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THE TIMES POLL : Lead Increases for Feinstein as Support Widens

TIMES SACRAMENTO BUREAU CHIEF

Having broadened her base of support, Dianne Feinstein now leads John K. Van de Kamp by 13 percentage points with just one month to go in their race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, according to The Los Angeles Times Poll.

The contest appears to be changing dramatically as the June 5 election nears. The “gender gap” has become less of a factor than it was a few weeks ago, interviews showed. Women still support Feinstein strongly, but more men also are moving into her camp.

The former San Francisco mayor likewise has broadened her base geographically. She now is backed by every major region of the state. In fact, she is running as well in Los Angeles County as in her native Bay Area.

Voters are turning their attention to the long race as the finish approaches--and as the candidates campaign more aggressively in public and pour millions into television and radio commercials. People are starting to focus on the candidates’ messages and becoming less inclined to choose sides based solely on instant reflex--"She’s a woman” or “He’s from L.A.”

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The Times poll found Feinstein to be leading Atty. Gen. Van de Kamp among registered Democrats by 37% to 24%, with a large 39% still undecided. This represents little change from a Times survey in late March, when Feinstein held an 11-point lead.

By contrast, an early April survey conducted by Mervin Field’s California Poll showed the two candidates to be running virtually even.

The Times poll found additional good news for Feinstein: Her lead increases among those voters considered the most likely to cast ballots. For example, projecting a turnout of half the registered Democrats--which is somewhat higher than in recent gubernatorial primaries--Feinstein’s lead edges up to 15 points.

On another high-stakes political issue, The Times poll for the first time found voters to be supporting Proposition 111, which would double the gasoline tax over a 5-year period and raise the state spending limit to finance the lion’s share of an $18.5-billion transportation development plan. Voters favored the measure by 47% to 40%, with 13% undecided.

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A companion ballot measure, Proposition 108, which would authorize a $1-billion bond issue to pay for light-rail transit, was supported by a much larger margin: 63% to 23% with 14% undecided.

The Times poll, directed by I.A. Lewis, interviewed 1,732 registered voters by telephone for six days ending Thursday night. Among those surveyed were 792 Democrats and 694 Republicans, plus 246 independents and members of minor parties. The margin of error for all voters is three percentage points in either direction. For either the Democrats or Republicans separately, the error margin is five points.

U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson long ago virtually clinched the Republican gubernatorial nomination by scaring off any major opposition in the primary. And he now is running virtually even with either of the potential Democratic nominees in hypothetical November matchups, the survey showed.

The Times poll found Democratic women preferring Feinstein over Van de Kamp by 17 points. But men also favored her by nine points, a significant increase since the previous Times survey.

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Feinstein led by 13 points in Los Angeles County, Van de Kamp’s home turf, where he once served as district attorney and has always had high name recognition because of the bakery chain his family founded. She was up by eight points in the rest of Southern California and by 10 points in the Bay Area. But by far her biggest strength was in the rest of Northern California, where she led by 20 points.

The 56-year-old Feinstein has benefited politically from her hard-line positions on both the death penalty and abortion rights. She strongly advocates each and this places her in the mainstream of Democratic voters, the survey showed.

Among Democrats, 46% said they both “favor abortion” and “the death penalty for murderers.” And among these mainstreamers, Feinstein led Van de Kamp by 21 points.

Van de Kamp, 54, personally opposes abortion and the death penalty. But he supports a woman’s right to decide for herself whether to have an abortion and has pledged to carry out the death penalty if he is elected governor. These seeming conflicts between personal beliefs and public positions, however, confuse many voters and leave them skeptical, previous Times surveys have found.

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In the latest poll, only 13% of Democratic voters both supported abortion and opposed capital punishment, the liberal positions advocated by most party leaders. These voters gave Feinstein only a slight edge. A more conservative group that both opposed abortion and favored capital punishment represented 16% of the Democratic Party. And among these voters, the candidates were running virtually even.

Overall, Democratic voters favored abortion by 5 to 2 and supported the death penalty by more than 3 to 1, the survey showed.

The Times poll also was told by nearly three-fourths of the registered voters interviewed that they would be willing to have their taxes raised for certain specific purposes--a level of public acquiescence that might surprise elected officials who still fear the prospect of renewed uprisings from the tax revolt of the late 1970s.

For example, 51% said they would accept a tax increase for education. Among other problems deemed worthy of tax increases were crime (44%), the environment (39%), health care (38%), the homeless (37%) and affordable housing (34%).

