A poll released Tuesday by Brandman University indicates that two key issues — guns and immigration — could become a factor in the Sheriff’s race given the more polarized electorate that usually shows up to primary elections.

The poll shows Republicans in Orange County are significantly more hostile toward immigrants than Democrats or independent voters. But everyone in the county has a more negative view toward immigrants than they did 10 years ago.

And, according to the poll, the County as a whole has become friendlier to guns in the past 10 years, showing that its libertarian streak is alive and well despite increasing urbanization.

In the race for Sheriff, both front runners have been mindful of the immigration debate with Sheriff Sandra Hutchens moving to get the federal government to use Orange County as a storage facility for immigrant felons and Bill Hunt using his friendship with Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio as a sign of his toughness on the issue.

Hunt and Hutchens’ other challenger, Craig Hunter, also have made the issuance of concealed weapons permits a key part of their campaigns, saying that Hutchens’ policies are a better match for a more liberal community, such as Los Angeles where Hutchens was a high ranking official at the Sheriff’s department.

Hutchens, meanwhile, has told voters that if they want more guns they should vote for one of her opponents.

When asked whether the government doesn’t do enough to regulate access to guns, 63 percent of those polled agreed in 2000. By the time of the Brandman poll in 2010, the number was down to 54 percent.

The poll also showed that support for guns runs very high among Republicans (59 percent) while much lower among Democrats (23 percent). Independents are at (46 percent).

Poll director and Brandman University Professor Fred Smoller — who directed the poll project — wrote that the nine-point drop in support for gun control “may be an expression of an overall dislike of government regulation of any sort, especially among male Republicans, that has been historically part of Orange County’s libertarian political culture.”

The Brandman poll also indicated that attitudes toward immigration have hardened, especially among Republicans. That is likely to drive mail in the next month to the party faithful. But the numbers also indicate that candidates may have to smooth their rhetoric once they reach a general electorate in November.

When pollsters posed the statement, “Immigrants today are a benefit to California because of their hard work and job skills,” only 21 percent of Republicans agreed.

That’s in stark contrast to 58 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of independents.

When asked whether “immigrants today are a burden to California because they use public services,” the same trend appeared.

Republicans agreed with a 66 percent margin. Meanwhile, only 38 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of independents agreed.

One interesting twist in the poll is that interviewers didn’t use the word “illegal” immigrant, which is rare in that it seems to be soliciting opinions on immigrants.

Smoller, who directed the project as a follow up to the traditional Orange County poll conducted in recent decades by the University of California at Irvine, said researchers didn’t use the word “illegal” because the previous poll in 2000 also didn’t and they wanted to be able to make statistical comparisons.

The telephone survey of 675 adults was conducted from April 15 to April 27. The margin of error for the poll was 3.8 percent with a 95 percent confidence level.

For more on the poll, check out the Register’s coverage.


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