Is Meg Whitman in Trouble?

Brown-at-Bistro-33 The Associated Press this morning is reporting on the latest Public Policy Institute of California polling on the California’s Governor’s race.  The PPIC poll, released late yesterday, shows that former Governor Brown now holds an 8-point lead over Meg Whitman,  44 percent to her 36 percent among likely voters.

In addition, they found that Senator Barbara Boxer continues to hold a small lead of five percentage points over her challenger.

Proposition 19 is failing by about five percentage points, 44 percent to 49 percent.  Proposition 23, which would suspend California’s landmark greenhouse gas emissions law until the unemployment rate falls to 5.5 percent for a year, has support from just 37 percent of likely voters, with 48 percent opposed. It is funded by out-of-state oil companies.

In general, single polls can be misleading, and it is far more important to look both at trends and at the average results.  The best place to find that is Real Clear Politics.

Real Clear Politics shows five California statewide polls since October 12, and Jerry Brown has an average lead of 4.6 percent in those polls.  It is actually stronger than that, because the only poll that has Whitman with a lead is the Wilson Research poll, which is designated as a Republican polling company.  The other four polls show Brown with at least a four-point lead, and the three released yesterday show Brown up by 5, 7, and 8 points. This includes a five-point lead in the Rasmussen poll, which tends to lean right.

The PPIC poll found that 55% of the voters are dissatisfied with their choice for governor.

“As they view their ballot options on Election Day, voters are united in their unhappiness with elected officials and the direction of government—but divided about the leadership they want to help meet the challenges in their lives,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO in a press release on Wednesday.

The PPIC also found that the major parties are viewed unfavorably, and the Tea Party rating is down (we will talk about that this weekend).

The PPIC reports, “Likely voters’ discontent with their elected officials is echoed in their discontent over the direction of the state and nation. Solid majorities say California (77%) and the United States (60%) are headed in the wrong direction. The Democratic and Republican parties don’t fare well with likely voters either: A majority (56%) say the parties are doing such a poor job that a third major party is needed.”

How is the Tea Party movement viewed in California? According their poll, “Likely voters’ negative impressions have increased in the last year, with 35 percent viewing it favorably and 47 percent viewing it unfavorably today. The unfavorable rating has increased 10 points since March.”

However, the Republican Party is viewed the most unfavorably.  It has a higher unfavorable rating (62%) than either the Tea Party (47%) or Democratic Party (51%).

The question for today is where the Governor’s race is heading, and at this point it looks like it is Jerry Brown’s to lose.

In 1994, Michael Huffington parlayed what was then a record $30 million and a strong anti-Democratic mood into a near upset of Senator Dianne Feinstein.  However, since then, money has been far less effective at buying elections.  In part, the voters have become more sophisticated about political ads. 

But the other part is that candidates who spend large amounts of money generally do so because they are covering up for lack of name recognition and lack of public record.

Earlier this week, the Milken Institute, an independent think-tank, sponsored a panel to discuss the race (you can view the video here ).

The consensus on the governor’s race was that while it was not too late for Whitman to turn it around, the speakers believe Brown is on track to win.

Some of the problems that the panelists cited have to do with the poor ad campaign that Meg Whitman has put on.

Four main points were raised that we will discuss briefly.  First, Bill Carrick of Carrick Consulting said Whitman lacked an overarching narrative.  That may be true, but it is tough to evaluate because she has simply put on so many ads.  Part of that narrative is that Jerry Brown is too experienced, that he is a career politician.  Now that narrative in many places may resonate, but the problem is that we already have a governor without political background and most people at this point do not view the current governor as having been a solution to the problems.

Second, USC’s Susan Estrich said Whitman’s ads were “cold” and failed to show her connecting with people.  That point is also difficult to evaluate.  Certainly, attack ads have worked in the past.  And, moreover, most of the public is not all that tuned into this election.

Third, she alienated voters by campaigning far too long and spending too much, Edelman’s Steve Schmidt said.  I think that is partly true.  Some voters are turned off by that.  But it is far from clear that there is a backlash brewing. It’s a close race right now that is paralleling partisan divisions, if not slightly closer.

