Gavin Newsom, John Cox Grow Their Leads in New Poll

1 min
Travis Allen, second from left, and John Cox, wearing glasses, appear with other Republican candidates at the state GOP convention on May 6. Allen and Cox are the two top Republicans running for California governor. A new poll shows Cox in second place. (Marisa Lagos/KQED News)

It's looking more and more likely that Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom will get his wish to compete against a Republican in the November runoff for governor: Yet another poll shows GOP businessman John Cox surging ahead of Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa, the former Los Angeles mayor.

The poll from the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies comes just days before the June 5 primary. It asked 2,106 likely voters who they plan to vote for -- or, in some cases, who they've already voted for. The survey found Newsom with a "commanding" lead, with 33 percent support of likely voters; Cox is in second at 20 percent. Both front runners have increased their support since the last IGS poll in April; a recent Public Policy Institute of California poll also found Newsom with a strong lead and Cox in second place.

Villaraigosa, according to the poll, is in third place with 13 percent of likely voters saying they prefer him, up from 9 percent last month. And Republican Assemblyman Travis Allen's support has slipped from 16 to 12 percent, according to the poll.

"The preferences of likely voters in the governor's race are highly partisan," IGS Poll Director Mark DiCamillo wrote in his analysis of the survey. "The poll finds Newsom and Cox also holding large leads among voters who say they have already voted in the primary."

At a debate last month, Newsom confirmed assumptions that he'd prefer to face a Republican in this state where just one-quarter of voters are registered with the GOP. California has a top-two primary system, meaning the two candidates with the most votes on Tuesday will move on to the runoff, regardless of party affiliation.

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Villaraigosa tried to run to Newsom's right, and spent much of the last year campaigning in the Central Valley, long a Republican stronghold. But the IGS poll found that strategy does not appear to have worked: Newsom has a 12-point lead over his Democratic rival in the region; Newsom is also besting Villaraigosa among likely voters in Villaraigosa's hometown of Los Angeles County, 35 to 18. And Newsom leads among self-identified moderate voters, 30 to 16.

The IGS poll was conducted online between May 22 and 28 and has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.