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Press Release · September 25, 2013

Amid Concerns About Crime, Half Favor Plan to Ease Prison Crowding

Majoriities Want Fracking Regulated And—For First Time—Marijuana Legalized

SAN FRANCISCO, September 25, 2013—Half of Californians support the plan approved by the governor and legislature to reduce prison overcrowding, according to a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. At the same time, overwhelming majorities are concerned about the possible early release of thousands of prisoners that the plan is designed to prevent.

When read a description of the corrections plan, 52 percent of adults and likely voters are in favor, while 39 percent of adults and 40 percent of likely voters are opposed. Levels of support are similar across parties, with 53 percent of Democrats, 55 percent of Republicans, and 50 percent of independents in favor. The plan calls for Governor Jerry Brown to ask federal judges for a three-year extension of their order to reduce the prison population by nearly 10,000 inmates by the end of December. The goal is to give the state more time to expand rehabilitation programs aimed at reducing the number of repeat offenders. If the governor’s request is denied, California would expand prison capacity by leasing space in private, local, and out-of-state facilities—and avoid early release of the inmates.

Most Californians are very concerned (47%) or somewhat concerned (31%) about the early release of the prisoners. Just 21 percent are not too (14%) or not at all (7%) concerned. Strong majorities across parties are at least somewhat concerned.

Californians express these views of the corrections plan at a time when local governments have taken on a new public safety role. Under the corrections realignment implemented in October 2011, the state shifted lower-risk felons from state prisons to county jails to reduce prison overcrowding and cut costs. Californians’ confidence in their local governments’ ability to handle these new tasks has declined since realignment began. Today, less than half are confident (7% very, 33% somewhat) about their local government’s ability to do so. Confidence was higher in September 2011 (48%), December 2011 (53%), January 2012 (50%), and January 2013 (49%) than it is today (40%).

“Crime and public safety issues are surfacing in California today,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “Public confidence in local governments to handle the responsibilities of state-local corrections realignment is declining, while many also express concern about the possible early release of state prisoners.”

Half of Californians are concerned about violence and street crime in their communities, with 22 percent saying it is a big problem and 30 percent saying it is somewhat of a problem (48% not much of a problem). Black and Latino Californians are much more likely to see violence and street crime as at least somewhat of a problem (64% each) than are Asians (46%) and whites (44%). Across regions, 64 percent of residents in the Central Valley and 61 percent in the Inland Empire see violence and street crime as at least somewhat of a problem, while fewer in the San Francisco Bay Area (53%), Los Angeles (46%), and Orange/San Diego (44%) hold this view.

How do Californians feel about their local government’s efforts to reduce violence and street crime? Half (50%) say their local government is doing the right amount, while 41 percent say it is not doing enough (5% too much). Race/ethnicity is a key factor in how residents view efforts to combat crime: while most whites (59%) and Asians (56%) say their local government is doing the right amount, blacks (56%) and Latinos (49%) are more likely to say their government is not doing enough.

Most Confident That School Districts Will Spend New Funds Wisely

In another area where responsibilities have shifted to the local level, school districts are getting more control over how state education dollars are spent. A majority of adults (60%) are very or somewhat confident that their districts will use the money wisely. Confidence was higher earlier this year, when larger majorities said they were at least somewhat confident (January 71%, April 73%).

Despite increases in state funding for education, 86 percent of adults say the state budget situation is at least somewhat of a problem for the state’s public schools. Adults express overwhelming support (72%) for the part of the state budget that gives each K–12 school district more money than in 2011–12 and directs additional funding to districts with more English Learners and lower-income students.

Opposed To More Fracking, Divided On Water Policy

The PPIC survey began as legislators entered the final week of their session and were debating a bill to regulate fracking. The bill, SB4, passed and was signed by the governor. More Californians (53%) continue to oppose than favor (32%) increased use of fracking. Support for stricter state regulation of fracking has increased slightly since July, from 50 percent of adults (and 56% of likely voters) to 56 percent today (61% likely voters). When asked specifically about two components of SB4—requiring oil companies to obtain permits and requiring them to disclose information on chemicals used in oil extraction techniques—most (80% adults, 87% likely voters) are in favor.

There is less agreement among Californians on water policy. About half (53%) say the water supply for their part of the state will be somewhat or very inadequate in 10 years. And residents are divided about how to plan for the future. About half (49%) say we should focus on conservation, user allocation, and other strategies to manage water more efficiently, while 45 percent say we need to build new water storage systems. How should the state increase funding for water and infrastructure projects? Half (48%) prefer that the state issue bonds, 25 percent say user fees and charges should be increased, and 13 percent say taxes for all Californians should be raised. Asked about a proposed $6.5 billion bond measure to fund water projects, 55 percent of adults and 50 percent of likely voters would vote yes.

