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The Times Orange County Poll : Bush Builds Surprisingly Large Lead Over Dukakis

Times Political Writer

By a surprisingly wide 67% to 24% spread, Republican presidential candidate George Bush is the choice of Orange County voters over Democrat Michael S. Dukakis, according to The Times Orange County Poll.

Bush’s lead is so large that he could carry the county by nearly 400,000 votes if enough people go to the polls to match the 78% countywide turnout in the 1984 election. That year, President Reagan won the county by a 414,000-vote landslide.

Rosalyn Lever, assistant registrar of voters in Orange County, said her office is predicting that 80% of the county’s registered voters will go to the polls Nov. 8.

To carry California, analysts in both parties believe, a Republican must win Orange County--where Republicans have a 55% to 35% voter-registration edge over Democrats--by at least 200,000 votes. That margin is considered necessary to offset Democratic victories in other areas of the state.

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“This poll indicates that Dukakis has almost an impossible job statewide,” said Mark Baldassare of Mark Baldassare & Associates of Irvine, which conducted the poll. “It suggests it’s going to be very difficult for Dukakis to make up the difference in the rest of the state.”

The poll was conducted Oct. 20-22, a week after the second presidential debate on Oct. 13. It showed the gap in Orange County between the Bush-Quayle ticket and the Dukakis-Bentsen ticket had widened by 11 percentage points since August, when the last Times Orange County poll was conducted.

Dukakis has put more resources into Orange County than any other Democratic presidential candidate in recent history in an effort to win the support of the so-called “Reagan Democrats"--those who voted for Ronald Reagan for President but who still call themselves Democrats. But the poll indicated that the campaign, which included numerous visits by Dukakis and several members of his family, has had little impact.

One reason for that may be that Bush has matched Dukakis’ campaign efforts.

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“It’s like Willie Sutton said about banks: That’s where all the money is. It’s (Orange County) where the lion’s share of the votes are,” Bush’s national campaign manager, Lee Atwater, said last week. “Anybody that doesn’t understand that is going to end up in political Boot Hill as far as I’m concerned.”

During the past 2 months, Bush’s support in Orange County has risen by 7 percentage points, including a 10-point increase among Reagan Democrats. At the same time, Dukakis’ support has fallen here by 4 percentage points, including a 7-point dip among Reagan Democrats.

Bush seems to be helped in Orange County by the widely held perception among voters that they have directly benefited from President Reagan’s fiscal policies, Baldassare said. Bush leads Dukakis by 89% to 7% among those who believe their finances have improved and by 55% to 32% among those who say their finances have stayed the same under Reagan.

“So much of what’s behind it is people think things went well, or at least didn’t go badly, for most people financially during the Reagan years,” Baldassare said of the wide gap between the two candidates.

Although one-third of the county voters interviewed said they think the financial situation for minorities and the disadvantaged had worsened under Reagan, there was a wide split among Dukakis and Bush supporters on this question. Three-fourths of Dukakis’ supporters and only 15% of Bush’s supporters perceived that minorities and the disadvantaged had not fared well in the past 8 years.

In general, about half the county voters interviewed said they are dissatisfied with the choice of presidential candidates, including 45% of Republicans and 60% of Democrats. But this disappointment “tends to help the party in power,” Baldassare said.

Fiscal issues--the budget deficit, taxes and jobs and the economy--were cited as the most important issues in this election year by 60% of the voters, with only minor differences between Democrats and Republicans.

However, 36% of Dukakis’ supporters said they believe the federal deficit to be the most important issue facing the nation, while only 22% of Bush’s supporters said it was their first concern. This reflects to some extent Dukakis’ effort to pin the blame for the nation’s $2-trillion deficit on the Reagan Administration.

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The GOP and Democratic tickets’ standings in the Orange County poll were reflected in the presidential candidates’ images among voters. Bush was viewed favorably by 71% of county voters, an increase of 5 percentage points over August; Dukakis was viewed favorably by only 29%, a decrease of 11 points.

