Helene Schneider
Paul Wellman (file)

With a year to go before voters select a replacement for nine-term Congressmember Lois Capps, Democratic candidate and Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider released the results of a campaign poll indicating she’s the most likely Democrat to make it past next year’s June primary and into the run-off election. One day later, local media outlets received a brief rejoinder from Schneider’s Democratic rival, Salud Carbajal, declaring, “We are clearly the early frontrunner in this race.”

While such exchanges are normal for any election, there’s little typical about the contest between Schneider and Carbajal — political kissing cousins in the moderate-liberal-enviro camps who tout their prowess in getting things done while reaching across the proverbial aisle. Carbajal, however, raised more than twice as much as Schneider did during the first reporting period — $629,000 as opposed to $225,000. Schneider’s challenge going into the all-important second campaign filing period — when it’s clearer which candidates have more sustained fundraising capability — is to assure potential donors that she remains very much alive and that likewise, Carbajal’s narrative of presumptive inevitability is the stuff of campaign myth.

The poll, prepared by Celinda Lake — a reputable pollster associated with the Democratic Party — indicates that if the election were held today, 24 percent of respondents would vote for Republican candidate and State Assemblymember Katcho Achadjian, 23 percent for Schneider, 15 percent for Carbajal, 14 percent for Republican Justin Fareed, and two percent for William Ostrander. Of the 350 likely voters questioned, 21 percent said they were undecided. These results were obtained after pollsters provided a positive description of all the candidates. Specifically what language was used is not being released for strategic and proprietary reasons.

Before that, voters were first asked which of the candidates they’d support based only on their name, party affiliation, and professional title. For Achadjian, the results were identical — 24 percent. For Schneider, the first question indicated support from 16 percent of the respondents, meaning her stock rose by seven percent between the first and second question. By contrast, Carbajal started with 11 percent and rose to 15 percent. Fareed jumped from 10 to 14 percent. Perhaps most dramatically, the number of undecided voters dropped from 37 percent to 21 percent between the two questions. The punch line, according to Schneider’s campaign, is that “Schneider is the Democrat best-poised to advance to the general election, leading other Democrats on the initial ballot and pulling further ahead once voters are introduced to all the candidates.”

Or translated into plain English, pollster David Mermin stated, “Schneider’s in second place in the primary with a modest but significant lead over Carbajal.”

While the numbers might suggest Schneider has capacity to expand her support faster than Carbajal, the margin of error for the poll results is 5.2 percent, meaning Schneider’s apparent lead could be only a couple of points. How meaningful that edge is with so many voters still undecided remains the subject of conjecture.

The survey was conducted during the three days between last Sunday and Tuesday. Although 42 percent of registered voters in the 24th Congressional District — which encompasses Santa Barbara and San Lis Obispo counties — are Democrats and 33 percent are Republican, the polling done by Schneider’s campaign skewed slightly more Republican than Democrat — 40-to-38 percent. That’s because Republicans tend to show up in greater numbers in primary elections than do Democrats, and this year the contest between Republicans on the ballot will be more competitive than between Democrats.

Schneider’s pollsters asked about 20 additional questions to help guide campaign strategy and declined to disclose what they were. Likewise, they declined to provide a breakdown of how well Schneider did relative to Carbajal with women voters or any other key sub-groups.

Editor’s Note: The funds raised in Schneider’s first reporting period has been corrected to $225,000 from $250,000. Also, Carbajal’s position in her poll was 15 percent after description, and Fareed’s was 14 percent, not 15 percent. The poll’s percent error was positive or minus 5.2 percent.


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