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TIMES O.C. POLL : Voters Sour on Congress, Don't Know Members


Most Orange County voters do not like the way the nation's business is being handled in Washington. But if they wanted to write to their congressman to complain, they would not know where to send it because most don't know who their congressman is.

The six members of the Orange County congressional delegation--all Republicans--are as invisible as Halloween ghosts, according to a recent Times Orange County Poll.

When asked to name any of the local congressmen, the poll found, almost two out of three draw a blank--they cannot name any of the county's delegation--zip, zero, nada.

None of the 600 voters questioned for the survey could name all six.

And only 5% of voters feel the local delegation has "a lot of influence," though 48% said they had "some" influence.

Signaling their frustration with Washington politics, Orange County voters equally blamed Republicans, Democrats and President Clinton for gridlock at the federal level. Local voters also are more likely than voters across the country to demand "new people in Washington, even if they are not as effective as experienced politicians," according to the poll.

Like their counterparts across the nation, who were polled earlier this year for the 1994 Times Mirror Survey, 52% of the Orange County voters said they want a third major political party in the country.

The poll, a random telephone survey, was conducted Oct. 22-25 by Mark Baldassare and Associates.

Orange homemaker Patricia James, 52, shares the anger expressed by most local voters. She doesn't know who her congressman is--not that it matters, she said, because he probably does not have much political clout.

James also thinks congressmen do not listen to the voters at home, and is "sickened" by the partisan bickering between both major political parties that keeps anything from being accomplished. Although she is a Democrat who sometimes votes Republican, she is ready for a third political party.

"They fight each other so much that they don't even think of the people," James said. "They just (vote) their way."

Overall, the job approval rating of the Orange County delegation has dropped eight points since four years ago, when a similar poll was conducted. When asked to rate how well local congressmen are representing the interests of local residents, only one-third said the delegation is doing an "excellent" or "good" job.

Baldassare said the drop had "less to do with the overall performance rating of the delegation and more with the general national trends and a sense of dissatisfaction with the government in Washington."

Three-fourths of Orange County voters said, for example, that government operations are usually inefficient and wasteful--just seven points higher than voters nationwide. And two-thirds said that government regulation of business "usually does more harm than good"--similar to what voters said nationwide.

As one who would rather have government do too little than too much, Lake Forest resident John Donahue, 21, said he does not mind the stalemate in Washington.

"I kind of like gridlock because a lot of things (congressmen) do would cost more money," Donahue said.

He is among those who does not know much about his congressman and may not vote in that race on Nov. 8. But if he does, it will probably be for whoever is the Republican.

Some voters guessed wrong when they were asked to give the names of anyone in the local congressional delegation.

One voter offered the name of possible Republican presidential hopeful Jack F. Kemp, the former Republican Cabinet secretary who once represented a congressional district in New York state, not Orange County.

Others drew on familiar names. Donahue, for example, thought his congressional representative was Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, while others named former Orange County Republican Rep. William Dannemeyer of Fullerton or Dan Lungren, who has been serving as state attorney general for the past four years.

"The fact that they cannot name an (Orange County) congressman means that there's a serious disconnect between what's going on at home and what's going on in Washington," Baldassare said.

So which current congressmen has the highest visibility?

Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove). Twenty percent of voters were able to come up with his name unaided. His much-talked-about late-night appearances on C-SPAN and the Rush Limbaugh radio talk show have probably done more for his visibility than all the newsletters he has mailed to voters in his central Orange County district.

In addition to voters being able to come up with Dornan's name unaided, he is the only congressman in the county about whom more than half the voters have an opinion. Some 27% of voters gave Dornan a favorable rating, while 26% said they have an unfavorable view of the Garden Grove Republican.

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