The Times Poll : Yaroslavsky Would Have Forced Runoff

Times City-County Bureau Chief

If well-financed City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky had entered last week’s Los Angeles election, Mayor Tom Bradley would have been forced into a runoff instead of winning reelection by a narrow margin, the Los Angeles Times Poll has found.

The post-election survey also revealed apathy that helped explain why the turnout was a record low of 23%, a stunning development in light of poll findings of increasing public discontent with Los Angeles’ quality of life. So low was the turnout that Bradley received about 157,000 votes in a city with 1.9 million registered voters and a population of 3.3 million.

Voters Were Apathetic

The electorate was apathetic, with 40% of the non-voters saying they never got around to voting or forgot, the poll showed. A substantial percentage of the voters were turned off, with 16% of them saying they did not like any of the candidates.


Most were uninformed in an election that had no television advertising and few of the other attention-getters of modern political campaigning. A total of 64% said they knew little or nothing about the election.

That attitude came in the face of increased unhappiness with life in the fast-growing city. The survey showed seven in 10 said life had gotten worse in Los Angeles over the last 15 years. In February, it was slightly more than six in 10. A Times Poll in June, 1987, revealed that just more than half of the Los Angeles residents surveyed said life was worse in their city.

The issues that troubled the electorate were difficult ones. Crime was by far the major concern expressed when those who voted were asked what drew them to the polling place. It was followed by worry about leadership, traffic and the environment.

The Times Poll, directed by I.A. Lewis, interviewed 551 registered voters by telephone Thursday and Friday. The margin of error is 4 percentage points in either direction.

One of the most interesting of the poll findings dealt with the great “what if?” question of the election: What if Yaroslavsky, a city councilman from the city’s Westside, had run against Bradley?

Yaroslavsky had more than $1 million in campaign funds put aside for the mayoral race. He had a strong political base in the city’s high-voting Jewish community. He had become the leading critic of Bradley on the big issues: crime control, growth and traffic. He was 40, Bradley 71. But in January, after studying a public opinion poll showing Bradley was ahead, Yaroslavsky pulled out.


The Times Poll showed that if Yaroslavsky had stayed in the race, this would have been the result: Bradley 43%--well below the 50% required to avoid a runoff--Yaroslavsky 27%, City Councilman Nate Holden 14% and former Los Angeles County Supervisor Baxter Ward 7%.

Final Tally

The final tally in Tuesday’s election was Bradley 52%, Holden 28% and Ward 15.2%

Another sign of Bradley weakness was revealed when voters were asked whether they thought Bradley “is the best man to solve the problems of Los Angeles or do you think some other mayor would be better?” Just 36% said Bradley, while 47% said some other mayor and 14% were not sure.

Yaroslavsky has said that if he had entered the race, Bradley would have campaigned much harder, spent more money and used the television commercials he spurned this year. But on election night, Yaroslavsky looked stunned when he saw the mayoral election results and said of Bradley, “He’s definitely not invincible any more.”

Poll director Lewis said the poll findings also did not reflect the strong campaign Yaroslavsky would have waged on television, through mailed advertising and through the press if he had run.

“It should be pointed out that Zev beat Holden and Ward without a campaign. With a campaign, he would have pushed Bradley against the wall,” said Lewis of the poll results.

The poll made clear that the voters did not believe the mayor had serious competition and that this was an election without anyone strong enough to push the mayor to the wall. It was more of a referendum on Bradley than a contest between the mayor and strong opponents.


Question Posed

Asked whether they thought Holden was a serious candidate, 50% said no. Two-thirds of those voting for Holden, Ward and the other opponents said they were voting against Bradley, rather than for the candidate they chose.

The weakness of the opponents was also pointed up by poll findings, which showed that there was hardly any difference in the contestants’ standings from the beginning of the campaign until the end.

“The campaign had almost no effect,” Lewis said.

The survey also showed that the weakness of his opponents contributed to a perception of continued Bradley strength, dubbed the Teflon quality, a phrase coined by his critics and copied from the description of former President Ronald Reagan in reference to his never being hurt politically by his Administration’s mistakes.

Those surveyed were asked to describe the mayor. While 26% said he did a good job, 25% said he would not take controversial positions, 25% said he had been around too long and 15% said he was too close to special interests.

Seven of 10 said they were aware of the stories that dominated city government news in the final weeks of the campaign telling of Bradley’s paid consultancy to a bank and his paid board membership on a savings and loan. Of those who knew, 18% said he had acted unethically and another 30% said they were not sure whether his actions were ethical.

Strong Competition

Other recent Times polls also have cast some doubt on Bradley’s strength in the face of strong competition.


For example, in 1987, those surveyed were asked whether Bradley or “some other mayor” could solve major city problems. On crime, 37% said some other mayor to 36% for Bradley. On the environment, Bradley trailed 44% to 27%. On traffic, he ran behind 40% to 33%.

Between 1987 and 1989, Bradley and his deputy mayor, Mike Gage, made an energetic attempt to put the mayor out front on these issues. It appeared to have paid off when Yaroslavsky dropped out, but the election results and the poll were clear signs that if there is a Teflon coat, it is thin.

The mayor, however, takes a reservoir of potential good will into his fifth term.

A total of 61% said they expected the mayor to do a “fairly good” job in the next four years, 14% said he would do a “very good” job and 16% said he would do a bad job.

The poll also showed that those who did not vote tended to like Bradley. A total of 26% of those said he was doing a good job and 26% said he had helped the city grow. Thus if more of them had voted, Bradley’s percentage of the vote would have been higher.

When you voted for mayor was it mostly a vote in favor of your candidate or against the others?


If you did not vote, what was the main reason? * Too busy: 40% Unable to get to polls: 17% Dislike candidates: 15%

Outcome was obvious: 5%

Too hard to vote: 5%

Not interested in politics: 4%

Didn’t qualify to vote: 3%

Didn’t know enough about election: 3%

Don’t trust politicians: 2%

Don’t want to register and get jury duty, etc.: 0%

Don’t know: 14%

What issue was most important in voting for mayor? *

Crime: 75%

Leadership: 15%

Pollution: 13%

Traffic congestion: 12%

Population growth: 11%

Public transportation: 10%

The economy: 4%

Too many minorities: 1%

Don’t know: 7%

How would you describe Mayor Bradley? * He won’t take controversial positions: 26%

He’s done a good job: 26%

He’s been around too long: 25%

He has helped Los Angeles grow: 25%

He’s too close to special interests: 15%

He cares for people like me: 12%

He brings people together: 11%

He’s too secretive: 7%

None of descriptions fit: 3%

Don’t know: 7%

Do you think Tom Bradley is the best man to solve the problems of Los Angeles or do you think some other mayor would be better?


Tom Bradley: 34%

Some other mayor: 48%

Don’t know: 18%

How good a job do you think Tom Bradley will do in the next four years?

Very good: 14%

Fairly good: 61%

Fairly bad: 12%

Very bad: 4% Don’t know: 9%

* Totals more than 100% due to multiple responses.

Source: Los Angeles Times Poll based on 551 registered voters