PPIC Logo Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Press Release · October 20, 2010

Brown Leads Whitman—Boxer in Close Race With Fiorina

Nearly Half Favor Proposition 25, Fewer Support Propositions 19, 23, 24

SAN FRANCISCO, October 20, 2010—Democrat Jerry Brown leads Republican Meg Whitman in the governor’s race, and Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer is locked in a close contest with Republican challenger Carly Fiorina in the U.S Senate campaign. These are the results of a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with funding from The James Irvine Foundation.

Likely voters favor Brown over Whitman by 8 points (44% Brown, 36% Whitman, 16% undecided). The two candidates were in a virtual tie in September (38% Whitman, 37% Brown, 18% undecided). The Senate race is tight (43% Boxer, 38% Fiorina, 13% undecided) among likely voters. Boxer held a 7-point lead in September (42% Boxer, 35% Fiorina, 17% undecided).

In the final weeks of the campaign season, California’s likely voters express discontent in a number of ways: approval ratings of elected officials that are at or near record lows, a belief that the state and nation are headed in the wrong direction, and pessimism about the economy. While most (62%) are satisfied with their choice for U.S. Senate, more than half (55%) are dissatisfied with their choice for governor. Farther down the statewide ballot, none of the four state ballot initiatives included in the PPIC survey has the majority support today that is necessary for passage on November 2.

Looking to Washington, California likely voters are split over whether they would prefer a Congress controlled by Democrats or one controlled by Republicans (45% prefer control by Democrats, 43% control by Republicans). Should control of Congress switch to Republicans, 40 percent of likely voters say it would be a good thing, 33 percent say it would be bad, and 25 percent say it would make no difference.

“As they view their ballot options on Election Day, voters are united in their unhappiness with elected officials and the direction of government—but divided about the leadership they want to help meet the challenges in their lives,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

Californians approach the election with a dismal view of the economy. Nearly all adults (87%) continue to say that the state is in a recession, and 54 percent call it a serious recession. A majority of Californians (62%) are concerned (39% very concerned, 23% somewhat concerned) about having enough money to pay their rent or mortgage. With unemployment in double digits, 45 percent are very concerned (28%) or somewhat concerned (17%) that they or someone in their family will lose a job in the next year.

Independents Split in Races for Governor, Senate

Among likely voters, independents were more likely to support Whitman in September (38% Whitman, 30% Brown, 19% undecided) but are divided today (37% Whitman, 36% Brown, 19% undecided). Support for Brown has increased among Democrats (76% today, 63% September), liberals (82% today, 68% September), moderates (51% today, 39% September), women (47% today, 35% September), and Latinos (51% today, 32% September). Support for Whitman has held steady among Republicans (73% today, 71% September) and conservatives (63% today, 67% September). Men and whites remain divided.

Asked which candidate for governor would do a better job handling specific issues, likely voters prefer Brown over Whitman on education (47% to 37%), the environment (57% to 25%), and immigration (43% to 37%). They prefer Whitman over Brown on jobs and the economy (47% to 39%) and on the state budget and taxes (48% to 40%).

In the Senate race, independents are split (37% Fiorina, 36% Boxer, 18% undecided), as they were in September (34% Fiorina, 32% Boxer, 20% undecided). Support is up slightly for Boxer among Democrats (76% today, 72% September) and for Fiorina among Republicans (77% today, 72% September).

Support To Legalize Marijuana Drops Below Majority

Today, 44 percent of likely voters plan to vote for Proposition 19—the measure that would legalize marijuana—while 49 percent plan to vote against it, with 7 percent undecided. This is an 8-point drop in support since September (52% yes, 41% no, 7% undecided). Support has declined among Democrats (56% today, 63% September), dropped sharply among independents (40% today, 65% September), and remains low among Republicans (30% today, 32% September). Support has declined across nearly all demographic groups, most strikingly among Latinos (42% today, 63% September). Most likely voters say the outcome of the vote on Proposition 19 is important (52% very important, 28% somewhat important). Those planning to vote no are more likely to consider the outcome very important (67%) than those planning to vote yes (40%).

More Oppose Than Support Propositions 23, 24

Support has also declined for Proposition 23, the measure to suspend the state’s air pollution law until unemployment falls to at least 5.5 percent for one year. Likely voters are now much more likely to say they will vote no (48%) on the proposition than yes (37%), while in September they were closely divided (43% yes, 42% no). Across parties, opposition has increased slightly among Democrats (53% today, 48% September) and independents (54% today, 43% September), while support has held steady among Republicans (46% today, 45% September). Latinos, who favored Proposition 23 in September (54% yes, 36% no) are now divided (44% yes, 42% no). About half of likely voters (49%) say the outcome of the vote on Proposition 23 is very important and 33 percent say it is somewhat important.

