With the Los Angeles mayoral election a week away, incumbent James K. Hahn has made large gains among major voting blocs, but still trails challenger Antonio Villaraigosa by 11 points, a Los Angeles Times poll has found.
Hahn’s improved standing with such pivotal groups as San Fernando Valley whites and South Los Angeles blacks has cut into the 18-point lead that Villaraigosa held in a Times poll last month.
But the new survey still reflects pervasive trouble for Hahn. Just 24% of likely voters in the May 17 election say that Los Angeles is better off because of his policies and should continue on the same course, while 67% want the city to change direction. His job approval score has sunk to a record low of 38% -- from 44% a month ago. Fifty-six percent say they disapprove of his performance as mayor.
If the election were held today, the poll found, the councilman would oust Hahn by 51% to 40%. The survey found 9% of likely voters undecided.
“I think we ought to give someone new a chance,” poll respondent Jose Becerra, 58, said in a follow-up interview. A Sylmar independent who voted for Hahn four years ago, Becerra, an electrician, said Los Angeles needs “new blood” at City Hall.
Since the first poll, Villaraigosa and Hahn have begun running television ads that question one another’s personal integrity. Though the issue was damaging to Hahn in the first poll, it now is casting a pall over both candidates -- accounting for at least part of the narrowing margin.
“One is being investigated, now the other is being investigated -- it’s almost like a joke,” said Studio City building designer Michael Ozolins, 62, a Republican who is so turned off by the candidates that he plans to skip the ballot’s mayoral line.
But on ethics, likely voters still take a dimmer view of Hahn, whose administration is under criminal investigation for alleged trading of city contracts for campaign money. Nearly four in 10 likely voters say that Hahn lacks the honesty and integrity to be mayor; fewer than three in 10 say that about Villaraigosa.
“When the feds move in, I think there’s something serious,” Villaraigosa supporter Glenette Blackwell, a retired Baldwin Hills lawyer, said of the grand jury inquiry into Hahn’s fundraising and City Hall contracts. “The state is one thing, but when the feds come in, they’re looking for something.”
A quarter of likely voters say that the federal and local investigations of Hahn’s fundraising and city contracting make them less likely to vote for the mayor.
But in a worrisome sign for Villaraigosa, about a quarter of likely voters say that his acceptance -- and subsequent return -- of campaign money from Florida donors who had trouble explaining their interest in his candidacy makes them less likely to vote for him. The donations, from people with potential interest in concessions contracts at Los Angeles International Airport, have spawned an investigation by the Los Angeles County district attorney.
“I have serious concerns about Mr. Villaraigosa’s character,” said Northridge teacher Andrea Burman, 37, an independent. “For him to accuse Hahn of financial corruption just seems hypocritical.”
On a broader front, the poll shows that Hahn has made inroads against Villaraigosa with relentless assaults on his character and background.
A quarter of likely voters say that they are less likely to support the councilman because of his 1996 effort to win early release from prison for Carlos Vignali, a cocaine trafficker whose father had given campaign money to Villaraigosa. Hahn has battered Villaraigosa over his intervention.
Another problem for Hahn’s challenger: A majority of likely voters says Villaraigosa “flip-flops” or changes what he says according to his audience. San Pedro sculptor Annie Hosch, 39, a Democrat, said Villaraigosa seems to “cater to whatever community he’s stumping in.”
“I just don’t trust him,” she said, echoing a central accusation of the Hahn campaign.
Nonetheless, by a variety of measures, Villaraigosa’s standing remains well above Hahn’s. The poll found that 62% of voters hold a favorable impression of Villaraigosa, while 46% have a positive view of Hahn. It found that 55% of likely voters see Villaraigosa as a strong leader, but 36% view Hahn that way. And 68% think that Villaraigosa’s personality is well-suited for the job of mayor, while 45% say that about Hahn.
Hahn “doesn’t seem to have much of a personality at all, and Villaraigosa is the other extreme -- he seems to have too much,” said retired Canoga Park chemist Mary Maseda, 70, a Republican who backs Villaraigosa.
Villaraigosa’s supporters also are more enthusiastic about their candidate than Hahn’s are about theirs. With turnout projected to be low, voter fervor could be an important asset on election day.
The survey found that 59% of Hahn’s supporters see him as “the lesser of two evils,” while 35% of Villaraigosa’s backers say that about the councilman -- indicating a firmer rationale for their preference. In another reflection of the same phenomenon, 57% of Villaraigosa’s supporters plan to vote for him because they like him and his policies, while 39% of Hahn’s supporters say that about the mayor.
