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Crime, Immigration Issues Helped Wilson, Poll Finds : Election: Proposition 187 wins among whites, but loses among all other ethnic groups, exit survey shows.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

California voters concerned about illegal immigration and crime reelected Republican Gov. Pete Wilson over Democrat Kathleen Brown on Tuesday despite an overwhelming belief among the electorate that under Wilson’s leadership the state is on the wrong track, the Los Angeles Times Poll found.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, locked in a tight battle with Republican Rep. Mike Huffington, was holding on to her Democratic base, winning a good number of GOP votes and besting the wealthy former Texas oilman among independent voters, according to the results of a survey of voters as they left the polls.

Proposition 187, the anti-illegal immigration initiative, polarized the electorate along racial lines, winning big among white voters while losing in every other ethnic group. The measure’s opponents apparently failed to significantly increase the turnout of Latinos--or other minorities--beyond the number who voted in the last gubernatorial election four years ago.

Seventy-seven percent of those who voted for the measure said they wanted to send a protest message, and half who supported it said they hoped to force the federal government to respond to the problem of illegal immigration. Of those who opposed Proposition 187, 58% said it was poorly written and 41% described it as racist.

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The controversial measure also split Californians according to age, educational level and religious affiliation, and played a role in both of the top races for statewide office. Nearly one in five of those who voted Tuesday said Proposition 187 had a major influence on their choice for governor, and most of those people voted for Wilson.

The governor clearly was a vulnerable incumbent, with barely half of those who voted Tuesday saying they approved of his performance and nearly two-thirds--63%--saying they believed the state has gone astray.

But Brown simply was not an acceptable alternative for most voters. Even among those who said that the state is heading in the wrong direction and that their own personal finances are worse today than they were four years ago, as many voted for Wilson as for Brown.

Wilson’s campaign team accomplished its goal of making the race a contest about illegal immigration, crime and taxes. Those three issues ranked highest among voters’ concerns as they went to the polls Tuesday, and the voters, by a big margin, said they trusted Wilson more than Brown on each of those matters.

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The Times Poll, directed by John Brennan, interviewed 5,336 voters at 85 precincts representing a cross-section of California. The margin of sampling error was 3 percentage points in either direction.

Wilson, the poll found, defeated Brown by winning the votes of more than nine out of 10 Republicans and beating Brown among independents while also making deep inroads into what should have been Democratic strongholds for the one-term state treasurer.

Wilson won 91% of Republican votes, 54% of independents and 18% of Democrats, according to the poll.

Immigration, the top issue on the minds of voters Tuesday, was cited by 38% as an important concern. Of these voters, 63% chose Wilson while 34% sided with Brown.

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Crime, despite Brown’s summerlong effort to “neutralize” it as an issue, was cited by 32% of voters as an important concern, compared to just 3% in a Times exit poll two years ago. These voters went overwhelmingly for Wilson--65% to 33%.

Taxes were a top issue to 27% of the voters, and Wilson--even though he signed a record $7-billion tax increase his first year in office--still won this group by a margin of 67% to 29%.

Among the top four issues, only education helped Brown. About one-fourth of voters cited the schools as an important issue, and Brown won this group, 61% to 36%, the poll found.

There was a gender gap in the governor’s race, and it broke Wilson’s way: He split the female vote with Brown but won the men by a large margin.

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Brown beat Wilson among younger voters, poorer voters and those who were less educated. She also won among blacks and Latinos and split the Asian American vote. But Wilson easily erased that deficit by winning big among groups that dominated the voting: older people, whites, the more affluent and the well educated.

Wilson did worse among Latinos Tuesday than he did four years ago, presumably because of his outspoken stand against illegal immigration. But Latinos voted in such small numbers that he was not hurt by the erosion. Just 8% of the electorate was Latino, virtually the same as in 1990, while 80% of those who voted Tuesday were white.

Wilson won the white vote 58% to 38%. Brown won the Latino vote, 74% to 22%. Four years ago, about 35% of Latinos sided with Wilson.

Brown’s family ties also hurt her. Of those who said the Brown legacy was a major influence on their vote for governor, 67% went with Wilson while just 32% voted for Brown, the poll found.