Proposition 24 still has neither majority support nor opposition across parties, regions, and demographic groups. A plurality plans to vote no on the measure, which would repeal a law that grants businesses lower tax liability (38% no, 31% yes, 31% undecided). Asked about the importance of the vote on Proposition 24, 31 percent say it is very important and 37 percent say somewhat important.

Just under half of likely voters (49%) plan to vote for Proposition 25, 34 percent plan to vote no, and 17 percent are undecided about the measure, which would reduce the legislative threshold for budget passage from two-thirds to a simple majority. The results were nearly identical in September (48% yes, 35% no, 17% undecided). Support has increased among Democrats (58% today, 52% September), and a plurality of Republicans remain opposed (45% today, 43% September). Half of likely voters (50%) say the outcome of the vote on Proposition 25 is very important, and 32 percent say it is somewhat important. Majorities of those who support (56%) and those opposed (54%) consider the outcome very important.

Decision by Initiative: Voters Like It, but More of Them Want Changes

As they consider nine initiatives on the ballot, most likely voters (55%) say that decisions made by voters through the initiative process are probably better than those made by the governor and legislature and 30 percent say voters’ decisions are probably worse. This finding has stayed remarkably consistent: since PPIC first asked this question in October 2000, majorities have said decisions made by voters are probably better. Despite confidence in their own decisions, voters’ dissatisfaction with the initiative process has grown. Between 2000 and 2008, less than a third of likely voters said they were dissatisfied with the way the initiative process is working. Today, 43 percent say so. About half (49%) say the initiative process needs major changes. Another 30 percent say minor changes are needed, and just 15 percent say the process is fine as it is. Even among those who say voters’ decisions are better than those of elected officials, a plurality (40%) say the process needs major changes.

Likely Voters Give Legislature 10 Percent Approval Rating

In Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s last months in office, his approval rating among likely voters is 29 percent, up slightly from his record-low 24 percent in May. The legislature gets more negative reviews: after passing the budget 100 days late, lawmakers get an approval rating of 10 percent from likely voters, a virtual tie with the record low of 9 percent in March.

Federal elected officials fare better than state leaders. Just under half of likely voters (49%) approve of President Barack Obama’s job performance and 47 percent disapprove. Among all California adults, a majority (55%) approve and 40 percent disapprove of the job Obama is doing. Californians are more approving of the president than adults nationwide (45% approve, 52% disapprove in a recent CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll). Obama’s approval rating has fallen 17 points among likely voters from a high of 66 percent in May 2009. Congress gets considerably lower marks: just 26 percent of likely voters approve of federal legislators’ job performance.

Major Parties Viewed Unfavorably—Tea Party Rating Down, Too

Likely voters’ discontent with their elected officials is echoed in their discontent over the direction of the state and nation. Solid majorities say California (77%) and the United States (60%) are headed in the wrong direction. The Democratic and Republican parties don’t fare well with likely voters either: A majority (56%) say the parties are doing such a poor job that a third major party is needed. How is the Tea Party movement viewed in California? Likely voters’ negative impressions have increased in the last year, with 35 percent viewing it favorably and 47 percent viewing it unfavorably today. The unfavorable rating has increased 10 points since March. However, the Republican Party has a higher unfavorable rating (62%) than either the Tea Party (47%) or Democratic Party (51%).

More Key Findings

  • Distrust in government runs high—pages 20, 21
    Three-quarters (73%) of likely voters say the federal government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves rather than being run for the benefit of all. Seventy-nine percent hold this view about state government.

  • TV tops other media as source of political information—pages 32, 33
    A plurality of residents (37%) get most of their information about politics from television, a 10-point drop since 2007. Nearly a quarter (24%) get most of their information from the Internet, 15 percent from newspapers, and 10 percent from radio. Those who mainly get information online are divided among those who read newspaper websites (47%) and those who go to other types of websites (50%). The percentage of adults who go online sometimes or often to get California news has increased 16 points since 2007, from 43 percent to 59 percent. View more on news and information sources.


The PPIC Statewide Survey has provided policymakers, the media, and the general public with objective, advocacy-free information on the perceptions, opinions, and public policy preferences of California residents since 1998. This survey is part of a series that examines the social, economic, and political trends that influence public policy preferences and ballot choices. It is supported with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,002 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from October 10-17, 2010. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish according to respondents’ preferences. The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.1 percent for all adults, ±3.4 percent for the 1,582 registered voters, and ±3.5 percent for the 1,067 likely voters. 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.