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TIMES ORANGE COUNTY POLL : Clinton Beats Bush in Rating on Economy

April 13, 1993|DAVE LESHER | TIMES POLITICAL WRITER

Democratic President Bill Clinton is finding more support today among registered voters in Orange County for his handling of the economy than this Republican stronghold gave to former GOP President George Bush last fall, according to a new Times Orange County Poll.

Clinton's marks are particularly striking in light of his call for higher taxes and the fact that--according to the poll--residents are more pessimistic about the local economy today than they were in a 1992 survey.

Still, a quarter of registered voters said Clinton is doing a good or excellent job on the economy, about double the results Bush received last October. And while half described Bush's economic performance as poor, less than a third put Clinton in the same category.

"So far, Orange County voters are giving President Clinton better ratings for handling the issue of jobs and the economy than they gave the previous White House occupant last year," said Mark Baldassare, director of The Times Orange County Poll.

The poll, concluded last week, surveyed 600 Orange County adults and has an error margin of plus or minus 4%. Questions on Clinton's performance and proposals were based on a subsample of 512 registered voters, which has a margin of error of 4.5%.

Nevertheless, the results show that California's GOP stronghold has not embraced the Democratic President. Fewer than half of the county's voters have a favorable impression of Clinton. And the President's economic package of tax hikes, budget cuts and deficit reductions is opposed by 51% of voters and supported by just 41%.

Still, in a county where slightly more than a third of the voters are registered Democrats, Clinton's support exceeds partisan limits.

And while Clinton received just 33% of the county's vote in last November's election, 42% of those polled said they have a favorable impression of the President today, almost as high as Bush's 47% favorability rating last October.

Orange County has warmed to Clinton.

For the first time since the poll began measuring Clinton's support in Orange County last May, fewer than 50% of voters said they have an unfavorable impression of the Democratic President.

Clinton's unfavorable rating was 43% in the most recent survey, down from 66% last May and 53% last October.

Predictably, support for Clinton differs markedly between Republicans and Democrats. About three-quarters of Democrats have a favorable opinion, while two-thirds of Republicans have an unfavorable one.

But Clinton also found some support in the county's GOP ranks, with about one in five Republicans saying they have a favorable impression of the President.

"I wanted to vote Republican, but (Clinton) was the best candidate," said Dorel Morar, a Fullerton resident who lost his job as a lab assistant five months ago. "Things are pretty bad, but they could get worse. I just think everybody has to give something, like (Clinton) said."

When it comes to Clinton's proposed economic package, Orange County is living up to its reputation for conservative politics and anti-tax sentiment. While state and national surveys have found that a majority of Americans support the plan, Orange County does not.

Clinton's economic package is aimed at reducing the deficit while creating more jobs. It includes higher taxes on energy and wealthy individuals as well as budget cuts and a job stimulus plan.

While the poll found Orange County voters rejecting the package 51% to 41%, a statewide survey by The Times last month found the package supported by 53% and opposed by 34%. A nationwide poll by The Times in late February found support for the plan at 51%, with 29% opposed.

Margaret Martinez, an unemployed Republican from Santa Ana, said Clinton's taxes are only going to make things worse.

"Taxes are bad enough now," she said. "The businesses are going to go out of work, there will be no jobs, people won't be able to afford houses, and people won't have money to buy more."

But The Times Orange County Poll also found some tolerance in Orange County for the economic package. Many respondents seem to share the viewpoint of Margaret Madden of Rancho Santa Margarita, who said that Clinton's plan should be given a chance.

"Some of my (Republican) neighbors seem to be holding their thoughts," said Madden, a Democrat who recently moved to Orange County from Massachusetts. "I still have the attitude (of) let's all get together and try to make this work. I think it's the price we've got to pay. The money's not going to come from nowhere."

Many of the plan's supporters, though, have low expectations of its ability to pay off for them.

Forty-one percent said they support Clinton's economic plan, but only 28% said they think that it will have a good effect on the local economy. Just 17% expect it to improve their personal finances.

About two in five voters believe that Clinton's plan will have a bad effect on the county's economy and their own pocketbooks.

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