Majority Are Less Uniform in Views Than GOP Leaders

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In sharp contrast to the views of most of their elected representatives and party leaders, a majority of Orange County Republicans support abortion rights, stricter gun control laws and stronger protections for the environment.

They overwhelmingly agree with their elected officials on fiscal matters, immigration controls and the need to scale back, or eliminate, government programs such as affirmative action, welfare and bilingual education.

A Times Orange County Poll shows Republicans locally to be far less uniform in their views than the county's political leadership, with divergent opinions on topics ranging from gay rights and mandatory school prayer to erecting a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.

The poll, based on telephone interviews in May with 600 Orange County registered Republicans, found that 66% consider themselves politically conservative, while the rest view themselves as moderate to liberal.

But what does it mean to be a conservative Republican in Orange County?

David Nelson sees himself as one. The 54-year-old salesman from Fountain Valley is against government-funded abortions, opposes gun control laws, supports prayer in schools, thinks environmentalists have gone "too far" and believes building a wall along the border "might help" curb illegal immigration.

Patti Jo Frey considers herself a conservative Republican too. The 36-year-old marketing representative from Newport Beach wants to eliminate affirmative action and welfare programs and favors cracking down hard on illegal immigration. Yet she is "very pro-choice" in favoring the right to an abortion, supports gay rights and wants to ban semiautomatic weapons.

"I'm not big on social programs and big government spending," said Frey, who participated in the survey. "I'm being selfish, but I want what's good for me in my income bracket."

UC Irvine professor Mark Baldassare, who conducted The Times poll, calls it "Republicanism by a la carte menu."

"There are a lot of different views on what it means to be a Republican here," he said.

Orange County Republican Party Chairman Thomas A. Fuentes said "there has always been a divergence of opinion" in the GOP.

"I would think that people would be joyful in knowing that difference of opinion exists," he said. "We are burdened by the conflict. We are challenged by intellectual independence. But it's healthy, [and] we seem to be able to deal with it."

He added that the only polling that matters is done on election day.

However, Baldassare said the lack of agreement on so many key issues ultimately could threaten the cohesiveness that has made the local GOP such an effective voting bloc in the past. Policy divisions could lead to special-interest splinter groups, which might end up battling each other and ultimately weaken the party, he said.

Furthermore, those divisions may be much more visible now that the party has the power to push its agenda in Congress.

"It's an uneasy alliance that is currently comfortable with the party," he said. "There are some major divisions that could spell trouble for it in November."

Republican voters who say the party's policies are in conflict with their own views are less likely to vote in primary and off-year general elections than arch-conservatives, but turn out in force in presidential election years like this year.

*

According to the poll, local Republican politicians get elected by embracing issues that are supported by the party's most staunch conservatives, who appear to be the most frequent and faithful voters.

These staunch conservatives, like Republican officeholders, tend to be against abortion, gun control, environmental protection and in favor of cracking down on immigration and welfare. Such views, according to the poll, often run contrary to the beliefs of the majority.

But if those holding the majority's views are less diligent about voting--as they say they are--why should the politicians bother to embrace their positions?

Sherry Wilson, 51, of Huntington Beach, who participated in the poll, is typical of many dissatisfied Republicans in Orange County. "I sit around and complain about things in the party, but I don't do much about it," she admitted.

Whether they vote or don't vote, most conservatives, moderates and other factions in the party said they are pleased with the direction of the local and national GOP. But the survey revealed an underlying concern about key platform issues that have been adopted by the party.

One issue that has already started creating a serious rift within the GOP is abortion. Like Republicans nationwide, local members are fearful that the party's antiabortion stance and its use as a litmus test for Republican candidates is a recipe for disaster.

According to the poll, only 1 in 10 Republican voters in Orange County said that abortion should be illegal in all cases. Mirroring national survey results, 55% of Orange County Republicans say the decision on abortion should be left up to the woman and her doctor.

Nearly all of Orange County's legislative delegation in Sacramento, however, oppose abortion rights, although some would allow it in the case of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at risk. The poll found that 33% of local Republicans also feel that way.

