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Exit Poll Indicates Tight Race, Divided Electorate


Forecasting a tight runoff election in June, a Los Angeles Times exit poll reveals deep ideological, economic and racial divisions among voters who on Tuesday selected Michael Woo and Richard Riordan as finalists in the mayor's race.

Woo received only 13% of the white vote, compared to 45% for Riordan. The disparity is significant because whites cast more than two-thirds of the ballots in Tuesday's primary election--even though the city's voting-age population is 58% nonwhite.

Blacks made up the second biggest ethnic voting bloc Tuesday, accounting for 18% of the vote. Fifty-two percent of African-American voters favored Woo, compared to just 4% for Riordan.

Latinos--who make up 40% of the city's population--constituted only 8% of the electorate Tuesday, The Times exit poll found. Woo did best among Latinos, with 30%, while Riordan received 20% of the their votes.

Woo took 60% of the Asian-American vote, which represented only 4% of the ballots cast in the primary; Riordan garnered 21%.

Liberals and conservatives turned out in equal numbers for the primary--which attracted a record 24 candidates seeking to succeed Mayor Tom Bradley. With no other strong right-of-center alternative in the race, Riordan took 65% of the conservative vote. Woo--who had to split the liberal vote with several left-of-center rivals--received 37% of the liberal vote.

The exit poll data portends an unusually divisive general election June 8.

"It says we have a pretty polarized city," said Larry Berg, director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. "Boy, it's gonna be a knock-down drag out."

Overall, the exit poll--the first of its kind to examine the Los Angeles electorate in a mayor's race--tended to confirm earlier analyses of where Riordan and Woo are getting their support.

Riordan was preferred by conservatives, Republicans, Anglos, homeowners and the affluent. Woo, on the other hand, drew his base from African-Americans, Asian-Americans, gays, liberals, renters and those with lower incomes.

The exit poll indicated that the runoff could be extremely close. The survey showed that Riordan--who bested Woo 33% to 24% among primary voters--is the runoff choice of 43% of those who voted Tuesday, whereas Woo is preferred by 37%. Riordan's lead is slight, given the poll's three-point error margin.

The poll indicates that 33% of those who backed candidates other than Woo and Riordan in the primary would go with Woo in the runoff; 21% would opt for Riordan. But 46% said they would choose someone else or not vote at all.

The survey of 2,816 voters suggests that the campaigns probably will battle each other for support from Jews, political moderates, younger white voters, white Democrats and Latinos, among others. Union households and voters having $20,000 to $40,000 annual incomes also look to be prime targets for either campaign, said John Brennan, director of The Times Poll.

Many of those groups tended to cast their votes in the primary for candidates other than Riordan and Woo. They also are divided in their runoff preferences, the poll found.

Just 14% of Jewish voters backed Woo in the primary, less than the 21% who went with Riordan.

The poll--and a city analysis released Wednesday that broke down the vote by City Council district--indicate the low turnout, 25% of registered voters, worked against Woo and for Riordan, with the latter's base more likely to vote.

"One of the keys to Riordan's strong showing was a low turnout, which produced an electorate skewed to high-income Anglo conservative Republican voters," Brennan said.

"Woo appears to have a double challenge: to expand his appeal among the swing constituencies and to get more of his voters to the polls."

Riordan carried Westside and San Fernando Valley districts where the ballots cast Tuesday were up to five times the totals cast in the inner-city districts where Woo led.

For example, 53,010 votes were cast in Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky's heavily Jewish 5th District--stretching from Fairfax to the Valley--but just 13,791 votes were cast in the overwhelmingly minority Central and South-Central district of Councilwoman Rita Walters, where Woo led.

On the Westside, a territory rich with the liberal Democrats and environmentalists that Woo has courted heavily, Riordan did surprisingly well. In Councilwoman Ruth Galanter's coastal 6th District, Riordan led the pack, with 14,291 votes--one-third more than Woo. Riordan handily carried Yaroslavsky's district with 15,807 votes, 60% more than Woo.

City Councilman Joel Wachs finished ahead of Woo in Yaroslavsky's district, and both Wachs and Assemblyman Richard Katz ran ahead of Woo across the Valley.

That may give Riordan room to stretch his base.

"If you look at where Joel did well, it's areas where Riordan thinks he can pick up votes," said political consultant Harvey Englander, who advised the Wachs campaign.

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