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Press Release · January 14, 2000

Californians Say Quality Of Education Has Worsened Recently, But Are Unwilling To Ante Up For Improvements

Bradley, McCain’s Upset Efforts Losing Momentum

SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 14, 2000 – Despite Governor Davis’ singular focus on education since the 1998 Gubernatorial campaign, many Californians believe that the quality of education in public schools has not improved, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California. At the same time, they appear to be unwilling to foot the bill for improving the state’s ailing schools.

Californians are more likely to rate the quality of K-12 public schools as a “big problem” today than they were two years ago (53% to 46%). Nearly twice as many state residents say that the quality of public education has gotten worse in the past few years than say it has improved (39% to 22%). Interestingly, parents with children in public schools are less likely than Californians overall to say that schools are a big problem (45%) and that school quality has worsened (27%).

While they express distress about the condition of California’s schools, state voters do not appear willing to increase their local taxes to finance a solution, even in today’s boom times. When voters are read the current ballot summary for Proposition 26 – which would change the requirement for passing local school bonds from a two-thirds to a simply-majority vote – only 44 percent now say they would vote yes, while 45 percent say they would vote no. This constitutes a 20-point drop in support from PPIC’s December survey, which did not include statements – since approved for the March ballot – about the potential impacts on property taxes and local fiscal costs.

“For nearly two years, Governor Davis has poured huge amounts of political capital into education reform, yet Californians are more pessimistic than ever about the state of our schools and are reluctant to pitch in,” said PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare. “The Governor must convince residents that his more moderate reform efforts are having an effect, or face the possibility that unconventional alternatives like school vouchers will find new converts.” At present, Californians are nearly divided on the issue of school vouchers, with 51 percent saying that government funding should be limited to children who attend public schools and 46 percent in favor of providing taxpayer-funded vouchers to pay for private or religious schools.

Governor’s Report Card

Approval of the Governor’s job performance remains steady, with 50 percent of Californians giving him excellent or good ratings. He receives his strongest marks in issue areas that are traditionally seen as Republican territory: A solid majority like the way Governor Davis is handling the state budget and taxes (57%) and crime and punishment (55%). About 50 percent of Republicans say they approve of the job that the Democratic Governor is doing in these areas.

Although the survey was conducted during the week of the education-heavy State of the State address, Governor Davis receives slightly less support for his handling of K-12 education (51%). Fewer think he is doing a good job in handling HMO reform and health care (48%) and transportation and traffic congestion (46%). The Governor receives his lowest marks for his management of undocumented immigration (40%).

“Davis’ perceived strength on crime and economic issues – rather than education, where he has placed such considerable focus – fits the profile of a Republican governor far more comfortably than that of a Democratic one,” said Baldassare. “After 16 years of Republican domination, he is clearly redefining the image of a Democratic Governor in the minds of Californians.”

Bradley, McCain Stall in Bids to Claim California Prize

Texas Governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore are in a statistical dead heat heading into California’s open primary on March 7. Support for Bush remains steady at 28 percent among likely voters, while Gore has picked up support since December (from 24% to 27%). Bush and Gore are also tied in a general election head-to-head match-up, with each receiving 46 percent support.

Although they showed strong gains at the end of 1999, Democrat Bill Bradley and Republican Senator John McCain failed to increase their primary support between December and January. Bradley currently receives 13 percent (15% in December) and McCain 8 percent (9% in December) among likely voters. Democratic voters give Gore a more than two-to-one lead over Bradley (48% to 21%). Republican voters favor Bush by five to one over McCain (56% to 11%).

“Despite a barrage of recent media reports about Bradley’s and McCain’s growing strength in key contest states like New Hampshire, Californians appear to be cooling their flirtation with these underdog candidates,” said Baldassare. “The California debates will be crucial. Nearly nine in 10 likely voters say these public debates are important to them.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein has slightly expanded her lead over Congressman Tom Campbell in the U.S. Senate race. Feinstein now receives 53 percent and Campbell 12 percent among likely voters. Republicans are nearly as likely to support Democrat Feinstein as Republican Campbell (20% to 23%). Campbell is currently unknown by 80 percent of likely voters, while 13 percent giving him favorable ratings and 7 percent unfavorable. Feinstein is well known, with 50 percent giving her positive reviews, but she also receives strong negative ratings (32%).

Death Penalty Surprise

Although Californians appear poised to support the national favorites in the Presidential campaign, the views of state residents differ from those of the nation on a number of key issues, most notably the death penalty. Californians are evenly divided between punishments for first-degree murder, with 49 percent supporting the death penalty and 47 percent favoring life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Support for the death penalty is considerably stronger nationwide, with 56 percent advocating the death penalty in cases of first-degree murder and 38 percent preferring life imprisonment.

Californians (71%) are slightly more likely than the population nationally (65%) to believe that government should not interfere with a woman’s access to abortion, while a slightly lower percentage of Californians (27% to 30% nationally) would like to see more laws restricting the availability of abortions. Californians are also more likely than the nation as a whole to oppose tax-payer funded school vouchers (51% to 47%). Similar to the nation, two in three Californians support increased regulation of guns.

Defying political labels, California Latinos are more likely than residents of the state or nation generally to support life imprisonment over the death penalty, to back restrictions on the availability of abortions, to believe that the government does not do enough to regulate guns, to say that strict environmental laws cost too many jobs, and to oppose using the budget surplus to finance tax cuts.

Majority Supports Taxing E-commerce

Twenty percent of Californians say they purchased a lot (5%) or some (15%) of their Christmas gifts over the Internet this past holiday season. In the coming year, nearly one in four Californians expect to make a lot (5%) or some (18%) purchases using the Internet. Among those who say they often use the Internet, 41 percent purchased at least some gifts using the Internet this past holiday season and 44 percent expect to make at least some purchases over the Internet in the coming year.

A “digital divide” is clearly evident in the case of e-commerce: Latinos were far less likely to shop over the Internet this holiday season than non-Hispanic whites (7% to 25%) and are less likely to expect to do some shopping over the Internet in the coming year (9% to 27%). Affluent Californians are far more likely to shop online than less affluent residents.

A majority of Californians support the idea of taxing online purchases. Fifty-two percent think that companies that sell items over the Internet should be required to collect sales taxes from their customers, while 41 percent disagree. Among frequent Internet users, 45 percent are in favor of taxing online purchases, while 51 percent are opposed.

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. This survey’s findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,007 California adult residents interviewed from January 2 to January 10, 2000. 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 1,031 likely voters is +/- 3.5%. For additional information on survey methodology, see page 37.

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 (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.