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Press Release · August 27, 2008

Ban on Gay Marriage Trails — Voters Split on Teen Abortion Constraints, Redistricting

Economic Angst, a Partisan Divide, Softening Support for Obama Mark Start of Election Season

SAN FRANCISCO, California, August 27, 2008 — A majority of California’s likely voters oppose Proposition 8, the November ballot measure that would eliminate gay marriage, according to a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Likely voters are divided on two other closely watched measures – one that would require a parent to be notified before a teenager has an abortion and one that would take the power to draw legislative district lines away from the legislature.

As the fall campaign season begins, Californians are united in their pessimism about the direction of the state and nation and in their worries about the economy. But they are split sharply on key issues ranging from the state budget to health care and the war in Iraq. Their views on the three state ballot issues – Propositions 4, 8, and 11 – reveal the fault lines among voters.

Proposition 8, which would amend the state constitution to eliminate same-sex marriage, is favored by 40 percent and opposed by 54 percent of the state’s likely voters. Democratic (66%) and independent likely voters (59%) are against it, and Republican likely voters are in favor (60%). The last time voters decided this issue – in 2000 – they approved a ban on same-sex marriages by a wide margin (61% yes, 39% no). After the state Supreme Court ruled that ban unconstitutional, supporters of Proposition 8 qualified the initiative for the 2008 ballot.

Opposition to Proposition 8 this year is not an indication of a dramatic shift in voters’ opinions. Asked whether they favor letting gay and lesbian couples marry, likely voters are evenly split (47% in favor, 47% opposed) and have been since August 2005. Also playing a role in the November outcome is how strongly voters feel about the issue. A majority of likely voters (57%) in favor of Proposition 8 say it is a very important issue to them, while less than half (44%) of those opposed to the measure consider it a very important issue.

“It’s early in the campaign season, and in the end, the vote on this measure, like the other two, could be hard to predict,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “Overall views on gay marriage have not budged in a year. Californians who plan to vote for Proposition 8 appear to hold that view with greater intensity than the opposition — which means they are very motivated to vote.”


Likely voters are divided over Proposition 4, which would amend the state Constitution to require that a parent be notified at least 48 hours before a minor has an abortion: 47 percent are in favor and 44 percent are opposed. Most Republicans (62%) favor the initiative, most Democrats (56%) are opposed, and independents are divided (48% yes, 44% no). Californians defeated a similar measure in 2005 (47% yes, 53% no) and in 2006 (46% yes, 54% no). These views on Proposition 4’s parental notification requirement do not signal a shift in opinion on abortion: Seven in 10 likely voters (71%) think the government should not interfere with a women’s access to abortion, similar to their response in February 2004 (74%).

Proposition 11, which would give a commission of registered voters the authority to determine state legislative districts, has split California’s likely voters as well (39% yes, 36% no, 25% undecided). Republicans (47%) are somewhat more likely than independents (39%) and far more likely than Democrats (31%) to support the measure, which is championed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 2005, a measure that would have turned redistricting over to a panel of retired judges was trounced (40% yes, 60% no).

Likely voters’ apparent lack of support for Proposition 11 does not indicate satisfaction with the current system: Seven in 10 say the redistricting process needs major (42%) or minor (27%) changes, and more than half (56%) say state legislators would more effectively represent their districts if an independent commission of citizens redrew district lines.


Worried about the state’s future and distrustful of their leaders in Sacramento, Californians are in a grim mood. A record-high percentage of likely voters (39%) name jobs and the economy as the most important issue facing the state. Other concerns expressed by residents include the state budget situation (14%), education (7%), immigration (7%), and gas prices (5%). Most likely voters (75%) say California is already in an economic recession, and most (68%) say the state is headed in the wrong direction.

With the state’s leaders locked in a stalemate over an overdue budget, the governor’s approval rating has dropped among likely voters from 49 percent in July to 43 percent. The legislature fares even worse, with only 20 percent of likely voters approving of the lawmakers’ performance.

Most likely voters (84%) consider the budget impasse a big problem – the highest percentage since May 2004, when voters agreed to close the state’s budget gap by borrowing money in a multibillion-dollar bond sale. How would they deal with the budget shortfall this year? A plurality (44%) opts for a mix of spending cuts and tax increases. Fewer (38%) would fill the gap mostly by cutting spending, and far fewer would do so mostly by increasing taxes (8%) or by borrowing money and running a deficit (4%).


The PPIC survey – taken before the conventions and announcements of vice presidential candidates – finds that Sen. Barack Obama’s lead over Sen. John McCain among likely voters (48% Obama, 39% McCain) has declined by 6 points since July (50% Obama, 35% McCain).