There was little difference between men and women on the issue, but moderates were more likely to support abortion rights. Even conservatives and religious conservatives overwhelmingly support making abortion legal at least in some cases. Only 24% of those who consider themselves religious conservatives, and 15% of conservatives, said they believe abortion should be illegal in all cases.

Many poll respondents said in follow-up interviews that the anti-abortion plank in the GOP platform should be removed.

"Abortion has nothing to do with politics. It's a medical issue," said Paula LaBourdette, 40, of Westminster. "Politicians use it as a means of getting votes, and I think that is sick."

*

Robert Fauteux, another poll respondent, agreed: "A vocal minority within the party is getting all the attention. You know what they say, the wheel that squeaks the loudest gets the grease. Most Republicans are just going along."

Abortion is not the only issue where Orange County's elected leaders are out of step with their Republican constituents. While nearly all of Orange County's state legislators oppose gun control and tough environmental regulations, most Republican voters favor them.

According to the poll, nearly 6 in 10 county Republicans favor both stronger gun control laws and stricter regulations to protect the environment.

"I don't think our founding fathers had Uzis in mind when they were discussing the right to bear arms," said respondent Wilson, an accountant. "It's ridiculous. There are so many nuts out there today."

There are many areas, however, in which Orange County Republicans and their representatives see eye-to-eye.

For example, the poll found that Orange County Republicans are considerably more negative than most Americans on welfare issues.

Only 37% of local GOP members believe it is the government's responsibility to care for people who can't care for themselves, compared to 57% of adults nationwide. Local Republicans also are more opposed to spending tax money on welfare programs than the rest of the country. The poll found that 7 in 10 want funding to be reduced or eliminated. Religious conservatives are the most likely to support a cut in welfare spending.

*

Respondent Joe Jolley, 59, of La Habra voiced a widely held view in Orange County: "Our welfare system needs to be reformed. There are too many people who can work, but don't, and are taking advantage of it. We're wasting good tax dollars."

While most Republicans don't believe the government should help those on welfare, they also don't feel the government should step in and do something about layoffs that occur as corporate America streamlines and "downsizes" its work force. About 20% say the government has a role to play in moderating the effects of corporate restructuring.

Local GOP members are extremely concerned about immigration and immigrant issues and were far more conservative than most adults nationwide on those topics. Two-thirds of local Republicans believe that illegal immigration is a "major problem" in the country, while 45% support erecting a wall along the U.S. and Mexican border as a solution, the poll found.

Additionally, most Republican voters said the United States should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on troubles within its own borders.

"I think our borders should be closed, and we should focus on our own problems," Jolley said. "Our communities are decaying."

Jolley and more than 50% of local GOP members also strongly oppose bilingual education compared to only 14% of adults nationwide.

When it comes to affirmative action programs, Orange County's Republicans are even more disapproving than they are about illegal immigration. Ninety-one percent disagree with the idea that women and minorities should receive preference in hiring, promotions and college entrance to make up for past discrimination, compared to 50% of adults nationwide.

"I think affirmative action has seen its day," Fauteux said. "A person's qualifications and abilities should get them hired, more so than the color of their skin or gender."

When asked about equal rights for gays, local Republicans were more sympathetic. However, a majority opposes civil rights protection for gays, while nearly 4 in 10 favor it, the poll found.

"I don't judge people, and I don't think people should be judged. I'm for [equal rights]. There shouldn't be any discrimination for any group," said respondent Eric Fuchser, 33, of San Juan Capistrano.

While most Republicans are pleased with the general direction of the GOP, less than half say their representatives in Congress and the state Legislature are doing a good or excellent job. If anything, Sacramento lawmakers fare worse than the county's congressmen.

Republican voters also express some cynicism about the electoral process, with about 2 in 3 saying that Republican Party leaders in Orange County try to control who runs in the Republican primaries.

Several respondents pointed to the recent indictment of state Assemblyman Scott Baugh (R-Huntington Beach), who has been accused of being part of a plot to run a "decoy" Democratic candidate to siphon votes away from a legitimate Democratic challenger, as another sign of the party's efforts to manipulate the electoral process.

"The party is looking pretty shabby right now," said Dwight Finney, 54, of La Habra. "It's a scary situation when the Republican Party is committing crimes. Our credibility goes right out the window. We need to start tending to our own yard."

