A panel of three people sit in front of a projector screen.
San José Spotlight co-founder Ramona Giwargis, political observer Larry Gerston and Adam Probolsky, president of Probolsky Research, discussed the findings of an independent poll on candidates vying for the seat in the District 16 congressional race on Feb. 8, 2024. Photo by Moryt Milo.

With the March 5 primary election weeks away and ballots already in the mail, one-third of Silicon Valley voters still don’t know who they want to represent them in Congress.

It’s the first time in two decades the region has had an open congressional race — and there’s a long list of political heavyweights hoping to replace retiring Rep. Anna Eshoo. A poll sponsored by San José Spotlight found former San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian are the likely frontrunners advancing to a November runoff election. But with so many constituents undecided, it could be anyone’s game.

About 16% of people surveyed said they would vote for Liccardo, while 13.3% said they would choose Simitian. Former Saratoga Councilmember Rishi Kumar came in third with 7.5% and Assemblymember Evan Low received 7.3%. However, the biggest percentage, 33.8%, is undecided. The results have a 5% margin of error, which means Liccardo and Simitian are statistically tied.

Results of the question: The primary election for California Congressional District 16 will be held on March 5th. If the election were held today, for whom would you vote? Choose one. [IF UNSURE] Would you say that you lean one way or another?
Political observer Larry Gerston said so many voters are undecided because there are several qualified candidates to choose from — most with similar positions and values.

“Polls are what we call snapshots in time. So what people are saying today, tomorrow, the next day, or a week from now, who knows,” Gerston said. “And with a huge number of people undecided, that makes the poll both more disconcerting, and interesting.”

The survey, conducted by Probolsky Research, sampled 400 likely primary election voters in California’s 16th congressional district from Jan. 11-28 — about a week before the mailers, TV ads and campaigning went into full gear.

“So in other words, mailers in and of themselves had no impact (in this poll)… but now mailers are flooding in,” Gerston said. “When you’ve got a split like this, money will definitely help.”

Money is critical in a campaign because it helps candidates reach voters about their platforms. While money doesn’t determine victory, it never hurts, Gerston said.

Liccardo was the top fundraiser as of Jan. 1 pulling in $1.6 million without loaning his campaign any money. Retired Marine Peter Dixon has $1.4 million — though $575,000 of which is money he loaned his own campaign. Simitian followed in third with $1.1 million. He did not loan himself any money, but has been fundraising since 2009.

The poll also measured how strong each candidate’s support is — meaning of the people surveyed, how many would probably or definitely vote for a particular candidate.

Results for question: Question: The primary election for California Congressional District 16 will be held on March 5th. If the election were held today, for whom would you vote? Choose one. [IF UNSURE] Would you say that you lean one way or another?
Polling found Simitian had the strongest base, with 47.2% who said they would definitely vote for him. For Liccardo, it was 34.4% and a little less than 25% for both Kumar and Low. Karl Ryan, the only Republican in the race, also had a strong base, with 34.6% who said they would definitely vote for him.

“(The definitely voters) are who are with him (their candidate) and they’re not leaving, they’re definitely voting for him,” said Adam Probolsky, president of Probolsky Research. “Everybody else in the ‘probably’ category is kind of in play.”

San José Spotlight’s polling also sought to understand how much of an effect endorsements from representatives like Eshoo or Rep. Ro Khanna matter. The poll found voters tended to like Reps. Eshoo, Khanna and Zoe Lofgren, which means their endorsements could hold some weight. Eshoo has endorsed Simitian and Khanna has endorsed Low. Lofgren has yet to weigh in.

“(Endorsements) are what I call a tiebreaker,” Gerston said. “In this kind of race where you’ve got several qualified candidates, before they vote they may ask that question, ‘where is Anna?”

The polling also found voters believe protecting women’s right to choose, health care affordability and gun violence should be the top nationwide priorities. The biggest issues facing District 16 specifically are housing affordability, public safety and combating drugs and crime, as well as homelessness.

A screenshot from the poll conducted by Probolsky Research into the Congressional District 26 race.

This is the first time San José Spotlight has funded polling of any kind, with the intention to provide unbiased data. Probolsky Research conducted the survey by interviewing likely voters on the phone and online in English, Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese. The data was shared with residents in person and online last week.

“As journalists we are often asked to write about polls during elections and as you might guess, they’re usually funded by special interest groups or even the candidates themselves. So it’s hard to ensure neutrality,” San José Spotlight co-founder Ramona Giwargis told the audience. “That’s why San José Spotlight decided to conduct its own independent poll. We wanted to get an objective snapshot of who is leading this once in a generation race, and what voters in this district truly care about.”

See full slideshow of poll results here:

Probolsky Research - San Jose Spotlight - CA CD-16 Voter Survey - Results Presentation - 8th


Watch San José Spotlight’s live event and analysis:

Contact Jana at [email protected] or follow @Jana_Kadah on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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