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Press Release · January 17, 2002

Californians At Odds With Governor Over State’s Most Pressing Problems

Californians More Worried Than Nation About Civil Liberties; State's Digital Divide Widens During Recession

SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 17, 2002 – A resurgence of optimism among California residents has not translated into support for Governor Gray Davis on critical election-year issues, according to a new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Californians are more bullish today than at any time in the past year: 48 percent say they expect good economic times in California during the next year – an 11-point jump since December. And six in 10 residents (59%) continue to believe the state is headed in the right direction. But despite this newfound optimism and a steady overall approval rating of Governor Davis (52%), the governor appears to be losing ground with state residents on their most pressing policy concerns. On all four issues that residents think are most important for the governor and state legislature to work on in 2002 – public schools, electricity, jobs and the economy, and the budget and taxes – fewer than half say they approve of his performance.

Although Davis has made K-12 education his signature issue and has invested major political and financial capital in it, only 39 percent say they approve of his work on education, compared to 45 percent in January 2001 and 51 percent in January 2000. Although he has gained some ground since 2000 on the electricity crisis, just 39 percent currently approve of his handling of the issue. Forty-five percent say they approve of his handling of jobs and the economy, compared to 49 percent in 2000; and 42 percent approve of his performance on the state budget and taxes, down from 57 percent in 2000. Davis receives his best marks on the issues of terrorism and security (68%) and crime and punishment (52%).

Related finding:

  • In the face of a looming state budget deficit, most Californians choose spending cuts (53%) or a mixture of spending cuts and tax increases (32%) as their preferred means of making up the shortfall. Only one in 10 opt for tax increases alone.

Campaign Update: Riordan Steady; Term Limits Initiative Falters

Two months before the March 5th primary, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan continues to hold a sizable lead over his two opponents for the Republican nomination for governor. The current standings remain virtually unchanged from one month ago: Among likely GOP primary voters, 41 percent are inclined to vote for Riordan, 13 percent for Secretary of State Bill Jones, 4 percent for businessman William Simon, and 42 percent remain undecided. Independent voters – who under new open primary rules can choose either a Republican or Democratic ballot – are now as likely to vote in the Democratic primary (20%) as in the Republican primary (18%), a shift from last month when twice as many independents indicated they would vote Republican. Still, 42 percent of independents say they do not plan to vote in either primary.

In potential match-ups, Riordan still holds a slight lead over Davis among likely voters (41% to 37%), although the number of undecided voters has increased. GOP voters remain more loyal to Riordan (73%) than Democrats are to Davis (63%). Since December, Davis has lost some of his lead in the San Francisco Bay area, while Riordan has seen his lead shrink in the Southern California counties outside of the Los Angeles area and now receives the backing of far fewer Latinos. Davis currently leads in potential contests with Jones (42% to 31%) and Simon (42% to 29%).

“Schools are the top priority for state voters, and the fact that only one-third of the voters approve of Davis’ handling of the issue is a big problem for him,” says PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare. Likely voters who approve of Davis’ performance on schools favor Davis over Riordan by a wide margin (54% to 29%), while those who disapprove of Davis on schools favor Riordan by a similar margin (50% to 26%).

Related findings:

  • Seven in 10 likely voters say that Davis deserves a lot (38%) or some (31%) of the blame for the state’s electricity problems. A similar percentage think he deserves a lot (28%) or some (43%) of the blame for the state budget deficit.
  • Proposition 45 – the state ballot measure that would enable voters to allow their state legislators to extend their time in office beyond the current term limits – falls far short of majority support. Sixty-one percent of likely voters say they oppose the initiative, while 31 percent support it.

Civil Liberties a Priority, But National ID’s a Possibility

Although they remain anxious about terrorism, Californians are presently more afraid that government will encroach upon their civil liberties (51%) than that the government will not do enough to fight terrorism (37%). In fact, state residents express more concern about the loss of civil liberties than the nation as a whole, which is evenly divided between fear for civil liberties (43%) and a desire for government action (45%). Most Californians (62%) also say they are unwilling to allow government agencies to monitor the telephone calls and email of ordinary Americans, similar to the nation as a whole (65%).

These findings are notable, given the governor’s recent proposals for wiretapping and electronic surveillance. “There doesn’t appear to be an appetite in the state at this time for proposals that could be intrusive or restrict civil liberties,” says Baldassare.

However, many Californians are willing to consider national identification cards to better track the movement of non-citizens and citizens. Eighty-two percent said the federal government should issue mandatory ID cards to non-citizens entering the United States, which would be linked to a federal database containing detailed personal information on the cardholder. A smaller majority (55%) said they would support voluntary ID cards for American citizens. A national survey conducted in November found that 66 percent of Americans would support mandatory ID cards for U.S. citizens.

Related findings:

  • Sixty percent of state residents say they would support a measure proposed for the November 2002 ballot to raise the state sales tax in order to fund increased terrorism readiness. The measure, which would increase the state’s sales tax from 6% to 6¼ %, is opposed by 35 percent of Californians.
  • Fifty-five percent say the government is doing an excellent (9%) or good (46%) job in building defenses at home to prevent future terrorist attacks. Despite some highly-publicized security breaches, more Californians feel the government is doing enough to protect airline passengers (49%) than feel it could do more (39%), although some (8%) believe it has already done too much.
  • President Bush’s approval rating on terrorism and security issues remains high (85%).
  • Nearly half of Californians (46%) say they trust the federal government to do what is right most or just about all of the time, up from 34 percent in October 2000. In contrast, trust in state government remains virtually unchanged at 47 percent from January 2001.


Digital Divide Still a Reality

California continues to lead the nation in computer use – the vast majority of residents use a computer at home, work, or school (78%), and access the Internet, World Wide Web, or email (72%). In fact, Internet use among Californians is at its highest level since PPIC first began tracking online access in 1999. Steady overall computer use among California residents, however, masks a decline in computer use among Latinos. Over the past year, Latino computer use has dropped 5 percentage points (72% to 67%), and the eight-point gap between Latinos and non-Hispanic whites last year has grown to 13 points (67% to 81%). The gap between Latinos and non-Hispanic whites in Internet use has also grown from 16 to 20 points, driven by growing Internet access among non-Hispanic whites.

“The digital divide is really an economic story, so it is not entirely surprising that we see a decline in computer use among lower-income residents who may have been hit harder by the recession,” says Baldassare. Indeed, higher-income Latinos ($40,000 +) have nearly identical rates of computer and Internet use as their non-Hispanic white counterparts.

Related finding:

  • In contrast to media reports of increased online holiday shopping, the percentage of Californians using the Internet to purchase Christmas or holiday gifts remained steady compared to one year ago (25% to 24%). Again, income is a critical factor: While 46 percent of Californians with annual household incomes greater than $80,000 used the Internet for holiday shopping, only 11 percent of those with incomes under $40,000 bought gifts online.

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 2002 election. Findings of the current survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,023 California adult residents interviewed from December 26, 2001, to January 10, 2002. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for the 1,502 registered voters is +/- 2.5% and for the 954 likely voters is +/- 3.5%. For more information on survey methodology, see page 21.

Dr. Mark Baldassare is a senior fellow at PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder and director of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has conducted since 1998.

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