U.S. Representatives Adam Schiff and Katie Porter have taken an early lead in the high-profile race to replace legendary Senator Dianne Feinstein when she retires in 2025. But all the candidates in the running have a common problem: many voters don’t know who they are. are, and probably don’t pay much attention to the race just yet.
In a recent poll focused on the upcoming 2024 election, 22% of voters favored Schiff at this early stage and 20% favored Porter, according to UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies. Rep. Barbara Lee, an East Bay Democrat who was the last of the three official candidates to enter the race, followed with only 6% of voters favoring her. Another 4% liked Rep. Ro Khanna, who has reportedly toyed with the idea of taking up running but has not applied.
While it’s still early days — the race is more than a year away — the poll revealed that all candidates have a job to do when it comes to name recognition. A whopping 62% of voters said they didn’t know enough about Lee to have an opinion about her, while 47% had no opinion about Porter and 39% had no opinion about Schiff.
That could be why a large proportion of voters – 39% – don’t know who they are going to vote for.
Only Democratic and non-partisan voters were polled for those questions, as no Republican candidates have yet entered the race.
“The results give good reason to expect a relatively wide-open race,” Eric Schickler, co-director of the Institute of Governmental Studies, said in a press release. “Because so many voters don’t know the candidates, there’s a lot of movement potential.”
The researchers surveyed 7,512 registered California voters, including 5,681 Democratic and non-party voters, during a week-long period earlier this month.
Because it’s so early and none of the candidates have previously run for statewide office, it’s not unusual for them to be so little known, poll chief Mark DiCamillo said in an interview. State representatives are typically relative nobody outside of their own districts, he said.
“Most voters don’t pay that much attention to politics every day,” he said. ‘But they will. As you get closer to an election, voters will pay more and more attention. But it will probably be some time before that happens.”
Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi endorsed Schiff earlier this month, which likely helped him take the top spot in the poll, DiCamillo said.
“I think those jacket tails really help Schiff,” he said. “Just because voters may not know that much about him, but they may know that Nancy Pelosi just endorsed him, and that may be good enough for them.”
Schiff also received some national recognition for his leadership role in the impeachment process of former President Donald Trump.
Schiff and Porter are both Democrats from Southern California, but Porter is seen as the more progressive of the two — and that difference is already reflected in voter preferences. So far, voters who identify as strongly liberal favor Porter, while those who say they are moderate favor Schiff. Lee, who also has strong progressive credentials, will likely share the strong liberal vote with Porter.
Porter also runs in Orange County, which she calls home.
Most voters agree on one thing: they think it’s time for Feinstein to retire. While many pundits assumed that the 89-year-old senator, who is reportedly experiencing a decline in her mental abilities, would not seek re-election in 2024, she only confirmed their assumptions last week. As a result, both Porter and Schiff jumped into the race before Feinstein officially dropped out.
When voters were asked about her decision to step aside, 60% of Democrats, 77% of Republicans and 61% of nonpartisan voters said it was a good thing for California, according to the UC Berkeley poll. And 41% of all polled voters disapprove of Feinstein’s job performance, while only 35% agree.