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The Senate race was markedly different, and it seemed clear that voters perceived Feinstein as more of a centrist Democrat than Brown. More than 20% of those who voted for Wilson skipped across party lines to vote for Feinstein over Huffington.

The most striking difference between the race for governor and the one for the Senate was among independent women. Brown lost this group to Wilson, 53% to 41%. But Feinstein won among these voters by a margin of 55% to 36%.

Feinstein and Huffington were even among whites, but she had an advantage among all other ethnic groups, according to the poll. She won 85% of the Democratic vote, while Huffington won 80% of the Republican vote. Independents went with Feinstein by a margin of 48% to 40%.

On the issues on which Republicans held an advantage--immigration, crime and taxes--Huffington’s lead over Feinstein was smaller than Wilson’s over Brown. Feinstein held a big edge on almost all the lesser issues--education, ethics, health care and the economy.

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Of those voting in the Senate race, 29% cited Feinstein’s record as the most important factor influencing their decision, and among those people, the senator won, 75% to 23%.

The next largest group--20%--cited Feinstein’s ties to Clinton as an important factor. Feinstein suffered modestly because of the voters’ attitudes about the president--narrowly losing this group to Huffington.

About 15% of voters said their concern about Huffington trying to “buy the election” was a major factor in their decision. Feinstein was the choice of 94% of these voters.

The challenger did best among voters who saw Feinstein as a “tax and spend liberal,” but only 15% of the electorate said the senator’s spending record was a major influence on their decision.

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The campaign over Proposition 187, which will deny most public services to illegal immigrants, divided the state’s ethnic groups.

Democrats voted 2-to-1 against 187, but Republicans voted greater than 3-to-1 in favor of it, and independents also approved the ballot measure, by a nearly 3-to-2 margin.

Proposition 187 won among whites by 59% to 41%. It failed 78% to 22% among Latinos, 54% to 46% among Asian Americans and 56% to 44% among blacks.

The measure was winning handily in Southern California, the Central Valley and in rural Northern California. It was losing only in the Bay Area.

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The initiative also played a role in the races for governor and the U.S. Senate.

Seventeen percent of those who voted Tuesday said Proposition 187 had a major influence over whom they chose for governor.

Of those, 73% voted for Wilson and 26% voted for Brown.

In the Senate race, among those who cited Proposition 187 as a major influence, 38% voted for Feinstein and 57% for Huffington.

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In both races, the negative campaigning that marked the 1994 election seemed to take its toll. Half of Wilson’s voters said they chose him not because they liked him but because he was the lesser of two evils. Thirty-eight percent of Feinstein’s voters said the same thing.

How the Poll Was Conducted

The Times Poll interviewed 5,336 voters as they exited 85 polling places across the state. Precincts were chosen based on the pattern of turnout in past primary elections. The survey was by confidential questionnaire. The margin of sampling error for percentages based on the entire sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For some subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Because the survey does not include absentee voters or those who declined to participate when approached, actual returns and demographic estimates by the interviewers were used to slightly adjust the sample. Assisting The Times in this poll was Davis Market Research Services Inc. of Calabasas.

THE TIMES POLL: Why They Voted

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These tables show the issues and factors that motivated California voters in choosing a governor and senator as well as deciding on Proposition 187 on Tuesday. Numbers shown are preliminary.

Which issues were most important to you in deciding how you would vote today?*

GOVERNOR SE % of % of % of % of all Brown Wilson Feinstein voters voters voters voters Taxes 27% 18% 33% 19% Education 22% 33% 15% 30% Crime 32% 26% 37% 29% Illegal immigration 41% 32% 49% 36% Ethics in government 13% 14% 11% 13% Morality and family values 8% 5% 10% 4% Bringing business into the state 3% 3% 3% 4% The environment 5% 8% 2% 7% Health care 13% 17% 10% 16% The state budget 3% 3% 3% 3% The economy/Jobs 9% 11% 8% 11% None of the above 4% 5% 3% 5%