Finally, Don Sipple of Sipple:Strategic Communications said Whitman’s fatal flaw may be timing: Like Gov. Schwarzenegger, she has no political background, and voters in this atmosphere won’t “replace Schwarzenegger with another Schwarzenegger.”  This point makes the most sense to me.  As I mentioned earlier, this would be the year of the outsider, except the current governor was an outsider who was not particularly successful.

I have my own theory.  Even in a Republican year, the state is leaning Democrat.  Jerry Brown has been around for forty years, he is not the most popular guy in the world, but most people think he is generally competent.  They do not know if Meg Whitman is.  They do not know much about her. But basically people are uninspired by the choices and the voters seem to be breaking with their proclivities.  That would point to about a ten-point win for Brown, give or take.

I do think that Gov. Schwarzenegger hurts Meg Whitman’s chances because I think people see that it does take experience to govern.  That is why I think term limits hurt us. 

I do not think we are going to fix the state’s problems until we get rid of term limits, have competitive districts for elections and get rid of the two-thirds requirement.  But I do not see any of these things happening in the near future, so I suspect California will boom or bust with the economy, and have problems when the economy is down.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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35 thoughts on “Is Meg Whitman in Trouble?”

  1. wdf1

    I do think that Gov. Schwarzenegger hurts Meg Whitman’s chance because I think people see that it does take experience to govern.

    The Brown campaign has been pushing that kind of narrative in this ad:


  2. Neutral

    When pollsters start calling people on cell phones, or better yet, develop “bulletproof” means of surveying online, they will *begin* to have some value. But now? Not a chance.

  3. Dr. Wu

    I think all of the above explanations make sense. Also remember Schwarzenegger swooped in and stirred up enthusiasm while Meg has given voters time to sour on her. Her message of fiscal austerity is inconsistent with ads running over and over again, ad nauseum. Jerry never had a wide enthusiastic following, but this is a blue state and he seen as competent by most non-Republicans.

    As far as this quote:
    [quote]so I suspect California will boom or bust with the economy, and have problems when the economy is down[/quote]

    THe California economy is likely to be down for a while due to the long downturn in the national economy but also due to our own problems in the housing market (which has not bottomed yet) and the fact that this state is just too expensive compared to other states as well as other countries.

    At some point someone will have to face the music here. The Brits, the Greeks and others are facing up to pension reform and other measures. I am hoping Jerry has some guts here.

  4. Don Shor

    From the San Jose Mercury News, Oct 6:

    Whitman’s new expenditure totals for 2010 are breathtaking: $94.6 million on radio and TV advertising, $11.7 million on campaign consultants, $8.2 million on campaign literature and mailings, $5.7 million on campaign workers’ salaries, $2.3 million on office expenses and $5 million on Internet expenses.
    In the past three months, Whitman’s been spending more than $3 million a week. And since the race began last year, she’s spent $140 million.
    By contrast, Brown has run his campaign like a New Age commune: So far this year, he’s spent $8.9 million on TV and radio ads, $615,514 on campaign literature, $163,200 on consultants and $122,350 on office expenses

    I read somewhere that she had run over 50,000 ads as of late September. Frankly, if I saw an unrelenting barrage of ads for Colgate, I’d probably go buy Crest. The voters are saturated with her.

  5. wdf1

    Whitman’s new expenditure totals for 2010 are breathtaking:

    At that rate, do you think she’s having a measurable positive impact on the California economy?

  6. Frankly

    Is Meg Whitman in trouble?

    I think the more relevant question: “Is California in Trouble?”

    It is breathtaking that people in this state would have any attraction to renewing a king Moonbean trip to the throne again given that he represents most of what we know to be wrong with the state.

    Apparently, the phrase “turn blue and die” has developed another relevant meaning.

    The only good news for those that appose what Brown stands for is that once he is elected, just like at the national level, there is nothing for state Democrats to hide behind for voters to recognize the true accountability for the fiscal mess they are primarily responsible for.

