Californians begin the new year divided in their view of the state. According to the December 2014 PPIC Statewide Survey, half of California adults think the state is headed in the right direction (50%) and a similar proportion (52%) expect the state to have good economic times in the next 12 months. More than a third (37%) think California will be a better place to live in 2025, and a similar proportion (37%) believe children growing up in the state will be better off financially than their parents.
While most Californians responded to these questions with a mix of optimism and pessimism, we found some interesting differences between the 14% of Californians who gave positive responses to all four questions—let’s call them the optimists—and the 13% who expressed consistently negative views—the pessimists.
Demographically speaking, the optimists tend to be younger, less educated, and have lower incomes than the pessimists. Optimists are also less likely to have been born in the United States.
Politically, optimists are more likely to be Democrats and pessimists more likely to be Republicans. Optimists are spread across the ideological spectrum, while pessimists tend to be ideologically conservative. Optimists are also far less likely to be registered voters than their pessimistic counterparts.
The differences between the state’s optimists and pessimists are particularly stark when we examine their attitudes toward government. Even though optimists are less likely to be registered to vote, they are more trusting of government than pessimists: 63% of optimists believe that state government is run for the benefit of all the people, while 93% of pessimists think it is run by a few big interests. Moreover, optimists would prefer to pay higher taxes and have a state government that provides more services (71%), while pessimists favor lower taxes and fewer services (69%). More specifically, optimists are more likely than pessimists to support extending Proposition 30 tax increases (68% of optimists favor an extension, 67% of pessimists oppose) and are more likely to say they would be willing to pay more taxes to fund higher education (61%, compared to 23% of pessimists).
Will California’s trusting optimists become more electorally involved? Or is the record-low voter turnout in last November’s election a sign of increasing disengagement? Certainly, one of the state’s key challenges is to get more voters—both optimists and pessimists—to the polls.