Orange County voters, traditionally among the most conservative and staunchly Republican in the state, support President Clinton as strongly as California Gov. Pete Wilson for President in 1996, according to a UC Irvine poll released Wednesday.
Although the poll showed limp backing for the Republican governor’s presidential bid, local voters overwhelmingly favor the hallmark of Wilson’s campaign--the anti-affirmative-action initiative proposed for the state ballot next year.
Further, the poll indicates Wilson trails Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kansas), another presidential hopeful, by a 20-point margin.
Wilson’s tepid following in a county where voters in 1994 chose him for governor by a 2-1 ratio over Democrat Kathleen Brown may be due in part to perceptions that state government has been unhelpful as the county struggles to recover from bankruptcy, said Mark Baldassare, the UC Irvine professor of urban planning who conducted the poll.
But he called the results surprising nonetheless.
“Pete Wilson can’t beat Bill Clinton right now in Orange County,” Baldassare said. “Those findings came as a surprise to me. I thought, ‘Wait a minute, what is he doing in the race?’ ”
Wilson campaign officials said the poll is interesting but not significant because it’s so early in the race. Dan Schnur, the governor’s spokesman, said similar poll results two years ago showed the governor trailing Brown significantly.
“The early results showed Pete Wilson would have trouble beating Kathleen Brown,” Schnur said. “As the campaign progressed and the voters of Orange County paid more attention to the alternatives before them, they moved in huge numbers from Brown to Wilson. As this campaign progresses over the next year, you will see a similar phenomenon.”
Other local political observers suggested that Wilson has traditionally been unpopular in Orange County, where conservatives find him too liberal and moderates are often made uneasy by his reputation for political expediency.
But they also point out that Wilson is a proven winner, a survivor and historically a fast finisher, as he was against Brown.
“Polls at this point of the race are interesting snapshots, but it’s like trying to judge who is going to win the Indianapolis 500 by looking at the 12th lap,” said Howard Klein, an Irvine attorney and board member of Orange County’s influential Lincoln Club, a conservative political group.
“It’s a long, long race and a very, very volatile electorate,” Klein said.
The random survey was conducted by telephone Aug. 18-27, just before Wilson officially announced his candidacy for the presidency in New York on Aug. 28. A total of 810 registered voters were interviewed in the political portion of a wide-ranging survey out of a county of 1.1 million registered voters, 52.9% Republican and 33.6% Democrat.
The results showed Clinton enjoying unusual support in politically hostile territory because, when matched against Wilson head-to-head, he could stitch together independent and moderate Republican voters to go along with his solid backing from Democrats.
One out of every five Republicans indicated they would jump parties and back Clinton over Wilson, while about half the independents--potentially a critical aspect of the race--said they would vote for Clinton over Wilson.
Clinton did not fare as well against Dole. Overall, the poll results showed a 50%-35% lead for Dole, although the President led the Kansas senator in the polling of independents, 48%-33%.
“We have to remember that Bill Clinton is a Southern Democrat,” Baldassare said. “From this poll he appears to have some appeal among the Perot voters, which were numerous in the 1992 election. Also, since the election last November, Clinton has moved his position in a more moderate to conservative direction.”
Jim Toledano, the chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party, suggested the poll shows that county voters regard Wilson as a politician who flip-flops on the issues, a criticism often leveled at Clinton.
Wilson’s broken promise last year that he would not run for President if elected governor is a case in point, Toledano said.
“Californians know Pete Wilson and they know Pete Wilson is a man utterly devoid of principle,” said Toledano, an Irvine attorney. “Any thinking person would conclude that anything he says he’s for today he’s likely to be against tomorrow.”
History has proved otherwise, said Thomas A. Fuentes, chairman of Orange County’s Republican Party. The bottom line is that while Wilson may do poorly in polls or primaries, he has always won in Orange County and will do so again if he is the party nominee, Fuentes said.
But, again, it is early, Fuentes said.
“Until our friends in New Hampshire cast their ballots, things really don’t get churning,” Fuentes said. “A lot will have transpired before the caravans of presidential campaigns arrive in these parts.”
One clear aspect of the poll was the overwhelming, across-party-lines support for a proposed anti-affirmative-action initiative that would prohibit state and local governments from granting preferential treatment to any person or group.
A total of 64% of county voters approved such an initiative, including 58% of Democrats surveyed and 71% of the Republicans.
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Wilson No Favorite Orange County Republicans are unenthusiastic about Gov. Pete Wilson’s presidential candidacy and prefer Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas. Nearly a third of Republicans are still undecided. While Wilson would gain a split among the county’s registered voters in a contest with President Clinton, Dole leads Clinton handily.
* If you were voting today in the Republican presidential primary, which candidate would you vote for?
Bob Dole: 35%
Pete Wilson: 15%
Phil Gramm: 9%
Pat Buchanan: 5%
Bob Dornan: 2%
Lamar Alexander: 1%
Don’t know: 30%
* If the presidential election were held today and included the following two candidates, would you vote for ...:
Pete Wilson: 41%
Bill Clinton: 41%
Don’t know: 14%
Bob Dole: 50%
Bill Clinton: 35%
Don’t know: 13%
Strong Initiative An anti-affirmative-action initiative wins 2-1 approval among county voters, with strong bipartisan support. County backing is stronger than that found nationwide. *
* An initiative has been proposed for the California ballot in 1996 that would prohibit state and local governments from granting preferential treatment to any individual or group using race, sex, ethnicity or national origin as a criterion for hiring, promoting, granting admissions to college or selecting public contractors. If the election were held today, would you vote yes or no on this initiative? *
Don’t know: 5%
Don’t know: 10%
* California Poll Source: 1995 Orange County Survey, UCI