Deep Pockets Issue : Voters Viewed Prop. 51 as Key Decision

Times Staff Writer

California voters overwhelmingly believed that the most important issue they had to decide Tuesday was Proposition 51, and Republicans enthusiastically gave the “deep pockets” insurance measure its huge margin of victory.

But in selecting their party’s nominee for U.S. Senate, Republicans divided sharply along regional and philosophical lines--with people living in Southern California voting heavily for television commentator Bruce Herschensohn and northerners siding lopsidedly with Rep. Ed Zschau from the San Francisco Bay Peninsula.

Interviews by the Los Angeles Times Poll with 5,571 people just after they had voted in the primary election showed that Republicans and Democrats alike were drawn to the ballot booths principally by Proposition 51.

More money was spent on this measure--roughly $10 million--than on any other battle during the long primary election season, and the aggressive campaigning waged by both sides ultimately was reflected in voter concern over the issue.


Asked what was “the most important vote” they had cast, people leaving the polls chose Proposition 51 by 2 to 1 over the more glamorous U.S. Senate race. It went like this: “deep pockets,” 43%; governor (there actually was no primary contest), 26%; U.S. Senate, 19%; lieutenant governor, 2%; state controller, 1%; others, 9%.

Those who thought Proposition 51 was the “most important” thing on the ballot were deeply committed to the measure. They voted 2 1/2 to 1 for it.

Republicans voted resoundingly for the proposal, by 3 to 1. But Democrats split almost evenly down the middle.

Conservative, White, Wealthy


People who voted for Proposition 51 tended to be conservative, white and wealthy.

Obviously, it was to the great advantage of the measure’s sponsors--the insurance companies, local governments and business interests--that GOP voters also had a hot Senate race to draw them to the polls, and Republicans wound up casting ballots in disproportionately higher numbers than Democrats.

Not in recent California political history have two major candidates so divided up the state by north and south as did Zschau and Herschensohn on Tuesday.

In many ways, the Zschau-Herschensohn race also represented a continuation of the internal Republican fight among “pragmatists” and “ideologues.” But the regional identities of these Senate candidates overshadowed everything else.


Southerners voted for Herschensohn--a fixture on Los Angeles television for eight years--by a 2-1 ratio over Zschau. But, virtually unknown outside Southern California, Herschensohn lost to Zschau in the north by almost 5 to 1.

Southerners outnumbered northerners by 2 to 1 in the Republican primary. But Zschau kept himself in the ballgame by doing twice as well proportionately in the south as Herschensohn did in the north. Zschau had spent heavily for television commercials in Southern California in a highly successful effort to build up his name identification.

Herschensohn’s Major Support

In the end, it was conservatives from Southern California who gave Herschensohn his major support. They voted for him over Zschau by nearly 3 to 1. Southern California Republicans who classified themselves either as moderates or liberals gave Herschensohn only a slight edge.


In the north, even though his political career is rooted in a centrist base, Zschau beat Herschensohn by 4 to 1 among conservatives and by 5 to 1 among moderate-liberals. Ideology made little difference there, perhaps because Herschensohn was relatively unknown in the north.

Conservatives outnumbered non-conservatives by 2-1 statewide, and they favored Herschensohn by roughly 4 to 3. But liberal-moderates went for Zschau by a slightly larger ratio, 3 to 2. It all seemed to even out.

But Herschensohn’s supporters clearly were the most motivated. This was demonstrated by those who thought that the Senate contest was “the most important” thing on the ballot. They voted for Herschensohn by 2 to 1 over Zschau.

People told The Times interviewers that they primarily voted for Herschensohn because “I believe in what he stands for.” They also thought he would “support President Reagan.” These were the ideologues, who valued Herschensohn’s conservative crusade.


Pragmatists Like Zschau

The pragmatists sided with Zschau. They were particularly concerned about issues like toxic waste and the economy. And they were attracted by the congressman’s experience and his potential for beating Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston in November.

Zschau had the most momentum going into the election, according to the voters’ reports of when they made up their minds who to support. People who decided who to vote for in the final two weeks of the campaign sided mainly with Zschau

In the only major contest on the Democratic ballot, the fight for the controller nomination, there was a noticeable split between voters who liked former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. and those who did not. This became a factor because Assemblyman Gray Davis of Los Angeles had spent seven years as Brown’s chief of staff. And his chief opponent, state Sen. John Garamendi of Walnut Grove, had tried to tie the former governor’s presumed unpopularity around Davis’ neck.


Asked their impressions of Brown, Democrats replied 4 to 3 favorable--a relatively close call. Those who had a favorable impression of Brown voted more than 2 to 1 for Davis; those who did not like the former governor sided with Garamendi by 4 to 3.


Which was the most important vote you wanted to cast today? Governor: 26% Lieutenant Governor: 2% U.S. Senator: 19% Controller: 1% Prop 51:42% Other: 10% Source: Los Angeles Times Poll