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Californians’ Priorities for the Next Governor

Mark Baldassare November 19, 2018
photo - California State Capital

Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO and director of the PPIC Statewide Survey, spoke to the Sacramento Press Club on November 19, 2018 in a post-election discussion with Mark DiCamillo, director of the Berkeley IGS Poll. Here are his prepared remarks.

While we are still counting votes in California, the 2018 election can be called a sweeping success for Democratic candidates in the statewide races. Democrats also won the coveted two-thirds majorities in the state senate and state assembly, and increased their dominance of the California congressional delegation. The Republican Party’s efforts to stem their losses by getting behind what they hoped would be a popular gasoline tax repeal stalled as Proposition 6 fell short (57% no).

In the governor’s race, Democrat Gavin Newsom defeated Republican John Cox by a double-digit margin that was similar to the re-election win of Governor Jerry Brown over Neil Kashkari in 2014 (60% to 40%). Newsom was the leader in eight PPIC Statewide Surveys on the governor’s race conducted since last December. Cox surged to second place after President Trump endorsed him in the June primary, but he was unable to expand his base much beyond the president’s approval rating (39%, October PPIC survey).

What are Californians’ priorities for Governor-elect Newsom? California voters mentioned health care, immigration, the economy, the environment, and gun policy when asked to choose the most important issues facing the country in the exit polls (CNN poll, Fox poll). This list covers most, though not all, of the most important state issues mentioned in 2018 PPIC surveys. It also offers a good starting point for identifying issues that will shape the Newsom era. Here is what the 2018 PPIC surveys have to say about each one:

Health Care. A record-high 59 percent of Californians have a favorable view of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in the October PPIC survey. While 65 percent think it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure that all Americans have health coverage, just 34 percent say it should be provided via a single government program instead of the current mix of private and public programs. While 64 percent of adults favor a single-payer state government health plan, support drops to 41 percent if it means raising taxes, according to the May PPIC survey. In the wake of ACA repeal and replace efforts, California’s health insurance exchange and MediCal expansion seem to be generating more public support, while the desire for wholesale change are tempered by concerns about choices and costs.

Immigration. Seventy-four percent of Californians believe that immigrants are a benefit to the state, while 85 percent say that there should be a way for undocumented immigrants to stay in the country legally, according to the May PPIC survey. About three in four (74%) oppose building a wall along the border with Mexico in the October PPIC survey. Nearly six in 10 (58%) favor state and local governments taking action, separate from the federal government, to protect the legal rights of undocumented immigrants in California in the October PPIC survey. Given the large immigrant population and strongly held public views, the next governor will be expected to lead the resistance against federal policies.

The Economy. About half of Californians say they expect good times financially for the state (48%) and the nation (48%) over the next 12 months, according to the October PPIC survey. Still, jobs and the economy tops their list when asked to name the most important issue facing the state in the September PPIC survey. Related to this concern, 60 percent say that the state government should be doing more to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor in California. At least half across demographic groups and regions say the state should do more. The next governor’s challenge in meeting this expectation will be the ambivalence about footing the bill. Fifty percent say they prefer to pay higher taxes and have a state government that provides more services, and 77 percent of them say the state should do more. But of the 44 percent of Californians who would rather pay lower taxes and have fewer services, just 42 percent hold this view.

Environment. A record-high 56 percent of likely voters say that the gubernatorial candidates’ positions on the environment are very important in determining their vote, according to the July PPIC survey. Many Californians say they are concerned about the personal impact of global warming in the wake of a prolonged drought and in the face of growing evidence that extreme weather from climate change is resulting in more severe wildfires. As the federal government has dramatically changed course on environmental issues, most Californians say they want the state government to make its own policies to address global warming, and many say that it is important for California to act as a world leader in fighting climate change. Californians will be looking to the next governor to build on the work in progress, while dealing with environmental crises like the wildfires this fall and with legal challenges from the Trump Administration.

Gun Policy. Most Californians (64%) say the laws covering the sale of guns should be made stricter, according to the October PPIC survey. The belief that gun laws should be stricter was at a record-high 73 percent in the March PPIC survey, shortly after the devastating high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. In the wake of the recent tragic shooting in a bar in Thousand Oaks, California, the public’s belief that gun laws should be made stricter may climb higher. And with the absence of new federal legislation to address gun violence, the governor-elect will be asked to find ways to improve the current laws restricting guns in California.

Californians’ priorities also include big-ticket items such as universal preschool and tuition-free community college that would add up to “cradle to career” education, initiatives to tackle housing affordability and homelessness, and adequate water and transportation infrastructure. The next governor will also be tested by a Democratic-controlled legislature with pent-up demand for spending after eight years of fiscal caution under Governor Brown. The October PPIC survey offers this guidance if voter approval is needed: a majority of California adults prefer a bigger government with more services to a smaller government with fewer services (54% to 39%); however, a majority of likely voters prefer a smaller government with fewer services to a bigger government with more services (53% to 41%).

As the priorities, plans, and programs of the new governor take shape in the next year, the mission of the PPIC Statewide Survey—­­ to provide a voice for all adults and likely voters— is one that we take very seriously during this critical moment of policy development. And as we look to 2020, it’s important to remember that California will be playing an early and outsized role in the presidential election, with an early March 3 primary. PPIC will host a series of one-on-one public forums next year with state and national leaders, to discuss their leadership style and to explore their vision for the state’s and nation’s future.

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