Los Angeles County Supervisor-elect Sheila Kuehl won a majority of the female vote, the liberal vote and the lesbian and gay vote in last week’s contest while challenger Bobby Shriver appealed more to Republicans, Catholics and younger voters, a Loyola Marymount University exit poll shows.
Among the exit poll respondents, Kuehl won 58 percent of the female vote and the Democratic vote, 62 percent of the liberal vote and 63 percent of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender vote in the Third Supervisorial District. The former state assemblywoman and state senator also won nearly 60 percent of the white vote and 53 percent of the Latino vote, according to the poll’s results released Tuesday evening.
Kuehl, who won the election with about 53 percent of the overall vote, was clearly viewed as the more liberal candidate in this heavily Democratic district and benefited from having the name recognition and extensive experience, said Brianne Gilbert, associate director of LMU’s Center for the Study of Los Angeles, which conducted the exit poll.
“Democrats, liberals, women, gay voters — who basically have been pillars of (Kuehl’s) support all along — and Latinos carried her to victory,” said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State Los Angeles. “This was her base. She appealed strongly to it.”
Shriver, who positioned himself as the slightly less liberal and more pro-business candidate, earned nearly 66 percent of the Republican vote, 61 percent of the conservative vote and 54 percent of the moderate vote. The former Santa Monica mayor also earned 72 percent of the African-American vote and 60 percent of the Asian vote, according to the exit poll.
The third district, which spans more than 400 square miles in the San Fernando Valley and through the Westside, has nearly three times as many registered Democrats as it has registered Republicans, according to Political Data Inc.
“(Shriver) came in with a tougher road to climb given the nature of the electorate in the district, especially in an off-year election, but ran a very energetic campaign,” Sonenshein said, adding that he kept the race competitive by courting communities with fewer ties or familiarity with Kuehl, including Republicans and younger voters, as well as “plenty of Democrats.”
While Kuehl’s campaign was largely about reaching out to what one might call “old friends” since she had a greater depth of support and familiarity in the district, Shriver’s campaign seemed to be about making new friends, Sonenshein said.
Cal State Northridge political scientist Tom Hogen-Esch said he was struck by the fact that women supported Kuehl by about 16 percentage points more than men did. He called that a “huge gap” for an election between two Democrats with similar positions. Men were evenly split between the candidates.
“If you’re looking for one reason why Sheila Kuehl won, it’s the gender gap,” Hogen-Esch said, adding that women tend to be attracted to female candidates, particularly ahead of an election season in which there is be a strong likelihood of a female nominee for president.
However, women are more likely to register as Democrats and be liberal — two groups in which Kuehl fared quite well and which might partly explain that gap, Sonenshein said.
Kuehl might have earned a majority of the Latino vote partly because of her strong ties with labor, in which the community is largely represented, Hogen-Esch said. African-Americans may have heavily supported Shriver, the nephew of John F. Kennedy, as a result of his family’s ties to the civil rights movement, he said.
The former U.S. president also placed a number of African-Americans in high positions in the White House, something that may have also influenced the community’s support for his nephew, Gilbert said.
Kuehl, who is openly lesbian and active on the issue of gay rights, also clearly resonated with the LGBT community, which constituted 10 percent of the exit poll respondents in the district.
“She’s not shy about her orientation,” Gilbert said. “If you are gay, lesbian or bisexual, and all other things are equal, people have a tendency to vote more similarly to themselves. That may have been a major influencing factor.”
The poll, which has a margin of error of about 4 percent, surveyed more than 560 voters in 17 polling places in randomly selected precincts within the Third Supervisorial District, Gilbert said. More than 241,500 people voted for a candidate in this race, according to the County of Los Angeles Registrar-Recorder.