Finney, however, is in the minority. More than half of Orange County's Republicans say the party is moving in the right direction, while two-thirds say the GOP generally reflects their views on issues.

"The Republican party is a very good party . . . [and] the conservatives are the true Republicans," said Virginia Rhoden, 47, of Westminster. "The Democratic Party here is dysfunctional. The Republicans are the only ones who can get the job done."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

County Republicans Not Stereotypical

Although two-thirds of Orange County Republicans describe themselves as conservative, their views on some social issues, such as abortion, are very much in the mainstream of American public opinion. They part company with the rest of America on other policy questions, such as bilingual education.

Abortion

Which best represents your views about abortion . . .

*--*

AMERICANS NATIONALLY COUNTY REPUBLICANS Choice left to woman 60% 55% Legal sometimes* 28% 33% Illegal always 10% 11%

*--*

* Don't know reponses: U.S. 2%, O.C., 1%

****

Bilingual Education

How do you feel about bilingual education? Are you . . .

*--*

AMERICANS NATIONALLY COUNTY REPUBLICANS Strongly in favor 26% 11% Somewhat in favor 38% 16% Somewhat opposed 16% 20% Strongly opposed 14% 52%

*--*

* Don't know reponses: U.S. 6%, O.C., 1%

Sources: Times Orange County Poll; 1995 NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll; 1995 Time/CNN Poll; 1994 Gallup Poll; NORC Poll

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

TIMES ORANGE COUNTY POLL

What Republicans Are Thinking

- Governmental Responsibility

Orange County Republicans take conservative stances on the government's role as a care provider and as the savior of jobs threatened by corporate downsizing. But they generally favor stricter regulations to protect the environment:

Helping Workers

On the issue of corporate downsizing in America today, do you think the government should step in and do something about layoffs and job loss, or is this something the government should stay out of?

Should step in:

47% (AMERICANS NATIONALLY)

21% (County Republicans)

Should stay out:

46% (AMERICANS NATIONALLY)

75% (County Republicans)

"Don't know" responses: U.S. 7%, O.C. 4%

Aiding the People

It is the responsibility of the government to take care of people who can't take care of themselves.

Completely agree:

20% (AMERICANS NATIONALLY)

10% (County Republicans)

Mostly agree:

37% (AMERICANS NATIONALLY)

27% (County Republicans)

Mostly disagree:

26% (AMERICANS NATIONALLY)

31% (County Republicans)

Completely disagree:

15% (AMERICANS NATIONALLY)

29% (County Republicans)

"Don't know" responses: U.S. 2%, O.C. 3%

Protecting the Environment

There need to be stricter laws and regulations to protect the environment.

Completely agree:

46% (AMERICANS NATIONALLY)

31% (County Republicans)

Mostly agree:

36% (AMERICANS NATIONALLY)

29% (County Republicans)

Mostly disagree:

13% (AMERICANS NATIONALLY)

25% (County Republicans)

Completely disagree:

4% (AMERICANS NATIONALLY)

13% (County Republicans)

"Don't know" responses: U.S. 1%, O.C. 2%

Image of Party Leaders

Local Republicans mostly like the direction the national and county party is going and believe that at both levels their views are being reflected. And while they think local party insiders try to control who will run as a Republican, they approve of disciplining those who do not follow their leaders.

* Do you feel the Republican Party is moving in the right direction or is it on the wrong track?

Right direction:

56% National Party

56% Local Party

Wrong track:

36% National Party

21% Local Party

Don't know:

8% National Party

23% Local Party

* Do you feel the Republican Party generally reflects your views on the issues, or not?

Yes:

72% National Party

68% Local Party

No:

25% National Party

20% Local Party

Don't know:

3% National Party

12% Local Party

* Would you say the Republican Party leaders in Orange County are in favor of letting anyone run in the primaries, or do the party leaders attempt to control who runs in the Republican primaries?

Let anyone run: 14%

Attempt control: 63%

Don't know: 23%

* Recently, Republican Party officials in California have mounted campaigns to recall or defeat several Republican officeholders who took actions that were not endorsed by the party leaders. Do you approve or disapprove of recalling or defeating elected officials who do not follow the state's Republican Party leaders?

