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Press Release · February 15, 2000

California Voters To Candidates: We’re Listening And This Is What We Want To Hear

Gore Support Looks Solid, McCain Surging; Most Californians Favor New Laws to Protect Internet Privacy

SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 15, 2000 – An overwhelming majority of California’s likely voters have tuned in to the presidential race, and they have some ideas of their own about what candidates should be discussing between now and March 7th, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Three weeks before California’s crucial primary election, 75% of the state’s likely voters say they are following news stories about the 2000 presidential race “very closely” or “fairly closely,” a 12-point jump since January. And although candidates have their own campaign platforms and priorities, voters list schools (19%), tax cuts (13%), health care and HMO reform (10%), Social Security and Medicare (8%), and federal spending (7%) as the issues they most want to hear the candidates talk about.

Latinos and Democrats say they are most interested in hearing about education and health care, while Republicans and independents are especially interested in tax and spending issues. Gore is the top choice among voters who name schools, health care, and Social Security and Medicare. Bush leads among those who say taxes, while McCain is ahead among those who name the budget and spending. Interestingly, only 2 percent of likely voters say they most want to hear presidential candidates discuss campaign finance reform, a key topic for McCain and currently a source of heated debate between the Bush and McCain camps.

“Presidential hopefuls have a golden opportunity in California today because voters are engaged in a way they haven’t been for years,” said PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare. “The challenge for these candidates is to address the specific concerns of Californians in a meaningful way over the next few weeks. If they do, they’ll find that state voters are all ears.”

In the open primary, Vice President Al Gore (29%) leads Texas Governor George W. Bush (24%), Senator John McCain (17%), and former Senator Bill Bradley (10%) among likely voters. The biggest change since last month’s survey? A nine-point increase in support for McCain (8% to 17%). At the same time, support for Bush has declined by four points (28% to 24%). Gore and Bush remain far ahead in their parties, with Democratic voters giving Gore a 37-point lead over Bradley (52% to 15%) and Republicans favoring Bush over McCain by a 22-point margin (46% to 24%). However, McCain has managed to close the gap substantially among Republicans since PPIC’s January survey, when he trailed Bush by 45 points (56% to 11%).

Social Liberals, Fiscal Conservatives

Presidential candidates campaigning in California would do well to remember that state residents differ considerably from the nation on a number of key issues (abortion, death penalty, taxes, and school vouchers were examined in the January statewide survey). Californians are much more likely than those nationally to be empathetic to the plight of the poor. Fifty-three percent think that “poor people have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently,” while only 39 percent believe that those benefits make life easy for the poor. Nationally, more Americans (45%) believe that government benefits to the poor come too easily. Californians are also more likely than the nation as a whole to believe that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military (69% to 57%).

Compared to the nation, Californians are more likely to say that “government regulation of business often does more harm than good” (49% to 44%). Nevertheless, 46 percent of Californians and 48 percent of Americans believe that “government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest.”

When considering how to reform the health care system to provide health care for all Americans, Californians tend to favor working within the current health care system rather than switching to a new system. Fifty-two percent of Californians – compared to 43 percent nationally – say it would be better to build on the existing employer-based health care system than to have all individuals buy their own insurance with the help of tax credits or a subsidy. However, on the issue of HMO regulation, California and the nation share similar views. Sixty-three percent of Californians and 64 percent nationally believe that “the federal government should create national standards to protect the rights of patients in HMOs and managed care plans.”

Racial Diversity, Racial Harmony?

Californians are increasingly aware of the state’s changing ethnic and racial makeup, and they are largely positive about race and ethnic relations in their communities. Seventy-one percent think that the racial and ethnic makeup of their region has been changing, with 38 percent saying that “a lot” of change has occurred in recent years. Eight in 10 Californians say that race and ethnic relations in their region are going “very well” or “somewhat well.”

As they watch their communities change, Californians are also increasingly aware of the state’s growing immigrant population. Eighty-five percent of residents think the immigrant population in California has been increasing, while six in 10 say it has increased a lot. Although a large majority (82%) continue to view illegal immigration from Mexico as a “big problem” or “somewhat of a problem,” Californians today are much more likely to say that immigrants are a benefit to the state than they were two years ago (54% to 46%).

There is, however, a glaring exception to this picture of racial and ethnic harmony. Many Californians believe that the police in their community do not treat all people equally. Fifty percent think that the practice of “racial profiling” – in which police are more likely to stop motorists of certain racial and ethnic groups – is widespread in their region. The belief that racial profiling is widespread is most prevalent in Los Angeles (60%). Forty-three percent of non-Hispanic whites see racial profiling as widespread, compared to 61 percent of Latinos and 62 percent of Latinos, Asians, and blacks combined.

Internet Privacy a Serious Concern

Concerns about privacy on the Internet run high in California, especially among Internet users. Thirty-seven percent of California adults – and 62 percent of Internet users in the state – say they have at some time decided not to purchase or use something on the Internet for fear of how their personal information might be used. When asked how concerned they are about threats to personal privacy when using the Internet, almost half (48%) of all Californians – and 80 percent of Internet users – say they are at least somewhat concerned. Internet privacy worries run highest in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Internet use is most prevalent.

Reflecting these concerns, two in three Californians feel that existing laws do not sufficiently protect privacy on the Internet and that new laws are needed to ensure privacy. Regular Internet users support enacting new privacy laws by a similar margin.

Previous PPIC Statewide Surveys have documented a profound “digital divide” in California. Two proposals aimed at reducing the divide among ethnic and income groups receive broad support from the public. Sixty-three percent favor giving companies tax credits if they provide low-cost computers or low-cost Internet access to poor households in California. Not surprisingly, support is higher among those groups adversely affected by the “digital divide.” Latinos are more likely to support the proposal than non-Hispanic whites (73% to 57%), and 68 percent of people with incomes below $20,000 favor the proposal compared to 60 percent of those with incomes over $80,000. A second proposal requiring California public schools to teach basic computer and Internet skills before eighth grade receives support from nearly nine in ten residents.

About the Survey

The purpose of the PPIC Statewide Survey is to develop an in-depth profile of the social, economic, and political forces affecting California elections and public policy preferences. PPIC will conduct large-scale public opinion surveys on a regular basis leading up to the November 2000 election.

Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,058 California adult residents interviewed from February 2 to February 10, 2000. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for the 1,582 registered voters is +/- 2.5% and for the 1,014 likely voters is +/- 3.5%. For additional information on survey methodology, see page 33.

Dr. Mark Baldassare is a senior fellow at PPIC and is the author of a forthcoming book on the changing social and political landscape of California (March 2000). He is founder and director of the Orange County Annual Survey at UC Irvine. For over two decades, he has conducted surveys for major news organizations, including the Orange County Edition of the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, KCAL-TV, and KRON-TV.

PPIC is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to objective, nonpartisan research on economic, social, and political issues that affect the lives of Californians. The Institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.