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Special Survey On Californians And The Initiative Process: Bad Time For The Ballot Box: Californians Disapprove Of Special Election, Schwarzenegger, State Government

Commitment to Initiative Process Not Enough To Overcome Distaste For November Election

SAN FRANCISCO, California, August 25, 2005 — Californians’ steadfast endorsement of the initiative process is not triggering support for this fall’s initiative-focused special election – nor for the man who called it, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Among Californians who are most likely to vote in November, support for the once-popular governor, and the propositions he is backing, ranges from shaky to poor, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from The James Irvine Foundation.

A majority of likely voters across age, income, education, racial and ethnic groups, and in every region of the state, oppose holding a special election this fall and would prefer to shelve the ballot measures until the state’s next scheduled election in 2006. Only 36 percent believe it’s better to hold the special election; 60 percent say it’s better to wait. Even among registered Republicans, holding a special election has a bare majority of support (52%) and substantial opposition (41%). Democrats (76%) are overwhelmingly against holding the election, as are a majority of independents (56%). Negative attitudes toward the election seem to extend to measures supported by the governor; and in opposing them, voters are rejecting key components of the overall reform agenda Schwarzenegger has proposed:

  • Teacher tenure (Proposition 74) – Likely voters are split over whether or not to increase probationary periods for public school teachers (49% support, 42% oppose, 9% undecided) – despite the fact that 75 percent say poor teacher performance is at least somewhat of a problem in the state.
  • Spending and funding limits (Proposition 76) – The measure to limit state spending and change school funding requirements is behind by a large margin (61% oppose, 28% support, 11% undecided).
  • Redistricting (Proposition 77) – More voters oppose (49%) rather than support (34%) the proposal to have a panel of retired judges rather than lawmakers draw legislative districts. However, a hefty 17 percent remain undecided.

“None of the propositions favored by the governor’s administration are inspiring much passion or enthusiasm among voters,” says PPIC survey director Mark Baldassare. “With little connecting them to this election, support for the entire enterprise is low.” But that doesn’t mean voters are not paying attention: Two-thirds (68%) say they are either very closely or fairly closely following election-related news. Still, this represents a much lower level of interest than voters had in the August 2003 recall election (89%). One telling sign of special election discontent? When asked which ballot issue was most important to them, more likely voters (16%) volunteered the answer “none” than named any one measure.

Of the propositions included in this survey, only Proposition 75, which requires employees’ consent to use union dues for political contributions – and is not part of Schwarzenegger’s reform agenda – currently has majority support. Over half (58%) of likely voters favor the measure, with strong support from Republicans (72%) and independents (64%) and measured support from Democrats (46%).

The Irresistible Initiative?

Although many would just as soon forgo November’s initiative fest, Californians of all ages, political persuasions, regions of the state, and racial/ethnic groups are still committed to the initiative process. Well over half (57%) say policies made by citizens’ initiatives are better than those made by state lawmakers, while one-quarter (25%) say they are worse. Nevertheless, there are misgivings about how the initiative process actually works. Only one in ten residents say they are very satisfied with the way the initiative process is working in the state, while one in four say they are not satisfied (58% are somewhat satisfied). “Because Californians support the idea of making public policy at the ballot box doesn’t mean they like the way the process is working,” says Baldassare. “Their support for direct democracy needs to be balanced with their concerns in thinking about the future of ballot-box policymaking in the state.”

California’s faith in the initiative shouldn’t be too surprising, given residents’ patent distrust of state government: Only 30 percent say they trust the government to do what is right just about always or most of the time – a scant improvement from the historic 27 percent low the PPIC Statewide Survey registered in the week before the 2003 recall election. Feeding the distrust are highly negative impressions about who runs the state – and how. Two-thirds (65%) of Californians believe that Sacramento is run by a few big interests rather than for the benefit of the people. And in another sign of dissatisfaction, more adults (61%) now believe the state government wastes a lot of taxpayer money than at any time since PPIC first asked this question in January 2001.

