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Press Release · January 30, 2013

Brown’s Budget Gets Broad Support, and Majority Back Him on Paying Down Debt

As Obama Starts New Term, Job Approval Up In California—Two-Thirds Favor Assault Weapon Ban

SAN FRANCISCO, January 30, 2013—Strong majorities of Californians favor Governor Jerry Brown’s budget proposal and, specifically, his plan to direct extra money to school districts with more English Learner and lower-income students. Fewer—but still a majority of residents—back the governor’s plan to pay down the state’s debt and create a reserve, rather than restore funding for social services that has been cut in recent years. These are among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from The James Irvine Foundation.

When read a brief description of the governor’s overall plan, 69 percent of adults say they favor it and 22 percent are opposed. Across parties, 79 percent of Democrats, 72 percent of independents, and a slim majority of Republicans—51 percent—are in favor. Brown’s 2013–14 budget, which projects a small surplus for the first time in many years, proposes increasing spending on K–12 schools, higher education, and health and human services, as well as paying down the state’s debt and creating a reserve. Support was far lower for Brown’s budget plan in January 2012 (50%).

Asked about the governor’s proposal to direct much of the increased public school funding to districts with more English Learner and lower-income students, 75 percent of Californians are in favor and 21 percent are opposed. Overwhelming majorities of Democrats (81%) and independents (75%) are in favor, as are 52 percent of Republicans.

Brown’s budget includes $4.2 billion to pay down state debt and creates a $1 billion reserve. Asked whether they support Brown’s plan or would prefer to restore some funding to social service programs, 55 percent choose the governor’s approach (38% prefer more spending on social services). Most Republicans (73%) and independents (62%) prefer to pay down the debt and build up the reserve, while Democrats are divided (47% pay down the debt, 48% more spending for social services).

The PPIC survey—which began the week after Brown released his budget and ended the day after President Barack Obama’s inauguration events—shows rising optimism among Californians after years of recession and state fiscal problems. The proportion of residents who say things in the state are going in the right direction—51 percent—is over 50 percent for the first time since January 2007 (55%). And 49 percent expect good economic times in the next year—not a majority, but a higher percentage than at any time since January 2007 (50%). Most (57%) say that Brown and the state legislature will be able to work together and accomplish a lot in the next year, up 13 points since last January.

Californians give the governor a record-high 51 percent job approval rating (28% disapprove, 21% don’t know). His approval rating was 46 percent in January 2012 and 41 percent when he began his term in January 2011. The approval rating of the legislature is less positive but improved: 41 percent of Californians approve and 42 percent disapprove (17% don’t know). Approval of the legislature is the highest it has been since December 2007 (41%). Asked how they feel about the Democratic supermajority in the legislature, 40 percent say it is a good thing, 27 percent say it is a bad thing, and 29 percent say it makes no difference. As the legislative session begins, Californians’ approval of their individual state legislators is at 45 percent (34% disapprove, 20% don’t know). A year ago, 36 percent expressed approval (47% disapproved).

“Governor Brown’s approval rating and the legislature’s are rising as the outlook on the state economy is improving,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “Still, many Californians are expressing concerns about the direction of the economy and the state budget situation.”

Californians say the most important issues for the governor and legislature to work on this year are jobs and the economy (31%), the state budget (17%), and education (17%). Despite an improved fiscal picture, a large majority (63%) continue to characterize the state budget situation as a big problem. And 63 percent say their local government services have been affected a lot by recent state budget cuts. When asked which of the four largest areas of state spending they most want to protect from cuts, most (55%) name K–12 public education, while others name higher education (18%), health and human services (17%), and prisons and corrections (6%).

Strong Support for Cigarette Tax, Opposition to Extending Sales Tax

In the wake of passage of Proposition 30, what is the public’s appetite for more tax increases? The survey asked about three potential taxes to address the state budget situation. With a tobacco tax initiative being discussed for the 2014 ballot, 70 percent of Californians support a cigarette tax increase. A small majority of Californians (54%) favor raising the state taxes paid by California corporations. Only 32 percent favor extending the state sales tax to services not currently taxed.

Asked about specific fiscal reforms, 71 percent support shifting some funding and responsibility for certain programs from the state to local governments. A high-profile example of this shift began in fall 2011, when some lower-risk offenders were shifted from state prisons to county jails. About half of Californians today are confident (9% very confident, 40% somewhat confident) that their local governments can handle this responsibility. They express more confidence that local government can handle another aspect of state-local realignment: giving school districts more say in how state money is spent. Most residents are confident (23% very, 48% somewhat) that districts would use the money wisely.

