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Press Release · May 23, 2012

Drop in Support for Cigarette Tax, Most Back Term Limits Change

Majority Favor Brown's Initiative But Half Oppose His Revised Budget

SAN FRANCISCO, May 23, 2012—Two weeks before the June primary, just over half of likely voters say they will vote yes on a proposition to impose an additional $1 tax on cigarettes—a big decline in support from March. Most likely voters say they will vote for a measure to alter legislative term limits. These are among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with support from The James Irvine Foundation.

Support for the cigarette tax, Proposition 29, has dropped 14 points among likely voters since March. Today, 53 percent say they will vote yes, 42 percent say they will vote no, and 5 percent are undecided on the measure, which would tax other tobacco products as well, with revenues going to research on cancer and other tobacco-related diseases. In March—before the active campaign for and against the measure began—67 percent supported it, 30 percent opposed it, and 3 percent were undecided.

When likely voters are asked a more general question about their views on increasing taxes on cigarette purchases, 63 percent say they are in favor and 33 percent are opposed. Responses to this question were similar in March (63% favor, 34% oppose).

“The large drop in support for Proposition 29 speaks loudly about how a well-funded opposition is able to raise voters’ doubts and distrust in state government, even when a tax increase is viewed favorably,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

Likely voters are more supportive of Proposition 28, which would reduce the number of years a lawmaker can serve in the state legislature from 14 to 12 but allow all years of service in one house. Sixty-two percent say they will vote yes, 29 percent say they will vote no, and 9 percent don’t know. Support for this measure has slipped slightly since March (68% yes, 24% no, 8% undecided). Likely voters continue to have a positive view of the impact of term limits. Most (62%) say term limits are a good thing for California, 12 percent say they are a bad thing, and 21 percent say they make no difference.

Independents More Likely To Support Top-two Primary

Californians will experience a big change this primary election with the advent of the top-two system, approved by voters in 2010. All voters now get a single ballot listing every candidate for their legislative and congressional districts. The two candidates receiving the most votes—regardless of party—will advance to the general election. Asked today about the top-two system, a plurality of likely voters (43%) say it is a good thing for California elections, while 22 percent see it as a bad thing and 27 percent say it makes no difference.

Proponents of this primary reform have argued that it will pave the way for more moderate and independent candidates to succeed. Today, independents are more likely to say the new system is a good thing (49%) than Democrats (43%) or Republicans (39%) are. And while 67 percent of likely voters view the top-two primary as at least somewhat important, independents (41%) are more likely than Republicans (31%) or Democrats (32%) to say it is very important.

Obama’s Favorability Rating Tops Romney’s

At the national level, California primary voters will have their first chance to weigh in on the presidential race. In the PPIC survey, President Barack Obama gets higher favorability ratings than Republican contender Mitt Romney among likely voters. They are more apt to have a favorable opinion of Obama (52%) than an unfavorable one (45%). The reverse is true of Romney (40% favorable, 52% unfavorable).

Opinions of the candidates are predictably divided along party lines. Independents are more likely to have a favorable opinion of Obama (52%) than an unfavorable one (42%) and are slightly more negative (47%) than positive (40%) about Romney.

Has Obama’s announcement supporting same-sex marriage affected likely voters’ view of him? About half (49%) say no. A quarter (25%) say the announcement makes them think more favorably of him and another quarter (25%) say it makes them think less favorably of him.

Obama leads Romney by 11 points in a head-to-head matchup among likely voters (50% Obama, 39% Romney, 11% undecided or would vote for someone else). Again, support for each candidate is split along party lines, with independents more likely to favor Obama (45%, Obama, 33% Romney, 22% undecided or someone else).

Satisfaction with the choice of candidates has increased somewhat among likely voters since December (49% December, 53% January, 53% March, 57% today), but Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to be satisfied (75% to 46%).

Obama’s job approval rating among likely voters is 54 percent (42% disapprove). Among registered voters, opinion is deeply divided along party lines (82% Democrats approve, 77% Republicans disapprove). Half of independents (51%) approve and 38 percent disapprove.

Likely voters’ assessment of the U.S. Congress is much lower. A large majority (78%) disapprove of the way the U.S. Congress is handling its job, with strong majorities of Democrats, Republicans, and independents expressing this view. Looking to the congressional elections, the state’s likely voters are slightly more likely to prefer that Congress be controlled by Democrats (47%) than by Republicans (40%). Eight percent volunteer that they would prefer neither party to be in control. Among age groups, 65 percent of likely voters age 18 to 34 prefer that Democrats control Congress. Those 35 and older are more divided.

