New York Times
April 7, 2000

Mrs. Clinton Rolls Ahead of Giuliani as Senate Choice


Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's response to the shooting of Patrick M. Dorismond has resulted in his lowest job approval ratings in seven years in office, jolting his campaign for the United States Senate while catapulting Hillary Rodham Clinton into the lead for the first time in a year, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

The poll, which was completed on Wednesday night, found that Mr. Giuliani's attempt to discredit Mr. Dorismond after he was shot by a New York City police officer has raised concerns about the mayor's temperament and qualifications, while voters' perceptions of Mrs. Clinton have improved. The first lady now enjoys a 49 percent to 41 percent lead over Mr. Giuliani; when undecided voters were pressed to state their leaning, Mrs. Clinton moved a full 10 points ahead of Mr. Giuliani, 52 percent to 42 percent.

Strikingly, Mr. Giuliani is now tied with Mrs. Clinton upstate, where he is drawing just 44 percent of the vote, significantly less than what a successful Republican statewide customarily draws north of the suburbs. Mrs. Clinton has been campaigning regularly there, while Mr. Giuliani has been criticized by Republicans for spending little time north of City Hall.

Mr. Giuliani still commands a lead in the immediate suburbs. But in New York City, where his popularity was seen as a serious threat to Mrs. Clinton's Democratic base, Mrs. Clinton is now defeating Mr. Giuliani by nearly three to one, the Times/CBS News Poll found.

Mr. Giuliani, whose record as a crime fighter has lifted him to two victories in New York City and positioned him as a formidable Republican challenger to Mrs. Clinton statewide, has even suffered a steep decline in the way voters, statewide and in New York City, judge his actions on his signature issue: crime reduction. The number of New York City residents who disapprove of his handling of crime has jumped almost 30 points since fall, to 50 percent in this latest poll, and a majority believe that Mr. Giuliani's law enforcement policies have contributed to an increase in police brutality.

Misgivings among voters have spilled over from the mayor to the Police Department as well.

New York City residents say that the police are more likely to use deadly force against black suspects than white ones, and that brutality against minorities is widespread. Nearly two-thirds of people in New York City said the Police Department was doing only a fair or poor job, with the level of dismay particularly high among blacks.

Tension over police-community relations in the city has heightened in the last six weeks, since the acquittals of four officers in the police shooting of Amadou Diallo and then the shooting of Mr. Dorismond, an unarmed man killed by an undercover officer last month.

In the case of Mr. Dorismond, more than half of voters statewide said the shooting would not affect their vote, but one-third -- including 15 percent of the Republicans -- said they were less inclined to vote for Mr. Giuliani because of how he handled the case.

The Times/CBS News Poll was conducted Saturday through Wednesday, with 1,573 respondents statewide. The margin of sampling error for all registered voters statewide is three percentage points; for New York City residents, plus or minus four points.

Asked about the poll results last night on WCBS-AM, Mr. Giuliani said: "My reaction is the same to all polls. That is, they are momentary things." Then, alluding to the Dorismond shooting, Mr. Giuliani said the polls "are things that reflect sometimes coverage of a particular situation."

"I think when all the facts or known and everything is out there," he said, "things will return to a much different situation."

Mrs. Clinton's pollster, Mark Penn, attributed Mrs. Clinton's gains in the poll to her efforts to distinguish herself from Mr. Giuliani on issues, though he acknowledged that Mr. Giuliani's difficulties in recent weeks had undercut his campaign.

"The spotlight has been on his lack of leadership in New York City," Mr. Penn said, "and in fact now I think the fundamental rationale for his campaign is evaporating because if the people in New York City don't think he's done a good job as mayor, how is he going to run as that as the major reason for being the Senate?"

The election is seven months and dozens of polls away, as the mayor's aides noted yesterday, and Mr. Giuliani enjoys a large fund-raising edge over Mrs. Clinton. The advantage of that money became clear yesterday morning, as Mr. Giuliani began a statewide series of television advertisements. It was an early start for an advertising campaign that suggests both the prosperity and the level of concern in Mr. Giuliani's camp.

Still, even given the buffers of time and money, the Times/CBS News Poll suggested a number of reasons for worry on the part of Mr. Giuliani's campaign.

By large numbers, voters believed that Mr. Giuliani inflamed the situation over the Dorismond shooting and strongly disapproved of Mr. Giuliani's decision to release Mr. Dorismond's confidential police record. New York City residents have a decidedly negative view of Mr. Giuliani's handling of race relations, and more than three-quarters of the respondents in New York City described the shooting as unjustified, Mr. Giuliani's arguments notwithstanding.

Beyond the immediate moment of the Dorismond shooting, events over the last few weeks have appeared to reinforce the arguments Mrs. Clinton has offered against the mayor's candidacy. That is the kind of shift political analysts look for in polls, since it suggests a more lasting and difficult-to-change shift in voters' attitudes that tend to be more consequential than the back-and-forth of the weekly horse race.

An increasing number of voters do not believe that Mr. Giuliani cares about the "needs and problems of people like yourself," a measure on which Mrs. Clinton continues to score highly. About 35 percent of respondents said that Mr. Giuliani was trying to divide people, as Mrs. Clinton has repeatedly charged, compared with 40 percent who said that the mayor was seeking to bring people together. Two-thirds of the voters said Mrs. Clinton was trying to bring people together.

By an overwhelming margin, respondents said compromise was a an important attribute for a senator, and Mrs. Clinton was seen as the more adept compromiser of the two.

In addition, Mr. Giuliani's standing with black voters, which has never been strong, is weaker than ever; the number of New York City black voters who said they approved of Mr. Giuliani's job rating was so low as to be virtually unmeasurable. That could prove to be a meaningful finding, particularly if it turns out, as some Democrats now believe possible, that Mr. Giuliani's presence on the ballot might encourage a spike in turnout in black neighborhoods.

Voters' perceptions of Mr. Giuliani's performance have also slipped in areas besides crime and race relations. More voters offered a negative of view of Mr. Giuliani's record on education, which Mrs. Clinton has attacked Mr. Giuliani at almost every opportunity.

The poll also found evidence of a racial divide in New York City in perceptions of the Police Department. More than two-thirds of blacks said that brutality against minorities by the Police Department was widespread, compared with 23 percent of whites.

In the last Times/CBS News Poll, conducted in February, Mr. Giuliani and Mrs. Clinton were statistically tied.

In pulling ahead, Mrs. Clinton has gained support from male voters; the number of men backing Mr. Giuliani has dropped to 43 percent from 54 percent. Her standing among women has not changed; she is leading Mr. Giuliani, 52 percent to 38 percent.

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