NATOR % of Huffington voters Taxes 35% Education 15% Crime 36% Illegal immigration 48% Ethics in government 11% Morality and family values 11% Bringing business into the state 3% The environment 2% Health care 9% The state budget 3% The economy/Jobs 8% None of the above 3%

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Which of these things had a major influence on your vote for GOVERNOR today?*

GOVERNOR SENATOR % of % of % of % of all Brown Wilson Feinstein voters voters voters voters The Brown family record in 19% 13% 25% 15% California Brown’s record as treasurer 8% 14% 4% 12% Brown is a woman 5% 12% 1% 9% Brown’s position on 10% 4% 14% 6% the death penalty My candidate is a strong leader 13% 7% 18% 10% My candidate has good ideas 13% 17% 9% 16% My candidate’s honesty 8% 9% 7% 8% and integrity My candidate stands for something 7% 6% 8% 6% My candidate’s stand on the 19% 11% 27% 14% immigration initiative California needs a change 15% 28% 3% 22% Wilson’s record as governor 29% 35% 26% 34% None of the above 12% 6% 14% 8%

% of Huffington voters The Brown family record in 25% California Brown’s record as treasurer 5% Brown is a woman 2% Brown’s position on 14% the death penalty My candidate is a strong leader 17% My candidate has good ideas 10% My candidate’s honesty 8% and integrity My candidate stands for something 8% My candidate’s stand on the 26% immigration initiative California needs a change 5% Wilson’s record as governor 25% None of the above 13%

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Which of these things had a major influence on your vote for U.S. SENATOR today?*

GOVERNOR SENATOR % of % of % of % of all Brown Wilson Feinstein voters voters voters voters Feinstein is a taxer and spender 16% 4% 26% 3% Feinstein’s support for Clinton 20% 19% 21% 18% Feinstein’s record in office 27% 40% 19% 43% Feinstein is a woman 5% 10% 2% 11% Feinstein is a career politician 8% 8% 9% 7% Huffington’s career in business 9% 6% 13% 4% Huffington is a political 6% 5% 7% 5% outsider Huffington is new to California 5% 4% 5% 5% Huffington is trying to 15% 24% 7% 28% buy the election My candidate’s stand on 12% 10% 15% 9% the immigration initiative My candidate’s honesty 10% 12% 7% 11% and integrity None of the above 20% 14% 21% 13%

% of Huffington voters Feinstein is a taxer and spender 31% Feinstein’s support for Clinton 23% Feinstein’s record in office 14% Feinstein is a woman 1% Feinstein is a career politician 9% Huffington’s career in business 17% Huffington is a political 9% outsider Huffington is new to California 5% Huffington is trying to 1% buy the election My candidate’s stand on 17% the immigration initiative My candidate’s honesty 7% and integrity None of the above 20%

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Do you think things in California are generally:

GOVERNOR SENATOR % of % of % of % of all Brown Wilson Feinstein voters voters voters voters Going in the right direction 37% 32% 43% 37% Seriously off on the wrong track 63% 68% 57% 63%

% of Huffington voters Going in the right direction 40% Seriously off on the wrong track 60%

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Proposition 187

Which of these statements do you agree with most regarding the illegal immigration initiative?*

% of % of those % of those all voting voting voters for 187 against 187 It sends a message that needs to be sent 49% 78% 12% It would throw children out of school 19% 2% 40% It would save the state 19% 32% 3% millions of dollars It is racist/anti-Latino 18% 1% 39% It would force cops to I.D. illegal 8% 7% 9% immigrant criminals It could create a health crisis 13% 2% 25% It will force the federal 32% 51% 8% government to face the issue It’s poorly written/ 29% 4% 60% Doesn’t solve the problem It will stop immigrants 20% 34% 3% from using state services It would cost the state 8% 3% 15% billions in federal funds None of the above 3% 3% 5%

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(*) indicates multiple responses accepted. Note: (-) indicates less than 0.5%; na indicates data not applicable.

Source: Los Angeles Times exit poll of California

Clinton’s Support In California

If Bill Clinton were running for reelection today, how would you vote: For him: 42% Against him: 48% Don’t know: 10% Source: L.A. Times exit poll

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