County voters who viewed Bush unfavorably made up only 25% of those questioned in the poll, while 64% were not favorably impressed with Dukakis.

Attitudes toward the vice presidential candidates were a different story. In the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket, Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana was viewed favorably by 43% of county voters, a decline of 2 percentage points since August. Conversely, he was viewed unfavorably by 43%, an increase of 13 points since August. He fared better among Republicans, but even there his favorable rating had dropped by 4 points to 56% in two months.

The Democratic vice presidential candidate, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, on the other hand, improved his image among Orange County voters by 20 percentage points over his August numbers. Forty-nine percent said they viewed the conservative Texan favorably in the most recent poll. During the same period, his unfavorable rating declined by 1 point, to 35%. Among Democrats, Bentsen was viewed favorably by 68% in the most recent poll, which was 13 points higher than Dukakis’ favorable rating.

But paradoxically, Bentsen did not appear to help Dukakis among county voters. Although 39% said they would be more likely to vote for Dukakis because of Bentsen’s presence on the ticket, those numbers did not show up when voters were asked which presidential candidate they planned to vote for on Nov. 8.

Conversely, while 41% of those surveyed said they would be less inclined to vote for Bush because of Quayle, that did not appear to have any effect on Bush’s rise in the poll.

“Bentsen on paper helps Dukakis more than Quayle helps Bush,” Baldassare said. “But in fact, it’s not hurting Bush all that much to have Quayle on the ticket.” He said voters “like Bentsen, but they’re not willing to vote for Dukakis because of Bentsen.”

HOW THE POLL WAS CONDUCTED

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The Times Orange County Poll of 605 registered voters was conducted by Mark Baldassare & Associates, an Irvine-based public opinion research firm, with fieldwork by Discovery Research Group.

The survey was conducted by phone Oct. 20-22 on weekend days and weekday nights, using a random sample of listed and unlisted phone numbers.

The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points, which means that it is 95% certain that the results are within 4 percentage points of what they would be if every adult Orange County registered voter were interviewed.

Percentages may not add up to 100% because of rounding.

THE TIMES ORANGE COUNTY POLL

Presidential Preferences

Support for Bush is up 7 points since August; down 4 points for Dukakis. Among Democrats alone, support for Dukakis dropped 9 points.

“If the presidential election was held today, would you vote for the Democratic ticket of Michael Dukakis and Lloyd Bentsen, or the Republican ticket of George Bush and Dan Quayle?”

Support among all voters October BUSH: 67% DUKAKIS: 24% August BUSH: 60% DUKAKIS: 28%

Trend October August % Change All Voters Bush 67% 60% +7 Dukakis 24 8 -4 Don’t know 9 12 -3 Democrats Bush 32 21 +11 Dukakis 56 65 -9 Don’t know 12 14 -2 Republicans Bush 90 82 +8 Dukakis 5 9 -4 Don’t know 5 9 -4 Reagan Democrats Bush 57 47 +10 Dukakis 27 34 -7 Don’t know 16 19 -3

By Orientation Liberal Moderate Conservative Bush 37% 55% 88% Dukakis 53 29 9 Don’t know 10 16 3

Candidate Images

Bush’s favorable image increased 5 points; Dukakis lost 11 points. Among Democrats alone, Dukakis’ favorable image declined 15 points.

“I am going to read you the names of people in politics. Please tell me if your opinion of that person is favorable or unfavorable.”

% change in favorable rating

October

Favorable Unfavorable Don’t Know Bush 71% 25% 4% Dukakis 29 64 7 Quayle 43 43 14 Bentsen 49 35 16

August

Change in % Favorable Favorable Unfavorable Don’t Know Rating Bush 66% 28% 8% +5 Dukakis 40 49 12 -11 Quayle 45 30 25 -2 Bentsen 29 36 35 +20


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