In a little more than a week, voters in the 31st Assembly District special election can begin casting ballots, with the actual election day coming April 5.
So, for the next month, expect a political dogfight between Kingsburg Democrat Joaquin Arambula, Fresno Republican Clint Olivier and Caruthers Democrat Ted Miller as they battle to replace Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea, who resigned a year before the end of his term to take a private-sector job.
Before the battle started in earnest, however, the Arambula and Olivier campaigns took stock of their positions with internal polling, and both reached the same conclusion: Olivier has an early advantage.
In Arambula’s poll, Olivier had 30 percent of the vote to Arambula’s 27 percent, with 34 percent of voters undecided. Miller was at 5 percent.
In Olivier’s poll, Olivier had 41 percent and Arambula was at 33 percent, with 17 percent undecided. Miller was at 7 percent.
Also worth considering is the sample size and margin of error.
Olivier’s poll surveyed 300 likely special election voters with a 5.7 percent error margin. Arambula’s queried 500 likely special election voters and had a 4.4 percent error margin.
“In general, we’re exactly where we thought we would be right now,” said Rich McIntyre, Arambula’s campaign manager. “All the polling was done before campaign mail started.”
Not surprisingly, Olivier had a different take.
“These results confirm what we’ve known all along,” he said. “People see and appreciate what I've done for the community both as an investigative journalist and as a city councilmember.”
Indeed, Olivier is currently an elected official, which means he gets lots of media attention through newspapers and television as part of his city council job.
Arambula, on the other hand, is an emergency room physician, so isn’t so well known. He does, however, carry a well-known last name and his father spent a long time as a local elected official.
Because of all that, there’s a lot more to these internal polls that a straightforward question of candidate support. That’s usually one of the first questions asked.
After that, the pollsters start probing. They toss out information, both good and bad, about each candidate. At the end, they have what is called an “informed ballot.”
These “informed ballots” help campaigns tailor their message. What is said in television commercials or written on literature that lands in mailboxes is largely developed off of these polls.
After poll takers were given these messages, the Arambula polling memo says Arambula had 35 percent of the vote to Olivier’s 27 percent, with Miller at 8 percent and 26 percent undecided.
Olivier’s polling memo didn’t list where he stood after the messages. Does that mean anything?
The bottom line?
Randall Gutermuth of American Viewpoint, which did Olivier’s polling, wrote that “special elections are always unpredictable, but this data clearly indicates that voters aren’t happy with the status quo in Sacramento or the Democrats in power and are looking for something new. This is a very winnable election for Olivier.”
David Mermin and Liesl Newton from Lake Research Partners, which did Arambula’s poll, called it “a statistical dead heat. With the plurality of voters still undecided, this race remains wide open.”
In other words, it looks like both sides are predicting a tight, hard-fought April special election.
The interesting part is that’s just Round One. No matter who comes out on top, the April election only guarantees a seat until December. And if none of the three candidates gets 50 percent of the vote, there will be a June 7 runoff.
Then, after that, there’s the November general election.