Approve: 54%

Disapprove: 33%

Don't know: 13%

* Would you say that the Republican Party in Orange County pays too much or too little attention to the views of religious conservatives?

Too much:

30% ALL REPUBLICANS

9% RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICANS

Too little:

31% ALL REPUBLICANS

58% RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICANS

Right amount:

21% ALL REPUBLICANS

23% RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICANS

Don't know:

18% ALL REPUBLICANS

10% RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVE REPUBLICANS

*

* Do you think the Republican Party in Orange County is open to new ideas, or not?

Open: 59%

Not open: 30%

Don't know: 11%

Casting Ballots

Although rank-and-file Republicans are not major money contributors, they say that they are consistent voters:

* In the past four years, have you given money to Republican candidates running for office?

Under $100: 15%

$100 to under $500: 10%

$500 or more: 3%

No money given: 72%

*

* In the past four years, how many times have you voted in elections?

Less than four: 20%

Four to seven: 23%

Eight or more: 57%

*

Sources: Times Orange County Poll; New York Times Poll; 1994 Times Mirror Poll.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Republican Divisions

Based on their responses to survey questions, nearly all county Republicans can be placed into one of five groups:

Category: STAUNCH CONSERVATIVES

Percent: 14%

Generally Favor: Erecting a Mexico border wall

Generally Oppose: Abortion, civil rights protection for gays, stricter gun control and environmental protection laws

Other: Very positive toward national and local party; rate their representatives highly; most likely to vote frequently

*

Category: RELIGIOUS CONSERVATIVES

Percent: 20%

Generally Favor: Stricter gun control, environmental protection, Mexico border wall

Generally Oppose: Abortion, civil rights protection for gays

Other: Give high ratings to national, local party and good ratings to their representatives; least affluent group, more likely to include women and no more likely than others to vote frequently

*

Category: CORE CONSERVATIVES

Percent: 36%

Generally Favor: Abortion choice, gun control, tougher environmental laws; nearly half favor Mexico border wall

Generally Oppose: Civil rights protection for gays

Other: One in three thinks local party pays too much attention to religious conservatives; most are positive about national and local party; half give their elected officials good ratings; older; no more likely than others to vote

*

Category: LOYAL MODERATES

Percent: 10%

Generally Favor: Abortion choice, civil rights protection for gays, tougher environmental and gun control laws

Generally Oppose: Erecting a Mexico border wall

Other: Believe national party reflects their views; one-third think local party pays too much attention to religious conservatives; half give good ratings to their elected officials; least likely to be frequent voters

*

Category: DISILLUSIONED MODERATES

Percent: 16%

Generally Favor: Abortion choice, civil rights protection for gays, stiffer gun control and environmental laws

Generally Oppose: Erecting a Mexico border wall

Other: Few are positive toward national and local party and few give good ratings to their elected officials; more likely to be female and younger; not more likely to vote

Source: Times Orange County Poll

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

A FIVE-DAY SERIES IN ORANGE COUNTY

Sunday: Orange County conservatives are spreading their influence throughout the state, providing muscle and money.

Today: A pair of Orange County millionaires are funding the conservative think tanks that are reshaping thought in Sacramento.

Tuesday: Republican strategists are exploiting electoral apathy and mastering the science of electioneering, with swift and stunning results.

Wednesday: Money for Orange County's GOP machinery no longer comes mostly from land developers but rather two ultraconservative businessmen drawn to politics by religious beliefs.

Thursday: Orange County's leading Republican cheerleader knows how to play hardball.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

How the Poll Was Conducted

The Times Orange County Poll was conducted by Mark Baldassare & Associates. The telephone survey of 600 registered Orange County Republicans voters was conducted from May 2 to 5. A computer-generated random sample of registered Republicans was selected from county voter lists by Survey Sampling Inc. Once a household was reached, the registered Republican on the list was interviewed. The margin of error for the total sample is plus or minus 4% at the 95% confidence level. That means it is 95% certain the results are within 4 percentage points of what they would be if every Orange County registered Republican were interviewed.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
66°