Slim Majority Favor Health Care Reform

As House Republicans press a campaign to defund the Affordable Care Act, a slim majority of Californians (53%) support the changes to the health care system enacted by President Barack Obama and Congress. Support has been around 50 percent since September 2009, about six months before the law’s passage. Today, slightly more than half of those who have insurance (52%) and those who do not (56%) support the law. Those with government-based insurance, such as Medicare or Medi-Cal, are more likely than those with employer-based coverage to express support (63% to 49%). How do Californians feel their families will fare under the law? About a quarter (26%) say they will be better off, a quarter (24%) say they will be worse off, and 43 percent do not expect the law to make much difference.

With a potential government shutdown on October 1 and the deadline to raise the debt limit soon after, Californians are divided over the way Obama is handling this issue (46% approve, 46% disapprove). This is a decline from January, when 56 percent approved of the president’s handling of the deficit and debt ceiling. A solid majority (63%) disapprove of the way congressional Republicans are handling the issue, the same as in January (63% disapprove).

Although comprehensive immigration reform appears to be stalled in Congress, 85 percent of Californians support a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who fulfill certain requirements, including a waiting period, paying fines and back taxes, passing criminal background checks, and learning English. Majorities across parties, regions, and demographic groups favor this idea. Asked whether border security or addressing the status of illegal immigrants should be a higher priority, 51 percent choose addressing immigrants’ status and 41 percent favor securing the nation’s border.

Baldassare notes: “At a time when Californians are deeply divided along party lines on health care reform, there’s overwhelming support for a path to citizenship as part of a federal immigration reform package.”

There is also consensus among Californians on a key aspect of U.S. policy in response to the Syrian crisis: 70 percent of Californians say they are opposed to military air strikes, a view held across parties, regions, and age, education, income, and racial/ethnic groups. Asked about the Russian proposal to deal with Syria’s chemical weapons, half of Californians (52%) are at least somewhat optimistic that it will succeed.

Record-high Support For Legalizing Marijuana, Same-sex Marriage

Majorities of Californians support legalizing marijuana and same-sex marriage and preserving access to abortion—three social issues that have been contentious across the nation. A slim majority of adults (52%) say marijuana use should be legalized—a record high and the first time support has been above 50 percent. A larger majority of likely voters (60%) favor legalization. Democrats (64%), independents (60%), and men (57%) are more likely than Republicans (45%) and women (47%) to favor legalization. Majorities (61% adults, 68% likely voters) also say the U.S. government should not enforce federal marijuana laws in the states that allow marijuana use.

Support for same-sex marriage is also at a record high, with 61 percent of adults and 64 percent of likely voters in favor. Strong majorities of Democrats (76%) and independents (67%) favor allowing gays and lesbians to legally marry, while 53 percent of Republicans are opposed. Although support continues to be higher among young Californians, a majority of those age 55 and older (55%) are also in favor for the first time. Support has increased 15 points among mainline Protestants since May (55% to 70%).

Large majorities (70% adults, 79% likely voters) say the government should not interfere with a woman’s access to abortion. This view is held by majorities across parties, regions, and demographic groups. And 69 percent say the Supreme Court should leave access to abortion the way it is now (49%) or make it more accessible (20%), compared to 27 percent who would like the court to make it less accessible.

More Key Findings

  • Governor’s approval rating holds steady—page 7
    Half of adults (48%) and likely voters (49%) approve of Brown’s job performance, similar to the previous six surveys. The legislature’s approval rating (adults 38%, likely voters 32%) is up from September 2012 (adults 30%, likely voters 22%). And 42 percent of adults (40% likely voters) approve of the job their own legislative representatives are doing.
  • Obama’s approval rating dips below 60 percent among all adults—pages 16 and 17
    While a majority of Californians (55%) approve of the president’s job performance, his approval rating is below 60 percent for the first time since July 2012. Congress’ job approval rating remains low, at 28 percent. Californians are more approving of their own representative in Congress (47% approve). Senator Dianne Feinstein’s approval rating is 49 percent and Senator Barbara Boxer’s is 47 percent.


The PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,703 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from September 10–17, 2013. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.

The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.7 percent for all adults, ±4.0 percent for the 1,429 registered voters, and ±4.5 percent for the 1,102 likely voters. Question 29a was asked of 1,154 adults beginning September 13, and the sampling error is ±4.4 percent. For more information on methodology, see page 25.

Mark Baldassare is president and CEO of 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.

PPIC is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. As a private operating foundation, 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.