“I don’t like either of them, but I will vote for Hahn,” said retired West Hills vitamin distributor George Arnold, 72, a conservative independent. “We know the pay-to-play games that he’s played down there in City Hall, and we know basically that he’s dishonest. With Villaraigosa, we know he’s the former president of the ACLU, and nobody should vote for the former president of the ACLU for anything.”
Hahn has tried for weeks to draw attention to Villaraigosa’s former leadership of the Southern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, a tactic that appears to work most effectively with Republicans, the poll found.
Half of Republicans -- and nearly two-thirds of conservative Republicans -- say that Villaraigosa’s stint with the ACLU makes them less likely to support the councilman.
Still, the poll found a more mixed reaction to Villaraigosa’s stand on gang injunctions -- court orders that bar gang members from such activities as congregating in parks and talking on cellphones.
Hahn often casts Villaraigosa’s opposition to gang injunctions while at the ACLU as evidence that he is soft on crime. The councilman now supports them.
The poll found that Villaraigosa’s history on gang injunctions makes just 17% of likely voters less apt to support him. Even among Republicans, fewer than 3 in 10 say that Villaraigosa’s stand on gangs makes them less likely to vote for him.
Overall, according to the poll, Villaraigosa’s strongest constituency is Latinos. More than three of four support Villaraigosa, who would be the city’s first Latino mayor since the 19th century. The poll projects that Latinos will account for about a fifth of the electorate.
But interviews with some Republican Hahn supporters who participated in the poll suggest that Villaraigosa’s ethnicity can also work against him. One of them, Chatsworth businessman Antony Wyse, 44, said Villaraigosa “plays the race card when it’s convenient for him” and would do so “when it comes to Hispanic gangs.” Several Hahn supporters also cited Villaraigosa’s stand on illegal immigration -- which is virtually identical to Hahn’s -- as central to their opposition to the councilman.
Beyond Latinos, Villaraigosa is heavily favored by Democrats, liberals, moderates, younger voters and residents of a broad swath of central Los Angeles, from Hollywood through downtown to Boyle Heights. The former state Assembly speaker also holds an edge among Jewish voters and Westside residents.
Yet Hahn has eroded Villaraigosa’s support among nearly every major voter group. Most strikingly, Hahn has wiped out the double-digit lead that Villaraigosa held among African Americans and Valley voters in the poll last month. Now, the candidates are locked in a statistical tie among both groups.
As for Hahn, a Democrat, his strongest support comes from Republicans and conservatives. But they are no longer the only major groups that are backing his reelection. Hahn has taken the lead among San Fernando Valley whites, a major target of his campaign. Hahn also has pulled ahead marginally in the West Valley, where voter turnout is disproportionately high.
Another good sign for Hahn: He has emerged as the favorite among those who cast ballots in March for mayoral hopefuls Bob Hertzberg of Sherman Oaks, the Valley’s favorite son in the election’s first round, and Bernard C. Parks, a city councilman who carried a majority of the black vote. Both former candidates endorsed Villaraigosa.
Strategists for both Hahn and Villaraigosa have pegged Hertzberg and Parks voters as major constituencies up for grabs in the runoff. In the Times poll last month, both groups had tilted heavily toward Villaraigosa.
For Hahn, who has stressed the drop in crime on his watch, public safety remains a key asset. A plurality of likely voters say that he would do a better job than Villaraigosa at holding down crime.
But likely voters see Villaraigosa as more apt to do a better job of clearing up traffic congestion and -- by more than two to one -- improving the public schools.
The poll found some recovery for Hahn on the issues that drove down his popularity among Valley voters and blacks, the coalition that fueled his 2001 victory: Hahn’s fight against Valley secession and his push to oust Parks, an African American, as police chief.
South-Central teacher Dawn Washington, 32, an African American Democrat, is backing Hahn in part because of fondness for his late father, longtime Los Angeles County Supervisor Kenneth Hahn.
“It’s just like the Kennedys,” she said. “If it’s in your blood to be that way, it’s in your blood to be that way.”
In the campaign’s final week, a key challenge for Hahn is to strengthen his Republican base. Though 53% of Republicans support his reelection, that is well short of the 79% who backed Hahn in the 2001 runoff.
Hahn’s main obstacle is Villaraigosa’s success among Republicans. Just 21% supported Villaraigosa in the 2001 runoff, but the new poll found 37% of Republicans were backing him now. Similar patterns emerged among conservatives.
The new survey, supervised by Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus, was conducted by telephone from May 2 to May 8.