The Higher They Climb… Schwarzenegger’s Dwindling Approval

So how is the governor faring, given the sour mood? Heading into an election that bears heavily on the future of his political career, Governor Schwarzenegger’s approval ratings are at a low point. Currently, over half (54%) of Californians disapprove of the way he is handling his job, while only one-third (34%) approve (among likely voters, 50% disapprove, 41% approve). In his effort to reform state government, the governor receives similarly poor reviews – 35 percent approve but 50 percent disapprove of his performance. This is a sharp decline from earlier this year when 58 percent approved and only 30 percent disapproved of his reform efforts (see PPIC Statewide Survey, January 2005). Among residents, Latinos are especially negative in their assessment of the governor’s overall performance (73% disapprove, 17% approve). And overall, nearly six in 10 Californians say the state is generally going in the wrong direction.

Bush Report Card: Low Marks For Iraq, High Marks For Supreme Court Nominee

The governor is not the only one feeling heat from state residents. President Bush’s job approval ratings remain at the same low level they have been for the past year (58% disapprove, 38% approve). And the war in Iraq is very likely a contributing factor: Only three in 10 Californians approve of the president’s handling of the Iraq situation – a 24-point drop from the 55 percent approval rating he received in the pre-war days of September 2002. Californians are generally pessimistic about the war, with a mere 6 percent saying things are going very well, 24 percent saying they are going somewhat well, and 67 percent saying they are not going too well or not going well at all. Moreover, only one-third (33%) of residents believe the war has helped in the fight against terrorism, although they give President Bush mixed ratings in his handling of terrorism and homeland security issues (46% approve, 49% disapprove).

In contrast, President Bush’s nomination of Judge John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court has generated considerable support in the state. Far more Californians favor (49%) rather than oppose (24%) Judge Roberts’ confirmation – and when asked about his ideology, more residents say his ideas are about right (38%), than those who say they are too conservative (29%), or those who say they are not conservative enough (10%). Indeed, when it comes to the nation’s highest court, across California’s political spectrum, voters who are often at odds show striking agreement in their favorable view (52% of Democrats, and 53% of Republicans and independents approve of the job the Supreme Court is doing).

On Social Issues Partisanship Persists

However, when turning to social issues related to family, religious, patriotic, and moral beliefs, partisan division revives with a vengeance. And the special election is not exempt. Proposition 73, which requires doctors to notify parents when a minor seeks an abortion, is deeply dividing California’s likely voters, with 48 percent opposing and 44 percent supporting the measure. Democrats are responsible for most of the opposition (60% oppose, 34% support), while Republicans account for most of the support (61% support, 31% oppose). Independents are closely split (45% support, 47% oppose). In an exceptional area of agreement on abortion issues, strong majorities of California’s Democrats (81%), independents (75%), and Republicans (60%) oppose overturning Roe versus Wade.

On other social issues, voters are also divided along party lines. When it comes to same-sex marriage, independents and Democrats (both 56%) favor the right of same-sex couples to be legally married, compared to just 24 percent of Republicans. And while Republicans strongly favor (61%) a constitutional amendment making it illegal to burn the American flag, neither Democrats (42%) nor independents (44%) give the idea – which has passed the U.S. House of Representatives – majority support.

More Key Findings

  • Where the power really lies… — Page 7
    Heavy use of the initiative in California hasn’t changed beliefs about who holds the reins of power: More residents think the governor (34%) and the state legislature (35%) have the most influence in making public policy decisions than think initiatives are most influential (19%).
  • Trust issue worse among voters — Page 10
    Likely voters in California are even less likely than other adults (24% to 30%) to say they trust state government to do what’s right most of the time or just about always.
  • Most important issue? — Page 12
    The economy, jobs, and unemployment top Californian’s list (20%) of the most important problems facing the state today, followed by education and schools (15%) and immigration (9%).

About the Survey

This survey on the initiative process and special election – made possible by funding from The James Irvine Foundation – is a special edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey. This is the first in a series of three surveys designed to provide information about Californians attitudes toward the state’s initiative process and this November’s special election. Findings of this survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,004 California adult residents interviewed between August 8 and August 15, 2005. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for subgroups is larger. For more information on methodology, see page 19.

Mark Baldassare is research director at PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has directed since 1998. His recent book, A California State of Mind: The Conflicted Voter in a Changing World, is available at www.ppic.org.

PPIC is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy through objective, nonpartisan research on the economic, social, and political issues that affect Californians. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office.

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