This has been another extraordinarily challenging year. It began with a shocking spectacle—a violent attack on our nation’s Capitol by a mob intent on delegitimizing a presidential election. Throughout the year, bitter partisan disagreements informed responses to a relentless pandemic and severe economic disruption. In California, a gubernatorial recall stirred a deeply divided, hyper-partisan electorate to vote in an election whose results were a foregone conclusion in a state where Democrats hold a 22 point edge in voter registration.
Despite these challenging times, we at PPIC want to affirm our belief in the power of shared knowledge and facts to counteract the forces of division and strife. Today, our work feels more important than ever, especially since nonpartisan, objective, and rigorous analysis must vie for attention in a world awash in misinformation. We remain dedicated to offering events based on constructive, respectful dialogue—with diverse voices across the political spectrum—that aims to confront and solve the state’s most pressing issues.
This year, as in 2020, many of California’s longstanding challenges were highlighted—and heightened—by the COVID-19 crisis. But the crisis has also spurred action on many fronts. Through our website and our interactions with stakeholders, PPIC provided essential facts and information that helped state leaders measure and address the pandemic’s impact on education, health and well-being, the economy, and more. We also examined the many ways COVID-19 has changed our state—as well as the impact of state and federal relief and recovery efforts.
- We assessed the pandemic’s continuing economic impact and looked at how federal and state relief measures might affect California’s labor market.
- We charted California’s progress toward narrowing its digital divide and reopening its public schools.
- We explored health coverage and safety net issues—finding, for example, that pandemic aid helped maintain essential water services and reduce poverty in California.
- In conversations with state leaders and on our blog, we spotlighted key issues related to the vaccine rollout.
- We tracked crime trends and focused on the spread of COVID-19 in California’s prisons and jails.
- We examined how state policies intended to ensure safe elections affected voter participation.
As California looks to the future, policymakers need to find common ground on what an equitable pandemic recovery might look like—and what the state should do to promote it. Through rigorous research and conversations with a wide range of stakeholders, PPIC has focused on key issues across policy areas, helping state leaders find sustainable, equity-centered approaches to long-term challenges.
- Drought and wildfire. California’s battle with increasingly extreme climate events makes the work of the PPIC Water Policy Center more critical than ever. Reports on improving water markets, re-thinking forest management to prevent extreme wildfires, and identifying long-term strategies for groundwater sustainability offered practical, durable approaches to managing the state’s precious natural resources.
- Recall election. In the run-up to the gubernatorial recall, the PPIC Statewide Survey provided essential information on the views of California’s voters. A series of blog posts on the recall—and the potential for reform—offered insight into the past, present, and future of this much-discussed tool of direct democracy.
- Criminal justice. PPIC research found sharp disparities across racial/ethnic lines in the experience of law enforcement in California, from police stops to the use of force—with Black Californians much more likely than others to experience both.
- Educational opportunity. In a blog series on the geography of educational opportunity, PPIC’s Higher Education Center identified areas in which historically underrepresented students are making strong progress and places where improvement is needed. The center’s work also highlighted policies—such as dual enrollment and reforms in remedial education—that have expanded student access to and completion of college courses.
- Economic mobility and inequality. Equity and opportunity are key to California’s future—and to PPIC’s work. In our final PPIC Statewide Survey of the year, seven in ten Californians said that the gap between rich and poor is getting larger in their part of the state. Most Californians favor policies that close this gap, and strong majorities support policies ranging from tuition-free college, to increased funding for job training, to expanded childcare for lower-income working parents.
We are reaching our audiences with a wide range of content―from in-depth reports to blog posts to video briefings―and our social media presence has grown by leaps and bounds. Our online events―from small briefings to large-scale conferences―have engaged Californians throughout the state. Finally, our recently redesigned website features new products and tools that highlight PPIC’s timely, relevant insights. Our aim is to make our resources easier to read, engage with, and share.
Our work has had an impact on policymaking in Sacramento and across the state. PPIC was cited in the bill text or analysis of 71 bills during the 2020–21 legislative session, 35 of which were signed into law. A range of state and local policymakers—from higher education leaders to water agency directors—have also cited PPIC’s work.
In the coming year, as California adapts to a rapidly changing policy environment, PPIC will focus on equitable, effective, and efficient solutions to a wide range of policy challenges. Over the next few months, we will pursue a variety of critical issues, including K–12 funding and student outcomes, the multifaceted effects of the current drought, public opinion during a high-stakes election year, and strategies for improving economic opportunity across our state.
As always, we will aim to inspire productive dialogue and thoughtful action to build a brighter future for our state.