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Press Release · September 17, 2008

California Voters Volatile, Discontent, and Divided

SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 17, 2008 — California voters are distrustful of government, divided by partisanship, and poised to express their frustration at the ballot box, according to a report released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. The report looks at state voters’ growing political involvement and their simultaneous disaffection with party politics. It also examines sources of voter discontent, painting a picture of a volatile and divided electorate.

“In the five years since the president launched a war in Iraq and the governor lost his seat in a recall, California voters have changed,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “They are fed up with government that they cannot trust and leaders who do not lead. But contrary to the conventional wisdom that disgruntled voters stay home on election day, Californians have been registering and voting in record numbers.”

The report, The State of California Voters, says that despite their political involvement, voters are unhappy with party politics. It also notes several sources of voter dismay. Among them:

  • Direction of the nation: Fewer than one in four voters believe that the nation is headed in the right direction, marking the lowest point since the PPIC survey began asking the question in 2003.
  • Performance of elected officials: Over the last five years, President George W. Bush’s approval ratings have fallen steadily from one in two to one in four voters.
  • Distrust of government: Only 23 percent of Californians say that they trust the federal government to do what is right always or most of the time.

Voters are deeply concerned about the economy, Iraq, immigration, health care, and the way their state government is run. They have little faith that their government can rise above partisan differences to address these issues. At the same time, voters are as polarized as their representatives over how to handle the economy, immigration, and Iraq.

“The electorate needs to search its collective soul as well,” says Baldasssare. “Voters’ own ideological differences help to fuel partisan gridlock, and easing that gridlock is partly in their hands.”

For complete details on the report’s findings and conclusions, please visit


The Public Policy Institute of California 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.