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Laid-Back Perception Borne Out : Poll Finds Pacific States Tolerant, Less Alienated

November 11, 1987|GEORGE SKELTON | Times Sacramento Bureau Chief

People who live along the Pacific Coast tend to be less religious, less anti-communist and less alienated from the political system than most other Americans, according to a Gallup poll conducted for Times Mirror Co.

Residents of the five-state Pacific area are more tolerant of different life styles, views and values, the survey found. For example, they are more opposed to making it tougher to get an abortion.

They are also more opposed than the rest of the country to loosening environmental controls in order to spur economic growth, more in favor of cutting the military budget and more inclined to think that the United States is too inflexible in dealing with the Soviet Union.

On the other hand, the poll showed, Pacific area residents tend to be in the American mainstream of opinion when it comes to wanting more government money for public schools (70% do), favoring the death penalty (72%), opposing U.S. aid for the rebels fighting the Nicaragua Marxists (58%) and objecting to a tax increase to reduce the federal budget deficit (67%).

"Differences in political values within the Pacific region are consistent with the popular perception of the laid-back Californians," the Gallup Organization commented in its analysis of the survey results. "The population rates low on religiousness and high on tolerance. Feelings of social alienation are less prevalent. People are also less aggressive (internationally), rating below average on militant anti-communist sentiments."

Times Mirror, which publishes the Los Angeles Times and owns several other newspapers, broadcasting stations and magazines, commissioned the poll by Gallup.

The in-depth survey, described by Gallup as "the most exhaustive study of the American electorate ever undertaken," involved face-to-face, hourlong interviews with 4,244 American adults last April and May. Most of the results were made public on Sept. 30. But further analysis of the interviews found "sharp and sometimes surprising regional differences in people's political values and opinions," the pollsters said, and they released the regional data today.

The margin of error for the survey is 2%.

Gallup divided the country into eight regions, including the Pacific area, composed of California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and Alaska. The Pacific region accounts for nearly 15% of the total U.S. population, and the vast majority of these people--three-fourths of them--are Californians.

High Rate of 'Enterprisers'

Politically, Gallup found within the Pacific states proportionately more of what it called Republican "enterprisers," who are highly educated, affluent, pro-business and anti-government. There are also more Independent "seculars," a Democratic-leaning, well-educated group that professes little religious belief. And there are more "Sixties Democrats," who identify strongly with peace, civil rights and environmental movements.

But, compared to the rest of the nation, the Pacific region has fewer Democratic "New Dealers," an aging group whose political roots go back to Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Great Depression.

Gallup found that the Pacific states mirror the rest of America in their proportion of church-going Republican "moralists," loyal Democratic "partisan poor" and politically non-participating "bystanders."

Although California has gone Republican in eight of the last nine presidential elections--and the last five in a row--Gallup theorized that "there may be an opportunity here for the Democrats in 1988." The pollsters noted that no Californian is likely to be on the presidential ballot next November, unlike five of the last seven elections, when Richard M. Nixon or Ronald Reagan was running.

Little Alienation

In comparing people of the Pacific region with the rest of the nation, Gallup found that they ranked highest on the scale of tolerance. And they ranked lowest on measurements of militant anti-communism and alienation from "the system."

On a measurement of religious faith, Pacific area residents ranked second lowest; New Englanders were the least religious. And their anti-government attitudes were exceeded only by people living in the Rocky Mountain region.

Compared to other Americans, residents of the Pacific region were the most opposed (64% of them) to changing the law to make it more difficult to get an abortion. They supported (61% of them) a constitutional amendment to allow prayer in public schools, but this represented the least support of any region in the country.

Only New Englanders were more opposed than Pacific states' residents (60%) to relaxing environmental controls to pave the way for economic growth.

People along the Pacific were the most opposed (61%) to the idea of limiting the access of AIDS patients to public areas.

They were among the highest in their support of cuts in defense spending (54%). And, more than any other Americans, Pacific area residents (30%) thought the United States was "not willing enough to compromise" with the Soviets.

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