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Crime, Immigration Issues Helped Wilson, Poll Finds : Election: Proposition 187 wins among whites, but loses among all other ethnic groups, exit survey shows.


California voters concerned about illegal immigration and crime reelected Republican Gov. Pete Wilson over Democrat Kathleen Brown on Tuesday despite an overwhelming belief among the electorate that under Wilson's leadership the state is on the wrong track, the Los Angeles Times Poll found.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, locked in a tight battle with Republican Rep. Mike Huffington, was holding on to her Democratic base, winning a good number of GOP votes and besting the wealthy former Texas oilman among independent voters, according to the results of a survey of voters as they left the polls.

Proposition 187, the anti-illegal immigration initiative, polarized the electorate along racial lines, winning big among white voters while losing in every other ethnic group. The measure's opponents apparently failed to significantly increase the turnout of Latinos--or other minorities--beyond the number who voted in the last gubernatorial election four years ago.

Seventy-seven percent of those who voted for the measure said they wanted to send a protest message, and half who supported it said they hoped to force the federal government to respond to the problem of illegal immigration. Of those who opposed Proposition 187, 58% said it was poorly written and 41% described it as racist.

The controversial measure also split Californians according to age, educational level and religious affiliation, and played a role in both of the top races for statewide office. Nearly one in five of those who voted Tuesday said Proposition 187 had a major influence on their choice for governor, and most of those people voted for Wilson.

The governor clearly was a vulnerable incumbent, with barely half of those who voted Tuesday saying they approved of his performance and nearly two-thirds--63%--saying they believed the state has gone astray.

But Brown simply was not an acceptable alternative for most voters. Even among those who said that the state is heading in the wrong direction and that their own personal finances are worse today than they were four years ago, as many voted for Wilson as for Brown.

Wilson's campaign team accomplished its goal of making the race a contest about illegal immigration, crime and taxes. Those three issues ranked highest among voters' concerns as they went to the polls Tuesday, and the voters, by a big margin, said they trusted Wilson more than Brown on each of those matters.

The Times Poll, directed by John Brennan, interviewed 5,336 voters at 85 precincts representing a cross-section of California. The margin of sampling error was 3 percentage points in either direction.

Wilson, the poll found, defeated Brown by winning the votes of more than nine out of 10 Republicans and beating Brown among independents while also making deep inroads into what should have been Democratic strongholds for the one-term state treasurer.

Wilson won 91% of Republican votes, 54% of independents and 18% of Democrats, according to the poll.

Immigration, the top issue on the minds of voters Tuesday, was cited by 38% as an important concern. Of these voters, 63% chose Wilson while 34% sided with Brown.

Crime, despite Brown's summerlong effort to "neutralize" it as an issue, was cited by 32% of voters as an important concern, compared to just 3% in a Times exit poll two years ago. These voters went overwhelmingly for Wilson--65% to 33%.

Taxes were a top issue to 27% of the voters, and Wilson--even though he signed a record $7-billion tax increase his first year in office--still won this group by a margin of 67% to 29%.

Among the top four issues, only education helped Brown. About one-fourth of voters cited the schools as an important issue, and Brown won this group, 61% to 36%, the poll found.

There was a gender gap in the governor's race, and it broke Wilson's way: He split the female vote with Brown but won the men by a large margin.

Brown beat Wilson among younger voters, poorer voters and those who were less educated. She also won among blacks and Latinos and split the Asian American vote. But Wilson easily erased that deficit by winning big among groups that dominated the voting: older people, whites, the more affluent and the well educated.

Wilson did worse among Latinos Tuesday than he did four years ago, presumably because of his outspoken stand against illegal immigration. But Latinos voted in such small numbers that he was not hurt by the erosion. Just 8% of the electorate was Latino, virtually the same as in 1990, while 80% of those who voted Tuesday were white.

Wilson won the white vote 58% to 38%. Brown won the Latino vote, 74% to 22%. Four years ago, about 35% of Latinos sided with Wilson.

Brown's family ties also hurt her. Of those who said the Brown legacy was a major influence on their vote for governor, 67% went with Wilson while just 32% voted for Brown, the poll found.

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