California Gov. Jerry Brown’s approval rating currently stands at 58 percent, and if polling is any indication, that won’t be changing any time soon. A recent poll conducted by the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the Los Angeles Times found that the incumbent governor, as he seeks an unprecedented fourth term, holds a strong lead over his Republican challenger, who most voters can’t even identify.
For those who don’t know the opponent, his name is Neel Kashkari.
Though young and seemingly more moderate than most of his Republican peers, Kashkari is very much an underdog in this race. Not only is the 41-year-old political novice and former U.S. Treasury official running as a Republican in a largely democratic state, but he’s also running a campaign against a three-time incumbent with a political career nearly as old as he is. That incumbent has managed to balance consistent approval from his Democratic and “decline to state” constituents, as well as approximately 18 percent of his state’s Republicans.
That’s a lot to expect any challenger to overcome. Add to it the fact that Kashkari is also tasked with rebranding the Republican Party, one that maintains its more fiscally conservative values while also embracing moderation when it comes to social issues such as marriage equality and women’s health rights, and you almost can’t help but feel sorry for the guy.
To add insult to injury, the USC Dornsife/L.A. Times poll found only one in four likely voters could identify Kashkari by name.
“Incumbents are defeated when the challenger gives the voters a compelling reason to make a change, and Kashkari simply hasn’t been able to attract enough attention to make that case to voters,” Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics Director Dan Schnur told USC News. “California is a very, very steep hill to climb for an underfunded Republican candidate running for statewide office.”
Had Kashkari chosen to run against an unpopular incumbent in a struggling state, it is likely that he would have been able to make a dent in the electorate — at least enough to afford name recognition. But when voters head to the polls on Nov. 4 to cast their ballots, if they go at all, they certainly won’t be voting for a virtually unknown candidate — especially when they’re not averse to the only familiar name on the ballot.
Kashkari’s obscurity among the electorate isn’t solely due to his lack of experience or campaigning resources. In fact, this lack of recognition is endemic among most voters when it comes to local politics. According to FairVote, though approximately 60 percent of American voters turnout to vote for presidential elections, only 40 percent of the eligible voting population votes during midterm elections. Had the USC Dornsife/L.A. Times poll asked respondents to name their state senators, judges or local mayors, it’s unlikely they would have been able to respond any differently.
With less than two months until the election, Kashkari probably won’t be able to garner enough name recognition to secure even a narrow defeat. At the end of the day, most voters won’t know his name — and voters shoulder some of that blame.
Yasmeen Serhan is a junior majoring in international relations. She is also the Special Projects Editor of the Daily Trojan. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Tuesdays.