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Video: Californians and Their Government

Mary Severance June 8, 2020
photo - California State Capital

While Californians are worried about COVID-19 and its economic consequences, most approve of the way Governor Newsom is handling the pandemic and the issue of jobs and the economy. Last Thursday, PPIC researcher Rachel Lawler outlined these and other important findings of the latest statewide survey and PPIC president Mark Baldassare offered some key takeaways.

Lawler noted that Governor Newsom’s overall approval rating is the highest it has been since he took office last year. Most Californians are wary of lifting social distancing measures too soon, and an overwhelming majority support the governor’s expansion of vote-by-mail for the November election. While 59% approve of Newsom’s handling of jobs and the economy, optimism about the state’s economic outlook has plunged to 23%, the lowest level since the Great Recession.

Baldassare sees Governor Newsom’s high approval as a sign that “the governor’s actions in the past few months have been aligned with public preferences in terms of how to handle and how to prioritize the different problems that the state is facing.”

Many Californians are concerned about getting COVID-19 and needing hospitalization, and most feel that the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is yet to come. One in three report that they have lost jobs or are receiving lower pay as a result of the pandemic.

Baldassare stressed the importance of assessing the pandemic’s impact in the context of long-term racial and economic disparities. He pointed out that “the level of distress—both on the health side and the economic side—is much, much higher” among lower-income, Latino, African American Californians than among those who are white and whose financial circumstances were better before the crisis.

The pandemic does not seem to have affected Californians’ views of President Trump and the federal government: both Trump’s approval rating and levels of trust in the government remain low. And very few Californians are undecided about the presidential race; 57% plan to vote for Joe Biden, while 33% favor Trump.

Baldassare said that these numbers reflect “a level of political polarization that we came into this crisis with,” adding that “it’s evident in many other results in the survey that Californians who support Donald Trump and his actions and those who oppose Trump and his actions have not been changed by anything that has taken place.”

The current survey ended on May 26, a day after George Floyd died in police custody. Recent PPIC Statewide Surveys have found large racial disparities in opinion about police treatment and race relations. African Americans have been much less likely than other Californians to say that the police treat all ethnic and racial groups fairly, and have increasingly said that race relations are worsening. However, Baldassare noted that widespread participation in the protests over Floyd’s death suggests that many Californians are disturbed by institutional racism and inequality.

If the protests mobilize Americans to vote in the general election, Baldassare added, they could have “a profound impact on turnout” and affect the outcome of races across the country.

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