A majority of Orange County voters oppose outlawing abortion, believe immigration has hurt their community and say these issues could determine how they cast ballots in the primary elections June 2, a new poll has found.
Abortion and immigration have been central to a number of local political campaigns this spring, and more than 50% of the county's voters said they consider it "very important" that a candidate support their views on those two volatile issues.
The Times Orange County Poll found that 66% of the voters oppose a law against abortion in most cases, while 29% favored legal restrictions. Seventy-two percent of Democrats and 61% of Republicans support keeping abortion legal. Men and women oppose abortion restrictions equally.
In a test of another issue igniting some local elections, more than half the people polled say that foreign immigration has had a bad effect on their community in recent years.
A majority of voters feel immigration has hurt their neighborhoods, with 57% saying it has had a bad effect, 18% believing it has been good for the community and 21% say it has had no effect.
Orange County voters also seem to be jumping on the welfare reform bandwagon. Gov. Pete Wilson's welfare-slashing initiative, which is headed for the November ballot, has a 2-to-1 margin of support in the county, according to the poll.
The Orange County Poll, conducted by Mark Baldassare & Associates, sampled 600 registered voters from May 16 to 19. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4%.
The Orange County electorate's position on abortion, which mirrors the results of other local polls conducted over the past decade, stands in sharp contrast to the anti-abortion stance shared by the state and congressional lawmakers who represent the region.
But the issue represents the focal point of the county's hottest primary contest--the spirited battle between Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Santa Ana), an anti-abortion advocate, and former Superior Court Judge Judith M. Ryan, an abortion rights advocate, for the Republican nomination in the 46th Congressional District.
Asked how important it is that a candidate in this year's elections agrees with their views on abortion, 51% of the voters said it was a "very important" consideration, while 33% called it "somewhat important" and 16% said it was "not important."
Abortion rights supporters were as likely as opponents to consider the issue important. By party affiliation, 55% of the Democrats said a candidate's position on abortion was very important compared to 48% of the Republicans.
Gloria Williams, an employee at a consumer finance firm who participated in the poll, typified the response from abortion-rights supporters. "I think a woman should have the right to make her own choice," said Williams, 63, of Midway City. "I don't think it's anyone else's business."
Although the immigration issue has laced most of the races in Orange County this year, it has sprung up most noticeably in the Republican primary battle in the 45th Congressional District, pitting Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) against Costa Mesa Councilman Peter F. Buffa and Huntington Beach Councilman Peter M. Green.
Rohrabacher sparked an angry outcry from Latino activists by asserting last month that illegal immigrants drawn by a package of health and social service "goodies" are "bankrupting" the nation. He also said in a speech that "Pedro" shouldn't expect to be able to cross the border to get a $50,000 heart-bypass operation for free.
In the weeks since, the candidates have waged a tug-of-war over the issue. Buffa last week assailed Rohrabacher's record on immigration reform. The congressman held a press conference the next day to announce new immigration legislation he was introducing. Green, meanwhile, maintains that Rohrabacher is trying to make illegal immigrants "the Willie Horton" of Orange County.
Some poll participants said the wave of immigration that has dramatically shifted the demographics of Orange County has brought problems. They argue that the newcomers, among other things, drain health and education resources and drive lousy.
"We are a nation of immigrants. . . . But we have had too many and too much of a concentration for everyone to assimilate," said William Penn, 60, of Anaheim. "We've created a Little Saigon, a Little Korea, a Little Bombay, a Little Tehran, you name it. . . . The biggest problem is they don't assimilate."
The poll showed that most of the resentment against immigrants is centered in the north and central parts of the county. In central cities such as Santa Ana and Tustin, 63% felt foreign immigration has harmed their communities. In the North County, 61% of the voters see immigration as bad.
But in the south, 44% said immigration has had a bad effect compared to 52% who felt it has had either no effect or has been good.
"This is kind of a bedroom community," explained Gary McMahon, 42, an auto salesman who lives in Mission Viejo. "Immigration hasn't had an impact unless you call immigration from New York and New Jersey a problem."
Opposition to immigration is nonpartisan, with 61% of the Republicans and 52% of the Democrats saying immigrants have had a bad effect.
Nearly 90% of county voters felt it was somewhat or very important that a candidate shares their beliefs on the immigration issue.
Those who felt immigration is bad were more apt to suggest that it's a "very important" issue in choosing a candidate (58%), while only 31% of the voters who feel immigration has been good or had no effect say they'll weigh it heavily when voting this year. The weight given to a candidate's beliefs on immigration was almost equal between Democrats and Republicans, with 47% of the Democrats and 46% of the GOP voters saying it's very important
"I don't mind helping people who are here legally, said Mary Vanian, 64, a Newport Beach Republican. "But with illegal ones, it's going to cost everyone else financially. I don't think it's right."
