A new Public Policy Polling survey finds that the race in the open, GOP-held 29th Senate District is shaping up to be very a competitive contest in the fall. The two major candidates, Assemblywoman Ling Ling Chang, a Republican, and Democrat Sukhee Kang, former mayor of Irvine, are nearly tied among likely general-election voters in the first ask, with Chang being favored by 32% and Kang by 28%. Nearly 40% are undecided at this early point.
After a description of both candidates and their backgrounds, the race remains essentially tied, with Chang at 33% and Kang at 31%. A large number of voters, 36%, remain undecided, even after learning more about the candidates. Although she currently represents Assembly District 55, which encompasses nearly half of the Senate seat, Chang has been in office only a little more than year, and is not well-known in the Senate district. Among those voters who could rate her performance, slightly more disapproved than approved, 29%-23%.
The survey also found that several issues could negatively impact Chang in a general-election campaign:
- In her 2014 Assembly campaign, Chang was discovered by several newspapers to have made inaccurate claims about her college attendance record. The poll found that a whopping 69% of respondents would be less likely to vote for a candidate that had made false statements about their background, including claiming they had a college degree when they in fact had none. Even among Republicans, 67% indicated they would frown on a candidate who made such claims.
- Respondents were also very strong in their desire to have a candidate who supported tougher gun laws, with 57% saying that was an important attribute in a Senate candidate. Among minority voters in this minority-majority (68%) district, even larger majorities said a candidate’s stand on gun control was important – a huge 76% among Asians, and 65% among Latinos. When told Chang was a member of the NRA, and had voted to allow guns on school campuses, 53% of voters said they would be less likely to vote for such a candidate. An even higher 63% of Asian voters in this district said they would be less likely to vote for such a candidate
- If Donald Trump were to be the Republican nominee for president in the fall, that development could also put Chang in a bind. If Chang were to support Trump, 41% of voters would be less likely to support her. Among the two major ethnic groups in the district, voters were even more emphatic: 50% of Latinos would be less likely to vote for her, and 46% of Asians said the same.
The survey findings appear to reinforce independent characterizations of the competitiveness of this Senate seat since it was reconfigured by the Citizens Redistricting Commission in 2011. The reliable, non-partisan California Targetbook, which analyzes legislative races, has said, “Demographic shifts make this district less reliably Republican than in the past and a very competitive race can be expected.” The Orange County Register wrote that the race “is expected to be a tougher battle against Democrats and has a larger Asian constituency…Kang is expected to mount a strong campaign in a district where Republicans have a shrinking advantage of 3 percentage points.”
PPP surveyed 591 general-election voters in the 29th Senate District from March 21-22, 2016. The margin of error is +/-4.0%. This poll was conducted by automated telephone interviews, including cell phones.