Retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna has gained support among likely voters in the race for Los Angeles County sheriff, solidifying his lead over incumbent Alex Villanueva, according to a new poll.
With mail-in ballots being cast and the Nov. 8 election day less than a week away, 40% of likely voters and people who have already voted said they’ve chosen Luna, while 32% said they are voting for Villanueva, according to the latest UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, sponsored by the Los Angeles Times.
A little more than a quarter of likely voters said they remain undecided on the contest to run the nation’s largest sheriff’s department — a significant drop in the level of indecision from a previous poll conducted in September in which 36% of likely voters said they had not yet made a decision.
Likely voters are those who have voted in a recent past election and who expressed a high interest in voting in November or those who said they had already voted.
As more people have picked a side, the composition of the candidates’ bases of support have remained largely unchanged from previous months, the recent poll indicated.
Democrats and liberals still tend to heavily favor Luna, while Republicans and conservatives support Villanueva as fervently. Luna is ahead 50% to 21% among registered Democrats, while Villanueva leads 65% to 16% among registered Republicans.
Luna is also leading among white, Black and Asian likely voters, while Latino likely voters favor Villanueva. Among Latino likely voters, 38% support Villanueva while 33% are voting for Luna.
“It’s really mostly going Luna’s way, there’s only a few segments where Villanueva is in the lead,” said Mark DiCamillo, who directed the poll and has been surveying California voters for decades. “It’s a very broad rejection of the incumbent.”
The Sheriff’s Department has been mired in controversy under Villanueva, who has tried to position himself as a lone defender against what he sees as ineptitude and malfeasance among other elected officials. The strategy has left him largely isolated.
Since he took office in 2018, he has clashed with the Board of Supervisors and the oversight officials it has appointed to keep the department in check. Villanueva has also been accused of using a secretive public corruption unit he formed to attack political enemies and covering up multiple scandals from the public.
Earlier this week, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed to pay $47.6 million to settle five lawsuits alleging misconduct by sheriff’s deputies. In three of them, deputies shot people; in one, deputies failed to prevent a man from killing himself in jail; and in another a man, whose family said he was suffering a mental health crisis, died after being violently restrained by deputies. Before voting to approve the payouts, some supervisors used them to take a jab at the sheriff, suggesting they reflected a poor level of leadership.
Even so, according to the new poll, Villanueva’s image has improved slightly since September. The percentage of people who view him favorably has grown from 29% in September to 35% in the recent poll. The share of people with an unfavorable view of Villanueva remained steady at 44%.
“The sheriff’s race is not a top of mind race for voters,” DiCamillo said, adding that much more attention has been given to the Los Angeles mayoral race. “Certainly the information getting out to people is probably mostly negative about Villanueva, because again, his image rating for an incumbent is unusually weak.”
Luna, meanwhile, has made some headway on his main liability: his lack of name recognition.
He’s still not well known. In the recent poll, 45% of likely voters said they still have no opinion of him, compared with 54% in September. Among those who do have an opinion of Luna, 39% said they view him favorably while 16% view him unfavorably.
“He hasn’t turned voters off, hasn’t given voters a reason not to vote for him,” DiCamillo said.
The results suggest Villanueva’s efforts in recent weeks to taint Luna’s image have fallen flat. Villanueva has tried to portray his opponent as an opportunistic, lifelong Republican, who switched political parties only to improve his chances in the race. And he has criticized him for what Villanueva said was Luna’s failure to promote Black women while he was chief in Long Beach and accused him of mishandling of a whistleblower complaint of racism in the department.
Luna has a significant lead among people who said they had already voted and among those who haven’t voted yet but plan to vote by mail. Among those who had already voted, 57% supported Luna, while 31% supported Villanueva. The remainder
refused to answer, were undecided or could not recall.
“They are the likeliest of likely voters,” DiCamillo said of early voters. “It’s a big deal that Luna’s doing so well and Villanueva is not. I would say that’s a real harbinger of what’s gonna happen.”
Villanueva, meanwhile, has a large lead among those who plan to vote in person on election day. Of those, 47% said they were voting for Villanueva, while 27% said they were voting for Luna.
The Berkeley IGS poll was conducted Oct. 25-31 among 3,665 Los Angeles County registered voters, of whom 2,842 were deemed likely to vote or had already voted in the November election.
The sample was weighted to match census and voter registration benchmarks. Because of weighting, precise estimates of the margin of error are difficult, but the results are estimated to have a margin of error of approximately 2 percentage points in either direction for the full registered voter sample and approximately 2.5 points for the likely voter sample.