On Wilson's welfare plan, which would cut benefits by up to 15% for families with an able-bodied adult and deny extra money for children born to mothers already getting government assistance, Orange County voters were bullish.
A full two-thirds said they would vote for the plan, while 30% said they oppose it and 4% were undecided. Republicans were far more supportive, with 78% backing the proposal compared to 49% of the Democrats.
The plan also garnered more support among conservatives and the wealthy. A solid 79% of conservatives back the reforms, while 55% of those who are liberals or moderates would vote for it. The plan got support from 60% of the voters making less than $35,000. But the support rose to 69% among voters making $75,000 or more.
How the Poll Was Conducted
The Times Orange County Poll was conducted by Mark Baldassare & Associates. The telephone survey of 600 Orange County registered voters was conducted May 17 through 19 on weekday nights and weekend days. A computer-generated random sample of telephone numbers was used. The margin of error for the total sample was plus or minus 4% at the 95% confidence level. For subgroups, such as Democrats, Republicans and likely voters, the margin of error is larger.
1992 Hot Issues
A look at how Orange County voters feel about abortion, immigration and welfare:
Do you favor or oppose a law that would prohibit abortion in most cases?
O.C. Voters Democrats Republicans Men Women Favor 29% 26% 33% 28% 30% Oppose 66 72 61 68 64 Don't know 5 2 6 4 6
In voting in this year's elections, how important is it to you that the candidate you support agrees with your views on abortion?
O.C. Voters Democrats Republicans Men Women Very important 51% 55% 48% 44% 58% Somewhat important 33 34 32 37 28 Not important 16 11 20 19 14
Responses by pro life or choice:
"Life" "Choice" Very important 56% 53% Somewhat important 32 32 Not important 12 15
In your opinion, has immigration had a good effect overall, a bad effect or no effect on your community in recent years?
O.C. Voters Democrats Republicans Good effect 18% 24% 17% Bad effect 57 52 61 No effect 21 19 19 Don't know 4 5 3
In voting in this year's elections, how important is it to you that the candidate you support agrees with your views on foreign immigration?
Very important: 46%
Somewhat important: 43%
Not important: 11%
On the November ballot, Gov. Pete Wilson has an initiative that would make several changes in the state welfare system, including cutting welfare benefits by 10% immediately and by 15% in six months for most families with at least one able-bodied adult, denying welfare benefits to children born of mothers already on welfare and restricting the amount new residents can receive during their first 12 months in California. If the election were held today, would you vote yes or no on this initiative?
O.C. Voters Democrats Republicans Yes 66 49 78 No 30 46 18 Don't know 4 5 4
Where They Stand
This list was compiled by Pro-Choice Orange County and Pro-Life PAC of Orange County. These are candidates considered to be for or against abortion rights, but are not necessarily endorsed. (In some races, with more than one candidate against abortion rights, Pro-Life PAC did not endorse. However, these are the candidates it considers to meet its criteria.)
Pro-Choice OC Pro-Life OC 67th District Ken LeBlanc, D Tom Mays, R Doris Allen, R Nolan Frizzelle, R 68th District Linda Kay Rigney, D Curt Pringle, R John Kanel, D Joy L. Neugebauer, R 69th District Tom Umberg, D Virgel L. Nickel, R Jo Ellen Allen, R 70th District Jim Toledano, D Gil Ferguson, R Mary Hornbuckle, R 71st District Bea Foster, D Mickey Conroy, R Charles Wall, R 72nd District Howard D. Garber, R Ross Johnson, R Paul Garza Jr., D 73rd District Iris Swanson, R Patricia C. Bates, R S.E. Samuel Williamson, R Bill Morrow, R Carlos F. Negrete, R Mike Eggers, R Lee Walker, D
Pro-Choice OC Pro-Life OC 39th District Molly McClanahan, D Edward R. Royce, R Gary Hamud, D 41st District Bob Baker, D 45th District Peter M. Green, R Dana Rohrabacher, R Jim Foley, D Peter F. Buffa, R Patricia McCabe, D Steve Olim, D Badrul H. Sarker, D 46th District Judith K. Ryan, R Robert K. Dornan, R Nazeer Ahmed, D Norman Z. Eckenrode, D Jeff LeTourneau, D 47th District Steven J. Frogue, R Christopher Cox, R 48th District Michael Farber, D Ron Packard, R
Pro-Choice OC Pro-Life OC 33rd District Samuel D. Edit, D John R. Lewis, R 35th District Dorianne Garcia, D Marian Bergeson, R