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Press Release · February 21, 2002

Dynamics In Governor’s Race Have Changed Dramatically

Riordan Still Ahead but Simon Gaining Ground in GOP Primary and November Election

SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 21, 2002 – California’s airwaves have been saturated with ads for Governor Gray Davis and gubernatorial contender Richard Riordan but, ironically, the biggest gains in the race have been for political newcomer Bill Simon. A new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California shows that Simon has gained 20 points in the GOP primary since January and represents a serious challenge to Davis in November.

Riordan is still leading Simon among likely voters in the GOP primary (41% to 24%), but his 37-point lead over Simon in January (41% to 4%) has now shrunk to 17 points. Simon has now taken second place over Jones, whose support has dropped since January from 13 percent to 9 percent.

Looking ahead to potential match-ups in November, Riordan’s lead over Davis (46% to 40%) has stretched slightly from January (41% to 37%). But the bigger news is Davis’ declining margins over the other two GOP candidates. Davis now runs nearly even with Simon (44% to 40%), compared with a 13-point lead for the governor in January (42% to 29%). Jones has similarly closed the gap with Davis; Jones now trails the governor by only five points (44% to 39%), down from 11 points in January (42% to 31%).

Other Election-Related Findings

  • Independent voters are divided between voting in the GOP primary (23%) and the Democratic primary (27%), while half will vote in neither (32%) or haven’t made up their minds (18%).
  • In Southern California, nearly half of GOP primary likely voters support Riordan over Simon and Jones.
  • Most likely voters in the GOP primary describe themselves as somewhat (40%) or very (21%) conservative. Simon and Riordan are virtually tied among voters who describe themselves as very conservative.
  • GOP primary likely voters are most likely to describe Riordan as middle-of-the-road (26%) or somewhat conservative (25%), while many remain unclear about the political orientations of Jones (59%) and Simon (48%).
  • People who recall having seen more TV advertisements by Davis support Riordan over Davis by a larger margin (51% to 36%) than among people who recall mostly Riordan ads (46% to 43%).
  • Governor Davis’ approval ratings among likely voters (44%) are unchanged from January (46%), and are well below those of President Bush (71%), Senator Dianne Feinstein (58%) and Senator Barbara Boxer (53%).
  • 59 percent of likely voters oppose Proposition 45-the initiative that would let local voters petition to seek an extension of term limits for their incumbent legislators-with two in three saying that current term limits give state legislators the right amount of time in office.

“Californians’ concerns about a host of problems-including schools, electricity, the economy, the budget deficit, and terrorism-have sparked a great deal of interest in the gubernatorial election, and a fairly open-minded attitude toward the candidates,” says survey director Mark Baldassare. “A year ago, no one would have expected that Governor Davis would be in a close race for reelection, but much has changed in the public’s priorities and this has created a new political landscape.”

What California Voters Think About Hot-Button Issues

Abortion: 69 percent of adults, and 72 percent of likely voters, believe the government should not interfere with a woman’s access to abortion. Although that percentage rises to 82 percent for Democrats and 85 percent among independent likely voters, even a majority (54%) of Republican likely voters holds that view.

The environment: 59 percent of adults, and 62 percent of likely voters, think it is worth passing more rigorous environmental laws and regulations, even if there is a downside for jobs and the economy. Democrats (76%) and independent voters (70%) are much more likely than Republicans (42%) to place the environment above economic issues.

Gay rights: 54 percent of adults, and 56 percent of likely voters, think that society has not gone far enough in ending discrimination against homosexuals. There are strong partisan differences: Democrats (73%) and independent voters (58%) are much more likely than Republicans (34%) to want to do more for gay rights.

Public services for illegal immigrants: Despite strong support eight years ago for Proposition 187-the initiative that denied public services to illegal immigrants-a majority of all California adults (53%), and 48 percent of likely voters, say they favor providing government services such as health care and education to illegal immigrants and their children. Latinos (73%) are much more likely than non-Hispanic whites (44%) to want to provide services for illegal immigrants.

Gun control: 53 percent of all adults, and 56 percent of likely voters, want stricter enforcement of current laws but do not want passage of new gun laws.

Smaller or bigger government: Californians are split on whether they want a smaller government with fewer services (48%) or a bigger government with more services (47%). Fifty-four percent of likely voters prefer to have a smaller government with fewer services. Democrats (35%) are much less likely than independent voters (58%) and Republicans (75%) to favor a smaller government.

The Three E’s: Education, Energy, and Economy Still Dominate Voters’ Minds

Californians are most interested in hearing the candidates for governor talk about schools (19%), followed by electricity, and the economy (each 12%). Residents do not appear to count the state’s looming $12 billion budget deficit among their top priorities (3%). Likewise, terrorism (2%) barely registers with voters as the “most important issue.”

Fewer than half of Californians express satisfaction with the state’s major efforts to improve public education in the past few years, including school safety (48%), class size reduction (47%), school accountability for test scores (38%), teacher quality (37%), school facilities (37%), and school spending (28%). However, those with children in the public schools express considerably more satisfaction than those without children at home. When asked what is most in need of improvement in California schools, residents name teachers (33%), followed by classroom overcrowding (13%), and curriculum (10%).

Most Californians (79%) believe that the cost, supply, and demand for electricity is either a big problem or somewhat of a problem. That pessimism reaches into the future: Only 36 percent of residents are confident that the state’s electricity supply will be adequate over the next five years, while a majority (57%) says it will be at least somewhat inadequate.

There is little question about how Californians feel about de-regulation-they don’t like it. Seventy-three percent of adults favor re-regulating the power industry, while only 23 percent would like to see further de-regulation. A majority of Californians (53%) opposes new offshore drilling along the California coast, and a sizable majority (69%) favors developing more renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar power. State residents are split, however, on whether the energy crunch is best handled by building more power plants (46%) or by encouraging energy conservation (48%).

Californians Not Brimming Over With Optimism, But Still Looking Ahead. There is an almost even split between residents who expect good economic times for the state in the next 12 months (46%) and those who see gray skies on California’s horizon (47%). Despite that divergence, a majority of Californians (56%) believes the state is generally headed in the right direction. As for views of their region, half think they are in a recession (55%), though few describe this as a serious downturn (12%). Residents in the San Francisco Bay area are the most optimistic about their region’s economic future-77 percent say they expect economic conditions to be better five years from now, compared to 59% of the residents in Los Angeles and 62% or the residents in the Central Valley.

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 2,056 California adult residents interviewed from February 4 to February 14, 2002. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for the 1,461 registered voters is +/- 2.5%, for the 937 likely voters +/- 3.5%, and for the 382 GOP primary likely voters +/- 5%. For more information on survey methodology, see page 23.

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.