Orange County Poll Detects a Liberal Leaning


This county has always been less conservative on social issues than on economic ones, but findings of the latest poll surprised even some political analysts.

According to the Orange County Annual Survey, released Monday by UC Irvine, a significant majority of county residents think that the government should have stronger gun control laws and that gay men and lesbians should be allowed in the military. Even a slight majority of Republicans agreed with those positions.

The explanation offered is relatively simple: As national attitudes change, Orange County--long one of the state’s bastions of traditional conservatism--is going along.


“Orange County is becoming more like everywhere else, more diverse, more cosmopolitan, more like the rest of California,” said Mark Baldassare, a UC Irvine professor of urban and regional planning and co-director of the poll.

The survey found that 63% of county residents think there should be stronger gun control laws, and 62% believe gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the armed forces. Support was lower among Republicans, but still constituted a majority.

Statewide, 62% support stronger gun laws and 68% believe gays should be allowed in the military, according to a previous survey by Baldassare.

Fred Smoller, director of the Ludie and David C. Henley Social Sciences Research Lab at Chapman University, found the Republican support for gays in the military a demonstration of the libertarian strain that runs through the county.

“The same thinking that says I don’t want government saying how I should run my business is the same that sees sexuality as part of the private realm,” he said.

“Society is coming to a consensus this is just not one worth fighting about.”

Frank Ricchiazza, former president of the Orange County chapter of the Log Cabin Club, made up of gay Republicans, said the polls didn’t surprise him. Noting the prevailing attitude, he said that the Veterans of Foreign Wars has asked him to join. “Some of these guys are part of the right wing of right wings, but being gay isn’t an issue,” he said.


The county’s libertarian bent also was evident on the subject of abortion. Sixty-five percent of those polled support abortion rights.

The poll also found that 62% of Orange County residents support stricter environmental laws and 58% believe that immigrants benefit the state.

But county residents’ support for stronger gun laws tends to go against the libertarian viewpoint of keeping government out of personal decisions.

Analysts said support of gun control has increased nationally as a result of the Columbine, Colo., school massacre last year and random shootings across the country, including the one at the Jewish community center in Granada Hills.

Luis Tolley, Western director of Handgun Control in Los Angeles, said polls for his group show that the Columbine shootings made gun control a much more urgent concern among voters, pushing it into the top tier of issues people are most concerned about.

He said Orange County attitudes are similar to those found in other conservative areas.

“The disconnect is between the majority of people and our elected officials,” he said.

Robert J. Spitzer, a political science professor at the State University of New York in Cortland and author of the book “The Politics of Gun Control,” said Columbine and other shootings have caused people to worry more about their children.


“There’s a fear of sending kids to school, [that] they might not come back because some deranged person may go berserk,” he said.

But Steve Helsley, a consultant for the National Rifle Assn. in Sacramento, said the problem is that most people don’t understand the gun control issue.

“There is a perception that gun laws are inadequate to keep them out of the hands of criminals,” he said.

“In large part, that is true because the existing laws are not enforced. We’ve got so many laws, law enforcement can’t keep track of them, and the end result is they’re not used.”

The survey was conducted May 3-14 and included telephone interviews in English and Spanish with 1,005 adults. The sampling margin of error is plus or minus 3%.

Baldassare said the support for strong gun control fits with Orange County residents’ ranking crime as the most important problem.


“People see the cause as the proliferation of guns,” he said.