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Californians' Affinity for GOP Is Growing, Poll Says

December 15, 1987|GEORGE SKELTON | Times Sacramento Bureau Chief

In their hearts, more Californians think of themselves as being Republicans than Democrats, despite official voter registration that favors the Democratic Party, according to the Gallup Organization.

In fact, Californians identify with the Republican Party more than other Americans do, Gallup found in a poll conducted for Times Mirror Co.

At the same time, Californians also are more liberal than other Americans when it comes to tolerating different views and life styles, the survey showed. This might seem paradoxical since the Democratic Party traditionally attracts liberals and the GOP is the party of conservatives.

But the survey's findings could be illustrative of a broadening of the Republican base in California, a gradual political evolution that has made GOP voters, on the whole, less conservative than they were a generation ago, at least on social issues. It could also be merely symptomatic of the popularity of the two Republican officeholders Californians know best, President Ronald Reagan and Gov. George Deukmejian.

Times Mirror, which publishes the Los Angeles Times and owns several other newspapers, broadcasting stations and magazines, commissioned the poll by Gallup as part of an ongoing series of national and regional surveys. Telephone interviews with 1,002 California adults were conducted Oct. 25 to Nov. 8. The margin of error for this size survey is four percentage points in either direction.

Democrats long have outnumbered Republicans in California in official voter registration. In the most recent report by the California secretary of state, roughly 51% of those registered to vote were signed up as Democrats, compared to 38% who were Republicans. Another 2% were members of minor parties and about 9% were "declined to state," or independents. Of the entire adult population eligible to register, the breakdown was 35% Democrat, 26% Republican, 1% minor parties and 6% independent.

But, according to Gallup, many Californians who are registered to vote as Democrats actually feel closer to the Republican Party. When those interviewed were asked, "As of today, do you consider yourself a Republican, Democrat or independent?" Republicans outnumbered Democrats by 36% to 31%, with 33% calling themselves independents.

GOP, Leaners Lead

The independents then were asked whether they "lean more toward" the GOP or the Democratic Party. Based on these responses, a second calculation was made that came out Republicans and leaners 49%, Democrats and leaners 43% and independents 8%.

Californians, therefore, identify with the Republican Party much more than Americans do on the whole. In a nationwide Gallup survey conducted for Times Mirror last April and May, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 37% to 25%. Counting "leaners," the Democratic advantage was 50% to 38%.

Asked why so many people in California would register as Democrats yet think of themselves as Republicans, Gallup Senior Project Director Larry Hugick said, "Registration represents the past more than the present. People previously have registered in a party and they stay in the party technically, but their actual political affiliation is much more subject to change. It may bounce around a lot."

Veteran pollster Mervin Field, who as director of the California Poll has been surveying the state's residents for 40 years, said he also recently has been finding significant numbers of registered Democrats who really think of themselves as Republicans. Although his latest figures are not as dramatic as Gallup's, Field over the years has been recording a gradual gain for the GOP in self-identification, and currently Republicans and Democrats are about evenly split in his surveys.

Field explained the phenomenon this way: "It's habit. It's like being a Catholic and not going to church." He added, "How a person is registered doesn't define that person as much as it did a generation or two ago. When someone a generation ago said he was a Democrat or a Republican, that told you a lot about that person. Today, it tells you less. Ties to parties are loose now. And there are more weak Democrats than weak Republicans."

Gallup found additionally encouraging news for the GOP regarding the 1988 presidential election. Nearly one-half (47%) of the surveyed Californians said they are likely to vote for the Republican presidential nominee, contrasted to only roughly one-third (35%) who reported they probably will support the Democrat.

The good news for the Democrats, however, is that California is different from the rest of the country. In a nationwide Gallup survey taken for Times Mirror in early September, Americans reported, by 41% to 33%, that they likely will vote for the Democratic candidate.

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