The most significant shift is among independent likely voters, with Obama’s share of their vote dropping 9 points (from 57% to 48%), while McCain’s share has increased 12 points (21% to 33%). Obama has the overwhelming support of Democratic likely voters (81%), and McCain’s support among Republicans is similarly strong (77%). Among other groups, female likely voters prefer Obama to McCain (53% to 32%), while men are divided (42% Obama, 46% McCain). Latino likely voters overwhelmingly prefer Obama (71% Obama, 16% McCain), and whites prefer McCain (38% Obama, 47% McCain). Likely voters under age 35 strongly favor Obama over McCain (65% Obama, 21% McCain), while support among likely voters age 55 and older is divided (43% Obama, 45% McCain).

In a worrisome sign for both candidates, likely voters are not especially satisfied with their choices for president. Just 48 percent say they are satisfied with their choices, and 49 percent are not. Now that the field has been winnowed, satisfaction with the candidates is much lower than it was during the primary season in January, when 64 percent were satisfied and 31 percent were not. Across parties today, more Democrats are satisfied (68%) than independents (40%) or Republicans (35%).


When asked what they would like the presidential candidates to talk about, the issue that California’s likely voters mention most often is the economy (34%), followed by the war in Iraq (12%), energy (8%), and foreign policy, health care, and immigration (6% each). The economy tops the list of issues among registered voters regardless of party (38% Democrats, 35% independents, 32% Republicans). It is also the top issue among Latinos (39%), followed by the war in Iraq (15%) and immigration (8%).

While united in their concern about the economy, California’s registered voters are split along partisan lines in their opinions about the government’s role in regulating it. In the aftermath of the subprime mortgage collapse, solid majorities of Democrats (67%) and independents (58%) think government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest, while less than half (41%) of Republicans hold this view.

Similar divisions show up on other issues likely to be discussed in the presidential campaign:

  • War in Iraq: More than four in 10 likely voters (45%) say things are going somewhat well or very well for the United States in Iraq, a 26 point improvement since June 2007. But there are strong divisions across party lines in the views of registered voters: While 71 percent of Republicans feel this way, only 39 percent of independents and 20 percent of Democrats do. There are also vast partisan differences among registered voters about when to bring the troops home. While 76 percent of Democrats think the troops should be brought home as soon as possible, just 24 percent of Republicans share this view. Seventy-three percent of Republicans think the U.S. should keep troops in Iraq until the situation is stabilized, compared to 20 percent of Democrats.
  • U.S. security: Half of likely voters (51%) doubt the positive effects of the Iraq war on the long-term security of the United States. But among registered voters, Democrats (68%) and independents (55%) are far more likely to hold this view than Republicans (27%).
  • Immigration: California’s likely voters are divided in their perceptions of whether immigrants are a benefit (48%) or burden (45%) to the state. Once more, a closer look reveals a partisan split among registered voters, with 63 percent of Democrats viewing immigrants as a benefit and 66 percent of Republicans viewing them as a burden. Independents are more likely to say immigrants are a benefit (53%) than a burden (38%). When asked their views about immigrants who have lived and worked in the United States for at least two years, 65 percent of likely voters say they should be given a chance to keep their jobs and apply for legal status, while 31 percent say they should be deported. Solid majorities of Democrats (77%) and independents (63%) favor a pathway to citizenship for immigrants, while Republicans are split (49% favor a pathway to citizenship, 45% favor deportation).
  • Health care: A majority of likely voters (54%) favor a universal health care system run by the government and financed by taxpayers, compared to nearly four in 10 (39%) who prefer the current system. Among registered voters, Democrats (76%) and independents (62%) are more likely than Republicans (31%) to favor universal health care. Just over half of likely voters (54%) would be willing to pay higher health insurance premiums or taxes to increase the number of Americans who have health insurance. Among political groups of registered voters, most Democrats (66%) and independents (59%) would be willing to pay more, while most Republicans (59%) would not.


Californians say state government wastes a lot of money – Page 18
Six in 10 likely voters (63%) say the state government wastes a lot of the money they pay in taxes.

Approval of Congress drops to record low – Page 15
Approval rating of Congress hits a new low of 22 percent, while President Bush’s approval rating dips to 27 percent among likely voters, near his all-time low of 25 percent in July 2007.

Homeland security seven years after 9/11 – Page 21
A quarter of likely voters (24%) say terrorism and homeland security are big problems in California, nearly identical to perceptions before the last presidential election in 2004 and somewhat lower than the percentage in 2001 in the aftermath of September 11th.


This survey is the in 30thin the Californians and Their Government series and is supported with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. It seeks to raise public awareness, inform decisionmakers, and stimulate public discussion on state and national issues and the November general election. This is the 89th PPIC Statewide Survey in a series that has generated a database that includes the responses of more than 189,000 Californians. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,001 California adult residents interviewed from August 12–19, 2008. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2% and for the 1,047 likely voters is +/- 3%. 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 a private, nonprofit organization 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. 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.