    Given what we are learning about the power of incumbent voter anger, and the ability for false conservatives like Schwarzenegger to provide Democrats cover while being blocked from implementing any substantive fiscal reforms, I am advocating a conservative strategy of voting for Brown. Then maybe the voters in this dead-head state will wake up to recognize the oncoming Greek tragedy and do something to prevent it.

  7. Briankenyon

    Brilliant rhetoric, Mr. Boone. But what does it mean, except you are prejudiced against Democrats? Oh, and “dead-head” state? Do you mean
    the whole state’s population are Grateful Dead fans? Not.

  8. Frankly

    ” But what does it mean, except you are prejudiced against Democrats? Oh, and “dead-head” state? Do you mean the whole state’s population are Grateful Dead fans? Not”

    I am not so much prejudiced against Democrats. I am very disappointed to see California continue its slide as a fiscally-irresponsible, business-hostile state. Many Democrats tend to not get the true destructive cost of their pursuits. “save a tree, lose a job, just increase taxes to make up the difference”… for them this logic sounds just fine.

    The state has a very high percentage of brain-dead, short-sighted, ideological robots… uneducated, inexperienced, uninformed or brainwashed… and yes, certainly some of them are Greatful Dead fans. I never was a big fan of the GD.

  9. Major Dude

    [quote]I’m for Jerry…


    Glad to hear Republicans are fiscally responsible and want to help the economy. Guess that’s why they voted for W.

    Face it– neither party is responsible and “conservatives” are obsessed with guns, gods gays and Goldman Sachs.

  10. Frankly

    “Glad to hear Republicans are fiscally responsible and want to help the economy. Guess that’s why they voted for W.”

    They are much more than Democrats… especially since the party turned so far left.

    W was elected because of the junk candidates the Democrats ran against him. He was re-elected because of the war on terror. Most conservatives were unhappy with government spending at that time, but remember the Dems candidates were the militarty cut-n-run type.

    “Face it– neither party is responsible and “conservatives” are obsessed with guns, gods gays and Goldman Sachs.”

    Agree with the first point, but your second point proves that you are too obsessed with Internet media liberal taking points to be taken seriously. It would be like me saying liberals are too obsessed with being lazy moochers, living off the soft money of government, practicing all forms of sexual deviency, dislike traditional families, have no problem murdering babies, hate business and free market capitalism, and want to make millionaires out of all public employees.

  11. wdf1

    I am very disappointed to see California continue its slide as a fiscally-irresponsible, business-hostile state.

    Do you think was a business friendly environment that led to the rise of the aerospace, entertainment, and tech industries? The tech and entertainment industries still appear to be very much alive in California.

  12. Frankly

    “Do you think was a business friendly environment that led to the rise of the aerospace, entertainment, and tech industries? The tech and entertainment industries still appear to be very much alive in California.”

    Between 2004 and 2009, the aerospace industry declined only 5 percent compared to 12 percent for the overall manufacturing sector. I guess we can celebrate less of a decline. The problem here is that much of this business growth in the aerospace industry was the result of higher military spending… something Democrats want to stop.

    The movie business has been bleeding business from CA for years. Toronto and many other locations are growing due to lower costs. CA’s share of this industry is shrinking due to the high costs.

    CA was once business-friendly, but not in the last 15-20 years. We leverage our good weather, our population density, our natural resources and our good schools; but there is a limit to what these things can overcome when the bottom line is so impacted compared to alternaive locations.

  13. wdf1

    Many Democrats tend to not get the true destructive cost of their pursuits.

    To me the Republicans have promised that we can have it all — government services, strong military, low taxes — but have charged it all to the credit card. I was surprised that GW Bush didn’t try pay-as-you-go for US war efforts. In past wars, the government was more diligent in this respect.

    When I see the history of top tax rates in the U.S. —

    see [url][/url]

    — it looks like we’re due to adjust upward. It’s interesting that the top rate has been so high, especially during the economic growth of the 50’s & 60’s.

  14. Frankly

    One positive point I would make relative to CA’s business climate… the cost of commercial real estate has fallen and should remain low for the next several years. The key for us will be to resist tax increases that kill this positive.