Support For Brown Initiative Holds—So Does Opposition To Trigger Cuts

The PPIC survey was taken in the days after Governor Jerry Brown released a revised budget proposal, which relies on a proposed tax initiative that would temporarily raise the state personal income tax on wealthy Californians and the state sales tax for all. The vast majority of likely voters (83%) say the state budget situation is a big problem. Fewer see the governor’s plan as the solution.

A majority (56%) say they would vote yes on Brown’s tax initiative, with 38 percent saying they would vote no and 7 percent undecided. This is similar to the results of the April survey in which 54 percent said they would vote yes (39% no, 6% undecided). Today, 75 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents would vote yes, while 62 percent of Republicans would vote no.

Asked specifically about the two taxes in Brown’s initiative, 65 percent of likely voters favor raising the top rate of the state income tax paid by the wealthiest Californians. But 58 percent oppose raising the state sales tax.

The governor’s budget calls for automatic spending cuts to K–12 public schools if voters reject his proposed tax initiative. Likely voters are overwhelmingly opposed (72%) to these trigger cuts, as they have been in earlier surveys.

Brown’s revised budget addresses a growing state deficit. Since January, the state has seen lower-than-expected tax receipts, higher education costs, and federal government and court decisions to block some budget cuts that had already been approved. In response, Brown’s current plan calls for deep cuts to Medi-Cal, welfare, child care, and other social service programs, as well as cuts to courts and state employee compensation. When read a brief summary of this plan, 44 percent of likely voters are in favor and 50 percent are opposed. In January, when Brown presented his initial budget plan, 48 percent were in favor and 46 percent were opposed.

Asked for their views specifically on the proposed spending cuts to social service programs, 36 percent of likely voters are in favor and 60 percent are opposed. Opposition to these cuts is 10 points higher than opposition to his plan in general (50%). Most Democrats (76%) and independents (58%) oppose the cuts, while Republicans are divided (48% favor, 49% oppose).

Brown’s job performance gets mixed reviews from likely voters: 42 percent approve and 43 disapprove (14% don’t know). Most Democrats (58%) approve of the governor’s performance, while a similar proportion of Republicans (63%) disapprove and independents are divided (34% approve, 37% disapprove, 29% don’t know). By comparison, the legislature’s approval rating among likely voters is 17 percent (71% disapprove, 11% don’t know).

Baldassare notes: “The governor’s proposal for spending cuts to health and social services is resulting in strong opposition, even among Democratic voters who otherwise approve of his job performance.”

Most Want a Role in Budget Decisions

Likely voters want to participate in making the tough choices involved in the state budget this year: 81 percent say voters should make some of the decisions about spending and taxes. Just 15 percent say the governor and legislature should make all of the decisions.

How would likely voters deal with the state’s budget gap? Forty-four percent prefer a mix of spending cuts and tax increases—Brown’s approach—while 35 percent prefer mostly relying on spending cuts and 13 percent favor mostly tax increases.

To help reduce the budget deficit, most likely voters say they would be willing to pay higher taxes for K–12 education (61%) and higher education (55%). Half (50%) would be willing to pay more taxes for health and human services. Just 18 percent would pay higher taxes to fund prisons and corrections.

Pessimism, Lack of Trust Among Voters This Election Season

As the elections approach, pessimism about the economy persists among the state’s likely voters. An overwhelming majority (83%) say the state is in a recession, with 48 percent calling it a serious one. Most (65%) say the state will have bad times financially in the next year. Likely voters express little trust that government—particularly at the federal and state levels—is spending their tax money wisely: 68 percent say people in federal government waste a lot of tax money and 62 percent say people in state government do so. Far fewer likely voters (37%) think local government wastes a lot of their money.


The PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,002 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from May 14–20, 2012. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish according to respondents’ preferences.

The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.4 percent for all adults, ±3.8 percent for the 1,322 registered voters, and ±4.2 percent for the 894 likely voters. For more information on methodology, see page 23.

Mark Baldassare is president and CEO of PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has directed since 1998.

PPIC is 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. As a private operating foundation, 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.