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Voters Divided Over Whether to Recall Davis

Overall, 50% support the effort to remove the governor, while 45% oppose it. Republicans appear more likely to go to the polls.

August 23, 2003|Mark Z. Barabak | Times Staff Writer

California voters are closely divided over whether to recall Gov. Gray Davis and are concerned that the election might result in confusion and spawn future attempts at political payback, according to a new Los Angeles Times poll.

The survey, which ended Thursday night, finds a state nearly cleaved in half by partisan divisions. Democrats are overwhelmingly negative in their assessments of the recall process, while Republicans view the Oct. 7 vote in largely positive terms.

But in signs of danger for Davis, Republicans appear much more energized by the off-year election, meaning they are more likely to vote. At the same time, the governor has the support of just three in four of his fellow Democrats. Eighty-three percent of Republicans favor recalling him.

Overall, 50% of likely voters said they supported the effort to turn Davis out of office, while 45% were opposed. Most said their minds were firmly made up: Just 5% of those surveyed said they were still deciding how to cast their ballots.

Still, a great deal of uncertainty surrounds the election. The vote is unprecedented in California, and a gubernatorial recall effort has succeeded only once in the nation's history.

Turnout on Oct. 7 will be decisive and, given the unusual nature of the race, it is difficult to project exactly who will take part in the vote, which is just a little more than six weeks away. (The figures in the Times poll assume a disproportionately high Republican turnout.)

Other recent polls have shown stronger support for the recall effort. Susan Pinkus, director of the Times Poll, said that may reflect the timing of the surveys. "The dust has settled; people are becoming more pragmatic, realistic and serious about it," she said.

The Times Poll interviewed 1,351 registered voters between Aug. 16 and Aug. 21. Among them were 801 voters deemed likely to cast ballots in the recall election. The margin of sampling error for likely voters is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The survey turned up a deeply sour mood among Californians, with Davis -- the central figure in the recall drama -- bearing the brunt of that dissatisfaction.

Nearly eight in 10 likely voters said things in California were headed in the wrong direction, and nearly seven in 10 said the economy was in bad shape. Asked whom they blamed, a third said Davis was responsible for the weak economy, while the Legislature, controlled by Democrats, was faulted by 27%. Just 17% suggested that President Bush was responsible, despite Davis' assertions that national economic problems have dragged California down.

Overall, 72% of likely voters disapproved of Davis' job performance, including more than half of his fellow Democrats. Only 26% of likely voters approved.

One Democrat polled is Kimberly Perez, 33, a veterinary student in the Central Valley town of Galt. "I'm just not satisfied with the way the state's going right now," she said in a follow-up interview.

Specifically, she cited Davis' handling of the 2001 energy crisis and the cuts made to education as part of the budget he signed earlier this month.

"I just don't think he reacted soon enough to what was going on in our state," Perez said.

Davis' image as a poor leader is widely held and the main reason that likely voters said they wanted to oust him from office, less than a year after he won election to a second term. One in three of those who said they would recall him cited "mismanagement" as the reason, and 19% cited the energy crisis, which helped foster the governor's reputation for indecisiveness.

Even the vast majority of those opposed to the recall effort were not overly fond of the governor, citing concerns about the process -- rather than personal regard for Davis -- as the reason they were against the move to bounce him from office.

Roughly one in five of those opposed to the recall effort said the governor had been reelected fairly and deserved to serve a full four-year term. Thirteen percent cited the estimated $66 million cost, and 13% said the election was simply a "stupid idea."

"I don't think that's the way government ought to be run," said Andrew Culbreath, a 70-year-old Panorama City retiree and Democrat. "The recall is for cases of malfeasance or misuse of office. I don't think it should be used because you disagree with their policies."

Even though a plurality of likely voters said they favored recalling Davis, there is still concern -- and confusion -- about how the election will proceed.

The balloting will be a two-step process. First, voters will be asked whether or not Davis should be removed from office. Then, regardless of how-- or if -- they voted on that question, they can vote to choose his successor. If more than 50% favor recalling Davis, the candidate with the most votes on the second half of the ballot will take office as soon as election results are certified.

The survey found that nearly one in three voters was confused about how the election works, or was unsure about how to proceed upon receiving a ballot.

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