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Poll Shows Dole and Clinton in O.C. Dead Heat

September 19, 1996|PETER M. WARREN and SHELBY GRAD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

IRVINE — GOP presidential candidate Bob Dole is in a dead heat with President Clinton in Orange County, and he lacks the 2-1 ratio needed from this Republican-rich area to carry California, according to UC Irvine's 1996 Orange County Annual Survey.

The poll found Dole leading Clinton 44% to 40% among likely voters. Among all registered voters, however, Clinton leads Dole 43% to 41%. Reform Party candidate Ross Perot received 5% in both samplings, while 10% of voters were undecided. The poll's margin of error is said to be plus or minus 3.5 points for registered voters.

The survey, conducted by Mark Baldassare, chairman of UCI's department of urban planning, assumes a voter turnout of 78% in the November election, which would mirror the four most recent presidential contests.

Dole "is way off from the margin he needs in Orange County to win in the state," Baldassare said, adding that the poll indicates Dole's margin of victory in the county will be just 38,000 votes.

Typically, a Republican presidential candidate needs to carry Orange County by at least 300,000 votes to win in the state, say strategists from both parties. That's because the county is California's greatest Republican stronghold and the place GOP candidates rely upon to offset large Democratic majorities in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

In 1992, then-President George Bush defeated Clinton in Orange County by 120,000 votes--a margin of 44% to 32%. But he lost the state's 54 electoral votes to Clinton by 46% to 33%.

Baldassare said Dole needs the huge margin Bush commanded in 1988, when he beat Democratic nominee Michael S. Dukakis by 320,000 votes in Orange County and captured California.

Dole is not even matching Orange County's 52% Republican registration, while Clinton is running well ahead of the county's 32% Democratic registration, indicating that Dole is not holding onto the GOP base, while Clinton is expanding his.

"A number of factors all point to the reason we have a tie in Orange County," Baldassare said. "Independents and third-party voters are swinging for Clinton and a sizable number of Republicans are saying they are supporting Clinton."

The survey showed Clinton holding a dominating lead over Dole among independents, 42% to 25%, with Perot at 14%. Perot seems to have lost a good part of his following: His 5% among all voters is a far cry from the 24% he won in Orange County in 1992.

As expected, Clinton's support is high among Democrats--81% to 8% over Dole, and among women, who favor him 44% to 38%. Dole was slightly ahead among men, 44% to 41%, and while he garnered 66% of the Republicans, Clinton has attracted 18% of GOP voters.

The survey also found strong Orange County support for Measure A, an initiative on the Nov. 5 ballot that would limit members of the Orange County Board of Supervisors to two four-year terms, and for Proposition 209, the Initiative that would prohibit discrimination or preferential treatment by schools or government agencies based on race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin.

Registered voters favor term limits for supervisors by an almost 4-1 ratio. Proposition 209 is also heavily favored, leading by more than 2 to 1, the survey showed.

Democrats welcomed the news from the presidential portion of the survey, while Republicans vigorously attacked the poll.

"Those results don't surprise me, because the issues that are of concern in Orange County--education, public safety and the economy--are issues where the president has made a difference over four years," said Thomas Umberg, the former Orange County assemblyman who leads the Clinton campaign statewide.

"People in Orange County obviously don't want to take a risk on Bob Dole and his very volatile economic proposal," Umberg added.

GOP County Chairman Thomas A. Fuentes said the poll "does not reflect any similarity" to the support or energy in the county for Dole among GOP activists and volunteers.

"This poll is a survey of opinion following several months of nonspending by Republicans and vigorous spending by Democrats," he said. "We have just now gone back to the airwaves to convey a message."

Fuentes also questioned the poll's integrity, noting that the authors of the poll--Baldassare and his research associate and spouse, Cheryl Katz--are registered Democrats. "UCI has long had severe Democrat bias and we have to consider it as a Democrat-inclined media source," he said.

Political consultant Ken Khachigian, who is running the Dole campaign in California, scoffed at the poll, which was conducted over 10 days beginning Aug. 30, the day after the Democratic convention. That was the same date, however, on which Dole kicked off his national campaign with a rally in Costa Mesa.

"It is the least credible poll I have ever seen," Khachigian said through a spokesman. "Baldassare has a proven track record of undercounting and underreporting support for Republicans in Orange County."

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