  15. Dr. Wu

    We can thank another Republican, Alan Greenspan, for low commercial real estate prices. He kept interest rates too low for too long leading to the real estate bubble (which happened on George W Bush’s watch).

    The notion that Republicans know how to run the economy is laughable.

  16. Frankly

    “When I see the history of top tax rates in the U.S.”

    You need to look at that relative to the emergence of a global economy.

    and this…

    Frankly, I suspect there a great number of additional reasons why a comparison of 1970s-era higher Federal income tax rates and today is not a complete and valid comparison.

    For example, there are a lot of other fees and taxes now that did not exist during the years of higher income tax rates.

    Also note that this does not address the trends of capital gains, corporate taxes. It does not also take into consideration the alternative minimum tax or its predecessor, the minimum tax. Total tax receipts as a percent of GDP is all we should really focus on since there are many ways the government has learned how to loot.

    In 1970 the total tax revenue as a percentage of GDP was 25.6%. Today it is it 28.2%.

    Also, note that the average federal income tax rate for households earning less than $34,300, according to the CBO, was -0.4 percent in 2007, and the average federal income tax rate for households earning less than $20,500 was -6.8 percent. In 1970, the Federal income tax rate for people making $0-$1000 was 14%.

    So, the wealthy have a lower income tax rate and about 50% of Americans pay zero Federal income taxes, but our tax revenue is higher as a percent of GDP. What’s up with that?

  17. Frankly

    “We can thank another Republican, Alan Greenspan”

    Conservatives threw Greenspan under the bus a long time ago… we put him in there with Dodd and Frank. That guy was always more worried about the risk of his legacy being tarnished by another Carter-era inflationary period than he was maintaining strong free and competitive markets.

    I like the term “wild exuberance”. Remember tech stocks and the crash? That had less government hand it in and we all survived. Look at the housing and financial market crash of this Great Recession and you will find every number of government finger prints on it. Greenspan should not have kept rates so artificially low for so long. Bernache is making the same mistakes.

  18. wdf1

    I wonder if we’re now better off with term limits. It seems that the current legislature lacks institutional memory that might be helpful for the ongoing development of policy issues. Plus, with a few years more experience, you might actually develop better working relationships with your political adversaries. It all seems like a good thing to me.

  19. Dr. Wu


    Who are the true conservatives?

    Alan Greenspan ?
    George W Bush ?
    Sarah Palin ?
    Christine O’Donnell ?
    Sharon Angle ?

    Please note that I refer to the Republican party as bankrupt (so are the Democrats but that is another story). You seem to have an idealized picture –a bit like a teenager in love. THe Republicans abandoned the principle of fiscal responsibility long long ago.

    Meg claims to be fiscally conservative. She starts with a tax cut but doesn’t say how she will offset it. She is beholden to the police and prison guards–by far the most fiscally irresponsible public unions.

    Stop drinking the Republican Kool- Aid. Both parties are intellectually bankrupt.

  20. E Roberts Musser

    Oh happy days. My computer wouldn’t add my comments earlier today, so I missed all the fun!!! I’m addicted to this blog and the extremely interesting discussions to be had.

    Inre today’s article on Brown/Whitman:
    Inre qualifications of Jerry Brown to be governor: Someone in a different article and in another thread criticized Jerry Brown as AG for not fighting for upholding CA’s ban on gay marriage (Prop 8). Sorry I cannot remember commenters chosen label (it might have been Davisite?). Saw the following article on internet this morning, which I thought was very ironic:

    “Why US lawyers fight for law on gays Obama opposes
    Oct 21, 2010
    WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama opposes the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military, so why are Obama administration lawyers in court fighting to save it?

    The answer is one that perhaps only a lawyer could love: There is a long tradition that the Justice Department defends laws adopted by Congress and signed by a president, regardless of whether the president in office likes them.

    This practice cuts across party lines. And it has caused serious heartburn for more than one attorney general.

    The tradition flows directly from the president’s constitutional duty to take care that the laws are faithfully executed, says Paul Clement, who served four years in President George W. Bush’s administration as solicitor general, the executive branch’s top lawyer at the Supreme Court.

