But voters mainly are motivated by economic discontent and the appeal of the front-running candidates themselves, and less by a desire to elect women per se, the statewide survey indicated.
While there is a gender gap in both Senate races--with the Democratic candidates faring substantially better among women than among men--it is the same size gap that is being generated by Democrat Bill Clinton in his challenge of President Bush.
At work in these campaigns, with seven weeks remaining before Election Day, is a desire for change in leadership and policy. The Democratic Party is viewed by a plurality of California voters as the best bet for resolving the state's problems, the poll found.
Women particularly see the Democratic Party as showing the way out of California's current difficulties. They associate themselves with the Democratic Party significantly more than men do, the survey showed.
The Times Poll, directed by John Brennan, interviewed 1,330 registered California voters by telephone over four days ending Sunday night. The margin of error is 3 percentage points in either direction.
In the contest to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Alan Cranston, Rep. Boxer of Marin County leads former Los Angeles television commentator Bruce Herschensohn by 19 percentage points, 52% to 33%, with 15% undecided.
In the second race, former Mayor Feinstein of San Francisco leads U.S. Sen. John Seymour by 16 points, 53% to 37%, with 10% undecided. This is a contest to fill out the remaining two years of the term vacated by Republican Pete Wilson when he was elected governor in 1990. Wilson subsequently appointed Seymour, then an Orange County state senator, to replace him until the current election.
In analyzing the candidate matchups, the Times Poll also assessed how likely it is that these registered voters will cast ballots in November. The results came out basically the same, regardless of whether a high or low turnout was projected.
One major factor in the Feinstein-Seymour race is that half the electorate still does not know enough about the incumbent Republican to have formed an opinion of him, despite his being in office more than 20 months and having campaigned extensively throughout the state. Asked their impressions of Seymour, 51% of those interviewed said they had none. Even 43% of his fellow Republicans had no fix on the senator.
In all, 28% of the registered voters had a favorable impression of Seymour and 21% had an unfavorable impression.
In sharp contrast, Feinstein is well known, largely because of her losing gubernatorial race against Wilson two years ago. Voter impressions of her were 52% favorable, 32% unfavorable and 16% not sure.
Boxer and Herschensohn are not much better known than Seymour. But Boxer enjoys more positive ratings than her opponent, with impressions of her 39% favorable and 19% unfavorable, with 42% not sure. For Herschensohn, it is virtually a wash, with impressions 26% favorable, 27% unfavorable and 47% not sure.
The gender gap for all three Democrats at the top of the ticket in California--Clinton, Boxer and Feinstein--was measured by the Times Poll at 11 points each. That is, each candidate received 11 points more support from women than from men. But, in a chicken-and-egg situation, more women than men also identified themselves as Democrats.
When asked which party they thought would do "a better job handling the problems California faces today," 40% of those interviewed replied Democratic and 28% said Republican. Women placed their confidence in the Democratic Party by a 2-1 ratio , while men were nearly evenly divided.
In this survey, 61% of all voters said the nation is in a "serious" recession, a significantly higher number than just last April. And among these people, the Democratic Party was preferred over the GOP as the resolver of problems by more than 2 to 1.
A significant number of voters said that they wanted a senator who could bring change. This group sided with Boxer by more than 2 to 1 and Feinstein by roughly 5 to 3.
The issues that voters wanted to hear discussed by the candidates relate to the pocketbook--the economy and unemployment--followed by education.
Abortion was near the bottom of the list of concerns, but women were much more interested in the subject than men.
One of Seymour's problems is that 60% of the voters--in a state which strongly believes in abortion rights--do not know where he stands on the issue, the survey found. Seymour has been an outspoken supporter of abortion rights, but only 20% knew of his position. Just as many people thought he was anti-abortion.
About as many people also did not know where Herschensohn stands on abortion--he favors a constitutional amendment banning it--but among those who professed to know, most got his position right.
Voters were divided on the importance of electing a woman to the Senate; 47% thought it important and 49% considered it not important. There was a marked difference, however, in how women and men viewed this question; 56% of women thought it important and 59% of men regarded it as not important.
One issue that has emerged in the campaign is the North American Free Trade Agreement, a pact designed to open markets in Mexico, Canada and the United States. The two Republican candidates strongly support the proposal. But the two Democrats are concerned that it could threaten U.S. jobs.
The position of the electorate so far is not well formed, the poll showed. A plurality, 41%, did not have a view, while 28% favored it and 31% were opposed.
Of the two GOP candidates, Herschensohn is more conservative than Seymour on many issues, such as abortion and the environment. Boxer also generally is considered to be more liberal than Feinstein. But all this seems to be making little difference to voters.
Roughly the same proportion of self-described conservatives are supporting each Republican. Meanwhile, about the same size majority of traditional swing voters--the moderates--is lining up behind each of the Democratic candidates. Similarly, liberals are backing Boxer and Feinstein by roughly the same percentages.
Geographically, Boxer led by nearly 2 to 1 in Los Angeles County, was running even in Southern California outside the county, led by nearly 3 to 1 in the San Francisco Bay Area and was ahead by 3 to 2 in the remainder of Northern California.
Feinstein led by roughly 3 to 2 in Los Angeles County, trailed slightly in Southern California outside the county, was ahead by roughly 5 to 2 in the Bay Area and nearly 5 to 3 in the rest of Northern California.
BOXER RALLY DISRUPTED: Jostling Herschensohn backers prevent her from speaking. A3
THE TIMES POLL
The U.S. Senate Poll
The Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate in California have substantial leads over their Republican opponents in a statewide Times poll of registered voters.
If the 1992 general election for U.S. Senate were held today, would you vote for Barbara Boxer, the Democrat, or Bruce Herschensohn, the Republican? Boxer: 52% Herschensohn: 33% Don't Know: 15% *
If the 1992 general election for U.S. Senate were held today, would you vote for Dianne Feinstein, the Democrat, or John Seymour, the Republican? Feinstein: 53% Seymour: 37% Don't Know: 10% *
A substantial number of voters still don't know the candidates:
What is your impression of the following candidates? Barbara Boxer
9/13 5/19 4/26 Favorable 39% 21% 20% Unfavorable 19% 14% 14% Don't Know 42% 65% 66%
9/13 5/19 4/26 Favorable 52% 53% 55% Unfavorable 32% 36% 34% Don't Know 16% 11% 11%
9/13 5/19 4/26 Favorable 26% 20% 20% Unfavorable 27% 16% 11% Don't Know 47% 64% 69%
9/13 5/19 4/26 Favorable 28% 20% 23% Unfavorable 21% 20% 16% Don't Know 51% 60% 61%
Source: Los Angeles Times poll of 1,330 registered voters in California taken Sept. 10-13. Margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
How the Poll Was Conducted
The Times Poll interviewed 1,695 California adults, including 1,330 registered voters, by telephone Sept. 10-13. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the state. Random-digit dialing techniques were used to ensure that both listed and non-listed numbers could be contacted. Interviewing was conducted in either English or Spanish. Results were weighted slightly to conform to census figures for sex, race, age, education and household size. The margin of sampling error for the total samples of adults and registered voters is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For certain subgroups, the error margin is somewhat higher. Poll results may also be influenced by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are asked.