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Poll Analysis: Garcetti’s Long Road to Victory

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An unknown candidate beats the incumbent by more than three to one.

Times Poll Asst. Director
     Most incumbents with strong name recognition and full war chests can sit back seven months before a local election and watch their opponents struggle. Not Gil Garcetti. With the election for district attorney seven months away, a new Los Angeles Times poll has found the district attorney trailing his opponent by nearly forty percentage points.
     Garcetti, who appears to be taking much of the blame for the Rampart scandal, has a nearly impossible task ahead: He must convince members of his own party, African Americans and whites, and residents in every district of the County that he deserves a third term as Los Angeles district attorney.
     The only group Garcetti does relatively well with is Latinos, who represent over a third of those polled (36%), but just 24% of registered voters. Even among Latinos, Garcetti does not win the race, but merely pulls into a statistical dead heat with Steve Cooley, his challenger.

Garcetti Ratings
     With a city entangled in the second major police scandal of his eight-year tenure as district attorney, Garcetti finds himself in the unenviable position of entering a race as a candidate with low job approval ratings and as the direct beneficiary of blame for the Rampart scandal investigation.
     Six years ago, amid the proceedings of the O.J. Simpson case, 45% of Los Angeles County residents said they approved of the way Garcetti was handling his job. Just a quarter of respondents disapproved.
     Today these numbers have flipped, and just 26% of L.A. County residents say they approve of the way Garcetti is handling his job. More than four in 10 (42%) disapprove of the job he is doing, with 27% of this group saying they strongly disapprove. Garcetti‚s numbers plummet further among registered voters, 52% of whom disapprove of the way he is handling his job.
     Garcetti‚s approval ratings are even abysmal with core groups such as Democrats, L.A. city residents and African Americans:

46% of Democrats disapprove of the way he is handling his job as D.A. (53% of independents disapprove, 60% of Republicans)
53% of Los Angeles city residents disapprove of (35% in the rest of the county)
69% of African Americans disapprove (compared to 53% of whites and just 19% of Latinos)

     More striking is that Garcetti alone is singled out as having acted irresponsibly in his handling of the Rampart investigation. Among L.A. city respondents:

50% say Garcetti acted irresponsibly in his handling of the investigation
24% say he acted responsibly

     In comparison,
54% say Chief of Police Bernie Parks acted responsibly (25% irresponsibly)
48% say Mayor Riordan has acted responsibly (27% irresponsibly)

      In another blow, almost half (49%) of registered voters say that his handling of Rampart would make them less likely to vote for Garcetti this November--numbers no candidate wants to see.

The District Attorney Race
     Just 18% of registered voters county-wide said they would vote for Garcetti if the November election for district attorney were held today. Over half--55%--said they would vote for Steve Cooley. At the time of the poll, 26% of registered voters were undecided.
     Garcetti, a Democrat, loses the election among both political parties (and also among independents), all ideological groups, and with every racial or ethnic group except for Latinos. Even Latinos do not come out in overwhelming support for Garcetti, but merely split their vote between the two candidates, with 34% saying they would vote for Garcetti, and 35% saying they would vote for Cooley.
     When asked for up to two reasons as to why they were supporting their candidate:

      53% of Cooley voters said the reason was a dislike for Garcetti
      51% of Cooley voters said it was because it was time for a new D.A.

     In other words, Cooley, a virtual unknown, easily wins a district attorney match-up simply by virtue of not being Gil Garcetti.

     Among the 18% voting for Garcetti:

      52% said they were supporting him because he had done a good job
      13% said because he was honest

     Nearly a quarter of Garcetti voters (24%) could not name a reason they were supporting him (only 6% of Cooley voters could not come up with a reason).

How the Poll was Conducted
     The Times Poll contacted 2,202 residents in Los Angeles county, which included an oversample of 610 L.A. city residents (for a total of 1,219 city dwellers), by telephone March 29 through April 5, 2000. Included in the sample are 1,630 registered county voters. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in Los Angeles county. Random-digit dialing techniques were used so that listed and non-listed numbers could be contacted.
     The entire sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age, education and region. The margin of sampling error for the entire sample, registered voters, and city residents, is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish.

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