    Otherwise, Clement says, the nation would be subjected to “the spectacle of the executive branch defending only laws it likes, with Congress intervening to defend others.”

    That is why solicitors general not only serve the president who nominated them but also have a special duty to Congress, “most notably, the vigorous defense of the statutes of this country against constitutional attack,” Justice Elena Kagan testified to Congress in 2009 after Obama nominated her to be solicitor general. She joined the Supreme Court a year later.

    On occasion, the Justice Department will even defend a law it knows is likely to be judged unconstitutional, said Seth Waxman, who served as President Bill Clinton’s solicitor general…”

  21. E Roberts Musser

    “We can thank another Republican, Alan Greenspan”

    I’m puzzled by this statement. Was Greenspan an avowed Republican? He was seen at Gore fundraising events, considered scandalous by those who felt a Fed Reserve Chairman is supposed to remain apolitical. Greenspan was originally appointed by Reagan, but was reappointed by both Republicans and Democrats. He was a very controversial figure, and is blamed for having heavily supported adjustable rate mortgages and the mortgage meltdown. Some put him as the #3 cause of the mortgage meltdown. (From Wikipedia). They also faulted his handling of the bubble as reactive after the damage had been done rather than proactive prevention.

  22. wdf1

    Alan Greenspan was also appointed to serve in the Nixon and Ford administrations. He was also a close associate of Ayn Rand. His wikipedia bio article labels his affiliation as Republican.

  23. jimt

    Does anyone seriously think we can reform the government of USA or CA given that the same set of players fund both major parties and supply the lobbyists flooding the legislature?
    Public funding of almost all campaign costs would help weaken the leverage of the big $ boys, as would drastic lobby reform. Penny-foolish, pound-wise.

    Brown’s got my vote; because he’s pragmatic enough to realize he needs to compromise with big money directives to survive, but is not sold out to big money.

    Whitman preaches the gospel of the corporatocracy.
    Although government can benefit from making use of sound business practices, the government is not a business (despite the concerted and relentless ongoing efforts of many toward making this country USA, Inc.)

  24. jimt

    For the record, state income tax and spending rates tripled under Reagan’s 8-yr tenure as CA governor; much more than under Brown’s tenure (as president Reagan switched from spend and tax to spend and borrow; and is responsible for amping up the federal debt by about 10-fold; a legacy that will last to perpetuity or bankruptcy). Its helpful if you can get past the noises coming out of the lips of the politicians, and just look at their records.

    To show I’m not partisan, I honestly think Mr. Schwarzenegger has done a pretty good job as governor–although CA is in trouble financially, I suspect he has helped a lot with damage control and that we would be much worse off if he was not governor. Arnold is a self-made man from humble economic origins, and though he is a rich businessman I don’t see him as sold out to big business interests, but more of a pragmatic compromiser who seeks to balance the legitimate interests of business with the legitimate interests of the little guy. I think some of the moderate pension reforms he has been promoting are far-sighted and brave; given that the benefits of that reform hurt him politically now but will start to benefit CA a lot in the next decade (should lower the risk of bankruptcy).

  25. jimt

    Correction, under Reagan’s watch as president the national debt increased about 3-fold
    (from about 33% of gdp in 1981 to about 53% of gdp in 1989; during which gdp also rose a lot)
    As a % of gdp, national debt continued to increase at about the same rate under Bush I, decreased from about 65% to 56% under Clinton, and gradually rose under Bush II until the sharp spike in bailouts starting late 2008
    (has wall street thanked the taxpayers yet? You can be sure the top guys have their fleets of tax lawyers and foreign accounts that protect most of their take from the highest tax brackets)

  26. E Roberts Musser

    wdf1: “Alan Greenspan was also appointed to serve in the Nixon and Ford administrations. He was also a close associate of Ayn Rand. His wikipedia bio article labels his affiliation as Republican.”

