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Press Release · December 14, 1999

Californians Have Split Vision For State In New Millennium

SAN FRANCISCO, California, December 14, 1999 – Bladerunner or techno-utopia? Despite boom conditions, Californians are surprisingly ambivalent about the future of their state, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California.

In the short term, Californians are bullish. Sixty-two percent say that the state is generally headed in the right direction, and three in four say they expect good financial times in the coming year. Californians are also more likely than the nation as a whole to believe that Y2K will create no problems (24% to 14%).

However, when state residents are asked to look ahead twenty years, evidence of a far more divided vision emerges. In the year 2020, large majorities believe they are likely to see improvements in the public education system (63%), race relations (61%), and job opportunities and economic conditions (60%) in their regions. At the same time, substantial numbers of Californians also expect to see a growing gap between rich and poor (72%), a decline in the quality of the environment (60%), and an increase in the crime rate (55%). Higher income residents are more likely than others to say that the economy will improve, but they are also the most likely to say that the income gap will grow.

Overall, more Californians are pessimistic than optimistic about the state’s long-term outlook. In 2020, 43 percent expect the state to be a worse place to live than it is today, while 25 percent think it will be a better place. Latinos are the exception, with slightly more believing that the state will be a better place to live in 2020 than a worse place (34% to 31%).

Looking ahead to life in the new millennium, Californians see cause for hope but also for great anxiety,” said PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare. “Although California is the locus of a booming new economy, concerns about quality of life and the perception of a widening gulf between haves and have-nots has led to deep uncertainty about the Golden State’s future.”

Indeed, this uncertainty extends to a more fundamental confusion about the changing social landscape of the state. Most residents do not know the current population of the state (about 34 million) and even fewer have a sense of what it will look like two decades from now (the Department of Finance estimates 45 million). Only four percent of Californians have a handle on the state’s current and future population projections. Interestingly, individuals who correctly estimate the state’s current or future population also happen to be among the most pessimistic about California’s condition in the year 2020.

Whose Vision?

While they appear to be mostly satisfied with the status quo in the short term, Californians are clearly uncomfortable with the current balance of power in Sacramento. When residents are asked who has the most influence over public policy in state government today, 37 percent name the legislature, 33 percent the Governor, and 20 percent state ballot initiatives. When asked to describe the balance of power they prefer, many residents make clear that they would like to reserve the policy influence for themselves. Forty-two percent say they would like ballot initiatives to have the most influence, while 30 percent mention the legislature as their top choice, and 21 percent name the Governor.

Although they may prefer their vision to his, 51 percent of Californians still give Governor Gray Davis excellent or good marks. Only 37 percent say the state legislature is doing an excellent or good job. President Clinton’s job performance ratings remain unchanged since September, with 55 percent of residents saying he is doing an excellent or good job. Californians are less pleased with the performance of the U.S. Congress, but their excellent or good ratings have climbed nine points since hitting a low in September (from 26% to 35%).

Underdogs Emerging as Political Forces in Primary

Although they still trail far behind the leading presidential contenders in the March primary, Bill Bradley and Senator John McCain have made substantial gains since PPIC’s September survey. Both have more than doubled their support in California, with Bradley now receiving 15 percent and McCain 9 percent among likely voters. Governor George W. Bush now holds a narrow lead over Vice President Al Gore (28% to 24%) and has made strong gains against Gore among Latinos.

In head-to-head general election match-ups, Bush finds himself in a statistical dead heat with Bradley (46% to 44%). In September, Bush led Bradley by 13 percent. California voters continue to show a slight preference for Bush over Gore in a head-to-head match-up (48% to 44%). Bush shows considerable strength in the Central Valley and in Southern California (excluding Los Angeles) – two crucial areas for Republicans. Both Gore and Bradley are running strong in the San Francisco Bay Area, but they lack majority support in the Democratic stronghold of Los Angeles County. Men favor Bush over Gore and Bradley by more than 10 points, while women favor Gore and Bradley over Bush by narrow margins.

“With more than three months to go until the March primary, it seems we have the makings of a competitive presidential contest in the state,” said Baldassare. “The majority of Californians are looking for a candidate who can connect with people like them. There is clearly room for an underdog who is willing to devote major energy and resources to getting to know people in this vast and diverse state.”

In the race for U.S. Senate, incumbent Senator Dianne Feinstein is running strong with 50 percent support, while underdog challenger Congressman Tom Campbell receives 12 percent, and 30 percent of likely voters remain undecided. Feinstein and Campbell currently receive almost equal support among Republicans (20% to 21%). Feinstein is buoyed by strong job performance ratings: 58 percent approve of her job as a U.S. Senator and 33 percent disapprove. Campbell’s chances could be hurt by the fact that a greater number of Californians disapprove of the job performance of Republican leaders in Congress than approve of it (55% to 37%).

Internet Politics Still in Infancy

One in five Californians say they have surfed the net to gather news and information about politics and elections, but only 7 percent say they often go on-line for this reason. However, there is reason to believe that gathering political news and information on the Internet is a growing phenomenon: The practice is twice as common among younger residents (25% for those who are 18 to 24) than among older residents (13% for those 55 and older). Candidates have their work cut out for them if they hope to entice potential supporters to their web sites: Only 9 percent of Californians have visited the web sites of presidential candidates, with just 1 percent saying they visit candidate sites often.

Californians are split on the issue of Internet voting. Forty-seven percent favor a system that would allow state residents to vote in elections electronically, while 48 percent oppose such a system. Surprisingly, there is a lack of overwhelming support for Internet voting even among Internet regulars. Internet users are more likely than nonusers to support on-line voting (54% to 37%), but almost half of the Internet’s savvy users are opposed or undecided. If they had a choice, 46% of Californians say they would prefer to vote at their local polling place rather than by absentee ballot (23%) or over the Internet (30%).

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 2,009 California adult residents interviewed from November 29 to December 8, 1999. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for the 1,529 voters is +/- 2.5% and for the 949 likely voters is +/- 3.5%. For additional information on survey methodology, see page 33.

Dr. Mark Baldassare is a senior fellow at PPIC. 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. Dr. Baldassare is the author of a forthcoming book on the changing social and political landscape of California (expected in February 2000).

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.