It sampled 2,176 registered voters, including 742 deemed likely to vote. The margin of sampling error for likely voters was plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Times Poll Associate Director Jill Darling Richardson and data management supervisor Claudia Vaughn contributed to this report.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Q: If the May 17 runoff for mayor of Los Angeles were held today, for whom would you vote?
Don’t know: 9%
Note: Among likely voters
Q: If the May 17 runoff for mayor of Los Angeles were held today, for whom would you vote?
*--* All likely voters Whites Blacks Latinos James K. Hahn 40% 48% 40% 17% Antonio Villaraigosa 51 45 43 77 Don’t know 09 07 16 06
Q: Do you support your mayoral choice today mostly because:
All likely voters
You like him?: 50%
He is the lesser of two evils?: 45%
Don’t know: 5%
You like him?: 39%
He is the lesser of two evils?: 59%
Don’t know: 2%
You like him?: 57%
He is the lesser of two evils?: 35%
Don’t know: 8%
Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Hahn is handling
his job as mayor?
Don’t know: 6%
Don’t know: 7%
Q: Do you think Los Angeles is better off because of Hahn’s policies and should continue in the direction he has set, or does it need a new direction?
New direction: 67%
Continue Hahn’s policies: 24%
Don’t know: 9%
Q: Which candidate would do a better job at:
*--* Hahn Villaraigosa Neither Both Don’t know Holding down crime 42% 34 9 9 6 Improving traffic and Transportation 30% 39 18 3 10 Improving city’s public schools 22% 50 17 4 7
Q: Do you think Hahn/ Villaraigosa is a strong leader?
*--* Hahn Villaraigosa Strong leader 36% 55% Not a strong leader 59 29 Don’t know 5 16
Q: Do you think Hahn/ Villaraigosa has the honesty and integrity to serve as mayor?
*--* Hahn Villaraigosa Has honesty/integrity 51% 58% Does not have honesty/integrity 39 28 Don’t know 10 14
Q: Do you think Hahn’s/Villaraigosa’s personality is well suited for the mayoral job?
*--* Hahn Villaraigosa Suited 45% 68% Not suited 48 23 Don’t know 7 9
Q: Local and federal prosecutors are investigating whether city contracts were awarded in exchange for political contributions to Hahn’s campaign. Hahn denies the allegations. Will that make you more or less likely to vote for him?
*--* All likely voters Whites Blacks Latinos Dems Reps Will not play a role 62% 60% 69% 62% 64% 64% More likely 8 5 11 13 7 5 Less likely 25 31 13 20 22 28 Don’t know 5 4 7 5 7 3
Q: Villaraigosa accepted more than $40,000 from the employees of two Florida companies and their relatives interested in doing business at Los Angeles International Airport. There were conflicting stories about why the money was donated. Villaraigosa said it was given because the donors thought that it was time for a change in the city. After the donations became public, Villaraigosa returned the money. Will that make you more or less likely to vote for him?
*--* All likely voters Whites Blacks Latinos Dems Reps Will not play a role 62% 60% 70% 66% 64% 61% More likely 8 5 10 16 9 4 Less likely 27 33 17 15 23 34 Don’t know 3 2 3 3 4 1
How the Poll Was Conducted
The Times Poll contacted 3,236 adults in the city of Los Angeles by telephone May 2 through May 8, 2005. Among them were 2,176 registered voters, of which 742 were deemed likely to vote in the May 17 mayoral runoff election. Likely voters were determined by a screening process which included questions on intention to vote, certainty of vote, interest in the campaign, absentee voting and past voting history. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the city, and random digit dialing techniques allowed listed and unlisted numbers to be contacted. Multiple attempts were made to contact each number. Additional African American and Latino voters were contacted in separate random samples to allow more accurate analysis of their subgroups. Adults in the entire sample were weighted slightly to conform with their respective census proportions by sex, ethnicity, age, education, city region, and party registration. The margin of sampling error for likely voters is plus or minus 4 percentage points in either direction. For certain subgroups, the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results may also be affected by factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. Interviews in the supplemental samples were conducted by
Interviewing Service of America, Van Nuys, Calif. While Asian voters were interviewed and are included as part of the overall results in this poll, they are too small a subgroup of the sample to be separately reported. Interviews in all samples were conducted in both English and Spanish.
Note: Times Poll results and analysis are also available at latimes.com/timespoll. All results are among likely voters in the city of Los Angeles. Questions may have been paraphrased as neccesary.
Source: Times Poll