 

“So, the voters are really looking for someone who is new and fresh but has legislative experience and also is going to be different from Diane Feinstein,” summarized Grose.

The survey also included preferences on whether or not the role should be a historic “first.” 

“There’s a lot of discussion about Newsom picking the state’s first Latino or Latina senator. We asked voters what they thought about that and other historic ‘firsts,’” Grose said. “Just over half of California voters said that a historic first doesn’t matter to them.”

Of those who a historic “first” did matter to them, though, there were two things from the survey that jumped out. 

“Thirty-one percent of Californians said that having the first Latino senator was important to them, and 24% of Californians said having the first LGBT senator was important to them,” said Grose.

The poll listed seven potential picks for the senate seat in a head-to-head question and asked voters which of the picks they would prefer in the office. The top choice, at 11%, was Northern California Rep. Barbara Lee. Though many of the people on the list are not commonly recognized, Grose said the survey also listed a biography for each of the seven picks and asked if they would support or oppose such a person. When presented with the biographies, voters favored Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia at 57% with Los Angeles Rep. Karen Bass (D) and California Secretary of State Alex Padilla both coming in at 53%. 

The survey, taken before the election, asked voters what issues were the most important to them with about 25% of voters citing wildfires and climate change as their top priorities.

“In some ways it’s not surprising because there were wildfires going on while the survey was being taken by respondents, especially in Orange County at the time, and then Northern California has been impacted in the Central part of the state as well,” Grose said. “The second most important issue was COVID.”

When asked what the most important issue would be if Joe Biden were to be elected or if Donald Trump was reelected, the answers differed for each of the candidates.

“When we asked it about Biden, the voters said the number one issue he will focus on is COVID. So I think his message of emphasizing COVID really broke through and with Trump, that’s not what people said,” said Grose. “People said the economy and jobs would be his focus were he to be reelected. So I think Joe Biden’s message worked, at least for California voters, but it also means he’s now got to really do something about COVID when he takes office because, at least in California, that’s the expectation of voters.”

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