    It took me a while to find it in Wikipedia article about him, but supposedly Greenspan bills himself as a “lifelong libertarian Republican”. However, it is important to note that what Greenspan says does not necessarily comport with what he does. In his new book, he admits to criticizing all the Republican presidents, but praises Clinton. He was seen at a Gore fundraiser while he was Fed Chairman, a big no-no. Both parties have been critical of his monetary policies. It appears as if Greenspan wrote his new book to “rewrite history” and his place in it. I’m certainly no fan of Greenspan – never liked him no matter what his true party affiliation is if any…

    Apparently this is what Greenspan is doing now, according to Wikipedia: “Greenspan also counsels on monetary poopies…” LOL I’m not joking, that is what it said on Wikipedia! I’m assuming a typo, but how hilarious!!!

  27. Frankly

    Related to Presidential deficit spending…

    Debt (billions)
    % of GDP
    Compound % Increase

    Base Year
    Base Year








    2010 (est.)

    It is clear that Obama has blown the doors off of the deficit spending argument.

    Another chart…

    U.S. president
    Term years
    Increase debt ($T)
    House Control

    Senate Control


    Harry Truman

    Dwight Eisenhower

    Dwight Eisenhower


    Lyndon Johnson

    Richard Nixon


    Jimmy Carter

    Ronald Reagan

    Ronald Reagan

    George H. W. Bush

    Bill Clinton

    Bill Clinton

    George W. Bush

    George W. Bush

    Barack Obama


    The astounding fact here is that every single term has ended with increased debt, and the percentage of debt increase has been on a constant upward trajectory except for the Clinton-Tip O’Neil era (when the run up on tech stocks helped heat the economy).

    The message here is that all politicians have lacked fiscal prudence… they have promised goodies to get elected and to stay elected and we voters have rewarded them for it. The Tea Party will continue to grow in strength as more Americans grow up and take stock of the pending disaster as we can no longer cover the growing debt.

  28. Don Shor

    The Tea Party will continue to grow in strength as more Americans grow up and take stock of the pending disaster…
    Only if they dissociate themselves from Christianists and other social conservatives, and fringe libertarians. At the moment Tea Party folks just look like the hard right sector of the Republican party.

  29. Don Shor

    There have always been legislators in both parties that were deficit hawks. Just check out the Concord Coalition: [url][/url]
    But in neither party have they ever made headway toward sound fiscal policy.

  30. wdf1

    The Tea Party will continue to grow in strength as more Americans grow up and take stock of the pending disaster as we can no longer cover the growing debt.

    I don’t know, Jeff. Right now I’m remembering Ross Perot, and his alternative candidacy, plus a few of earlier generations, and I still can’t take the Tea Party seriously. Sure they’ll claim their successes on election night. But they’ve been co-opted too quickly by the Republican Party, and as far as I can see, the Republican Party is still beholden to the entrenched interests that got us to this point. And when you have candidates like Chris O’Donnell, Carl Paladino, and Sharon Angle, it really detracts from any serious articulate message about fiscal responsibility. Sometimes it takes the skill of a real politician to get elected. For now this feels more like a political fad.

  31. E Roberts Musser

    dmg: “But in neither party have they ever made headway toward sound fiscal policy.”

    And this is the citizenry’s frustration – the federal gov’t refuses to live within its means, no matter who is in power… “Sigh”!!!

  32. Frankly

    “wdf1: I still can’t take the Tea Party seriously.”

    Many revolutions gained momentum for the very same reason… those in power did not take the rebels seriously. Also consider that there a lot of educated people backing the Tea Party candidates. They have momentum and every day that jobs do not become plentiful more will jump the Democrat “hope and change” ship for the alternative.

    There are also a lot of educated people in positions of political power today. However, it is not going well at all. Related to this, I have a different perspective about how “smart”, “educated” and “capable leader” all play together… they often don’t. We don’t want the Pointy-Haired Boss, but Dilbert could not manage the company either.

    I also don’t subscribe to the professional politician model. We are a representative government where our representative are supposed to be of us and like us. Certainly government has grown much more complex to favor the fast talking computer brain; but that is the root of what the Tea Party stands against. Government needs to shrink in its size and scope of services.

    I have a bumper sticker that reads: “If This is What Smart Looks Like, Bring Back Stupid!”

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