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The disquieting news for Gov. George Deukmejian and the coalition of political, business and labor leaders pushing Proposition 111 was that voters appeared to be lukewarm toward the idea of increasing taxes for transportation development. Only 30% supported the idea.

And leaving aside both Propositions 111 and 108, there was only tepid support for the concept of raising taxes to pay for either new road construction or mass transportation systems. Voters tended to prefer keeping transportation taxes at their present level, though they were a bit more inclined to support tax increases for public transit than for highways.

Still, the Times poll found evidence that it is not the prospect of a gas tax increase, per se, that bothers voters the most about Proposition 111. By 5 to 1, they said their “greatest concern” about the sweeping proposal is not the prospect of paying higher taxes at the gas pump, but of not having these new taxes “spent wisely” by state government.

Nearly four in 10 people described their local traffic as “very congested.” One in five said they have “seriously thought about moving” to escape congestion.

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But perhaps thinking of last October’s devastating Bay Area earthquake, voters by 3 to 1 placed a higher priority on repairing old highways to make them safer than they did on building new freeways to ease traffic congestion.

Voters also tended to be a bit hypocritical about all this. On the one hand, they said the “most important” transportation problem is “too many cars on the streets.” On the other hand, four in 10 reported that they “drive alone on the freeways most of the time.” A majority, however, said they would use a rail transit system if one were available.

As for Proposition 111, voters were divided about equally on it in Los Angeles County, which has become a nationwide symbol of traffic congestion. In the Bay Area, however, where traffic tie-ups are just as bad, voters were backing the measure by 19 percentage points.

Democrats were supporting the proposal by 15 points, but Republicans were about equally divided.

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Proposition 108, the companion $1-billion bond measure for rail transit, was receiving big support throughout the state--3 to 1 in Southern California, 3 to 1 in the Bay Area and more than 2 to 1 in the rest of Northern California.

But voters are divided about evenly on a rival measure, Proposition 116, which would authorize a $1.9-billion bond issue for commuter rail systems.

And while the electorate has started focusing on the gubernatorial race, it still seems to be ignoring other statewide contests, such as the Democratic nomination for attorney general. In that battle, Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner is leading San Francisco Dist. Atty. Arlo Smith by 24% to 16%, with 60% undecided. The bulk of Reiner’s backing--59%--comes from Los Angeles County. But Smith’s support is more evenly divided around the state.

VOTER PREFERENCES

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The Los Angeles Times Poll interviewed 1,732 registered voters, including 792 registered Democrats and 694 registered Republicans. Democrats were asked:

If the Democratic primary were held today, for whom would you vote?

GOVERNOR

Dianne Feinstein: 37%

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John Van K. de Kamp: 24%

Someone Else: 1%

No Opinion: 38%

ATTORNEY GENERAL

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Ira Reiner: 24%

Arlo Smith: 16%

Someone Else: 1%

No Opinion: 59%

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STATE INSURANCE COMMISSIONER

Michael Blanco: 2%

Ray Bourhis: 1%

Conway Collis: 1%

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John Garamendi: 10%

Bill Press: 8%

Walter Zelman: 6%

Someone Else: 1%

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No Opinion: 71%

Republicans were asked:

If the Republican primary were being held today, for whom would you vote?

LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR

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Marian Bergeson: 7%

John Seymour: 10%

Somone Else: 1%

No Opinion: 82%

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TREASURER

Angela (Bay) Buchanan: 18%

Thomas W. Hayes: 18%

Someone Else: 1%

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No Opinion: 63%

STATE INSURANCE COMMISSIONER

Wes Bannister: 9%

Tom Skornia: 7%

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Someone Else: 1%

No Opinion: 83%

All registered voters were asked:

If the June primary were held today, how would you vote on the following?

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PROPOSITIONS

Measure For Against No opinion 108 (Bonds for light 63% 23% 14% rail transit) 111 (Gas tax hike) 47% 40% 13% 112 (Ethical standards 45% 39% 16% on legislators) 115 (Speedy trial) 65% 18% 17% 116 (Rail transportation 42% 39% 19% bond) 118 (Reapportionment 43% 27% 30% and ethics) 119 (Reapportionment 41% 31% 28% by commission)

All registered voters were asked:

If the November general election were being held today, for whom would you vote?

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GOVERNOR

Dianne Feinstein: 38%

Pete Wilson: 41%

No Opinion: 21%

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John K. Van de Kamp: 37%

Pete Wilson: 39%

No Opinion: 24%

Source: Los Angeles Times Poll

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