A majority of Californians (57%) say it would be a good idea to lower the voting requirement to pass parcel taxes for local public schools from two-thirds to 55 percent. A third reform—a strict limit on state spending—has the support of 68 percent of adults.

Optimism Also Grows About Direction of Nation

A majority (56%) say the U.S. is headed in the right direction, the highest level since May 2009 (57%). The president’s inauguration speech influenced Californians’ views: 54 percent interviewed before the speech said things in the U.S. are generally going in the right direction, and 63 percent responded this way afterward. Obama’s approval rating among Californians is 65 percent, the highest since July 2009. Approval of Congress is at 34 percent, the highest since January 2010 (36%). Californians continue to give their own representatives in the U.S. House favorable ratings (56%), matching the record high reached in September 2009. California’s two senators have higher job approval ratings than they did a year ago: Dianne Feinstein is at 54 percent, up from 47 percent in January 2012, and Barbara Boxer is at 52 percent, up from 46 percent.

Will the president and Congress be able to work together and accomplish a lot in the next year? About half (51%) think so, and 44 percent do not. In the PPIC survey—conducted after the fiscal cliff negotiations and as lawmakers started focusing on the federal debt limit—most Californians (56%) approve of the way Obama is handling the federal deficit and debt ceiling. Most (63%) disapprove of the way congressional Republicans are handling these issues.

Two-Thirds Say Government Falls Short in Regulating Guns

In the aftermath of the Newtown school shooting, Obama has made gun control a key issue. Two-thirds of Californians (65%) say the government does not do enough to regulate access to guns, and a third (31%) say the government goes too far in restricting the rights of citizens to own guns. Two-thirds (65%) support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons. Democrats (79%) and independents (55%) are in favor, while Republicans are more divided (45% support, 52% oppose). Majorities across regions and demographic groups support a ban. Latinos and women (75% each) are much more likely than whites (59%) and men (55%) to favor it. Among adults with guns, rifles, or pistols in their homes, less than half (47%) support an assault weapon ban, and 50 percent are opposed.

Baldassare notes: “Strong majorities of Californians want the government to do more about regulating guns, and many worry that a mass shooting could happen in their own communities.”

A majority of residents worry—35 percent a great deal and 26 percent somewhat—that a mass shooting could take place in their communities. Fewer say they do not worry much (20%) or at all (18%). Latinos (79%) and women (70%) are much more likely to be worried than whites (44%) and men (52%).

Support for Federal Health Care Reform Rises to New High

With federal health care reform scheduled to be fully implemented in a year, a record-high 55 percent of Californians support the changes that have been enacted by Congress and the Obama administration, while 37 percent are opposed. Support has increased 8 points since last March (47%). There is a partisan divide: Democrats (76%) are supportive, independents are divided (44% support, 47% oppose), and Republicans are opposed (78%). When asked how they think their families will fare under health care reform, nearly half (48%) say it will not make a difference, 25 percent say they will be better off, and 23 percent say they will be worse off.

Immigration Reform: Record-high Support for Path to Legal Status

The president says comprehensive immigration reform is a priority for his second term. Among Californians, a record-high 63 percent say immigrants are a benefit to the state because of their hard work and job skills. A record-low 31 percent say immigrants are a burden because they use public services. The survey also asked what should happen to most illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the U.S. for at least two years. A record-high 76 percent say these immigrants should be given a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status, and 21 percent—a new low—say they should be deported to their native countries.

Slim Majority Favor Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

Now that several states have legalized same-sex marriage, what are Californians’ views? Slightly more than half (53%) favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry and 41 percent are opposed. Support was similar last March (52%) and May (54%). Support is highest among residents of the San Francisco Bay Area (65%), and there is majority support in Los Angeles (54%) and Orange/San Diego Counties (51%). Majorities are opposed in the Central Valley (53%) and the Inland Empire (56%). As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to take up the constitutionality of Proposition 8—which banned same-sex marriage—a solid majority of Californians say the court’s decision is important (38% very important, 26% somewhat important). Opponents of same-sex marriage are more likely to say it is very important (46%) than proponents (36%).


The PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,704 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from January 15–22, 2013. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.

The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.5 percent for all adults, ±3.8 percent for the 1,386 registered voters, ±4.2 percent for the 1,116 likely voters, and ±6.5 percent for the 423 public school parents. 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.