SAN FRANCISCO, California, December 13, 2001 – California’s three E’s – the economy, electricity, and education – are dominating the minds of state residents as they head into the 2002 elections, while the aftermath of September 11 continues to transform their lives, according to a new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). The result is an interesting recipe for a campaign year: economic uncertainty – usually a worry for incumbents – mixed with patriotic support for elected representatives.
Today, Californians name the economy (15%), the electricity crisis (14%), and education (12%) as the most important issues facing the state. Terrorism and security issues are mentioned by 6 percent of residents, falling from 14 percent in October. Fifty-six percent of residents now say they expect the state to face bad times financially in the next year, and only 21 percent say they are financially better off today than they were one year ago, compared to 42 percent in a September 2000 survey. San Francisco Bay area residents are the most likely to say they are financially worse off (31%), while Central Valley residents are the least likely to say they are worse off (18%), a reversal of last year’s findings. And while there has been little increase overall since 1998 in the number of Californians who say they are concerned that someone in their family will lose their job in the next year, Latinos (50%) are twice as likely today as non-Hispanic whites (25%) to be concerned about job losses.
Despite their economic woes, Californians remain optimistic: As in national surveys conducted after September 11, residents are more likely now (58%) than they were this summer (44%) to say that the state is headed in the right direction. Further, 41 percent believe they will be better off financially a year from now, compared to just 9 percent who expect to be worse off. Such optimism continues to benefit elected officials: Support for President George W. Bush remains extremely high in California, with 79 percent saying they approve of the way he is performing his duties overall and 85 percent saying they support his handling of terrorism and security issues. Fifty-nine percent of Californians also rate the job performance of the U.S. Congress as excellent (13%) or good (46%), compared to 38 percent just one year ago; and 52 percent give their own representative an excellent or good rating.
Support for Governor Gray Davis also remains higher than it was in the months before September 11, with 51 percent of residents saying they approve of the way he is handling his job and 66 percent supporting his handling of terrorism and security issues. Interestingly, the state legislature has not seen a similar boost in ratings: 53 percent of Californians approve of the job the legislature is doing at this time, down from 56 percent in September 2000. And 61 percent say they approve of their local state legislators’ performance.
Close Races for Governor, Term Limits Initiative
Three months before the March 5th primary, former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan holds a sizable lead over his two opponents for the Republican nomination for governor. Among likely GOP primary voters, 37 percent are inclined to vote for Riordan, 13 percent for Secretary of State Bill Jones, and 5 percent for businessman William Simon. However, the outcome of the primary race is far from settled: 45 percent of GOP primary voters say they are undecided. Independent voters – who under new open primary rules can choose from Republican or Democratic ballots – are more likely to say they will vote in the Republican primary rather than in the Democratic primary.
The ratings boost Davis has received since September 11 has failed to give him an edge over Republican gubernatorial challenger Richard Riordan: In potential match-ups, Riordan holds a slight lead over Davis among likely voters (44% to 40%), with GOP voters more loyal to Riordan (76%) than Democrats are to Davis (64%). There are also interesting trends in the state’s Democratic strongholds: Davis has a 20-point lead in the San Francisco Bay area, while the two candidates are virtually tied in Los Angeles County. Davis currently leads in potential contests with Jones (45% to 35%) and Simon (46% to 31%).
“Davis falls short of majority support for his reelection bid in part because voters appear to have a split image of the governor, liking him but not his policies,” says PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare. Indeed, more than half of likely voters (58%) say they like Davis as a person, but almost as many (55%) do not like his policies. In all, only one in three voters say they like Davis and like his policies, while nearly an equal number say they dislike both Davis and his policies.
Voters are evenly divided on a state ballot measure that would allow voters to permit their incumbent state legislator to serve a maximum of four years beyond the term limits that are currently allowed: 46 of likely voters would vote yes and 45 percent would vote no. Democrats (52%) are more likely to support the measure and Republicans (53%) are more likely to oppose it. While the number of Californians who describe current term limits as a “good thing” for California has fallen over time – from 65 percent in 1998 to 49 percent today – only 17 percent of voters say that term limits have been a “bad thing” for the state.
Electricity, Education Still on Public’s Radar
Although predicted disruptions in the state’s electricity supply never materialized, nearly half of all Californians (48%) still consider electricity a “big” problem today, and 33 percent describe the issue as “somewhat” of a problem. However, the number of Californians who say electricity is a big problem is far lower today than it was in May (82%). About two in three Californians express at least some concern that the state’s electricity problems will harm the economy in the next few years, while one in three residents has “a great deal” of concern about economic consequences. But again, the number of residents who express a great deal of concern has fallen sharply since May (62%). And most likely voters (58%) give Governor Davis at least some credit for the fact that California dodged power outages this summer.
While the public’s top issue has shifted over the years – from schools to electricity to terrorism and the economy – concern about the quality of K-12 education has remained remarkably consistent. Eight in 10 Californians continue to say that the quality of public schools is at least somewhat of a problem, and about half see the issue as a “big” problem today. Although state government has made improving public education a top priority, Californians are only slightly more likely to believe that the quality of K-12 education has improved rather than worsened in recent years (28% to 24%), and many believe there has been no change whatsoever (40%). However, parents of public school children are more likely than others to say that the quality of education in the public schools has improved in recent years (41% to 23%).
Despite recent criticism that K-12 students are now subjected to too much standardized testing, Californians are overwhelmingly in favor of testing for students. Two in three residents say that elementary and middle school students receive either the right amount (33%) or not enough (33%) standardized testing, while 22 percent say there is too much testing at these levels. Only 16 percent of residents think there is too much testing in high schools, while seven in ten think the amount is just right (32%) or not enough (39%). Interestingly, Latinos are more likely than non-Hispanic whites to think there is not enough testing at all K-12 levels.
September 11: Social and Financial Aftershocks
The September 11 tragedies have affected some Californians – especially Latinos – socially, psychologically, and financially. Many residents continue to view terrorism and security concerns in California as a “big” problem (31%) or “somewhat” of a problem (42%), and more than one in three residents say they are at least somewhat worried about the possibility that they or someone in their family will be the victim of a terrorist attack. While seven in 10 Californians report feeling more patriotic because of the September 11 tragedies, a majority of Californians today say they have not felt more anxious or depressed (58%), have not spent more time with family and friends (60%), and have not attended religious services more often (74%).
Many Californians have answered the national call to give and spend. Fifty-eight percent of residents say they have donated money or volunteered time to charities in the wake of September 11, while 42 percent say they have responded to media campaigns encouraging patriotic spending. One in three Californians say they have noticed a slowdown in economic activity at their business or workplace, while 23 percent say they have postponed or cancelled long-distance travel plans.
Latinos appear to have felt the effects of terrorism more intensely than non-Hispanic whites. They are far more likely to describe terrorism and security as a big problem (42% to 28%) and to worry about being personally affected by a terrorist attack (58% to 30%). Latinos are also more likely than non-Hispanic whites to report anxiety and depression, increased socializing, and increased spiritual or religious feelings after September 11. And they are more likely to have shopped in an effort to support the economy, experienced a work slowdown, and changed travel plans.
Other Key Findings
- State Budget Priorities – Page 10
When asked to rate the importance of major categories of state spending, given the projected deficit, Californians give a high priority to three out of the four categories mentioned, including spending for education (76%), public health and welfare (53%), and higher education (50%). Spending for corrections (including prisons) is viewed as a low priority (45%) by state residents.
- Immigration Attitudes Post 9/11 – Page 19
More Californians today believe that immigrants are a benefit (54%) rather than a burden (36%) to the state, similar to one year ago. However, more Californians also believe that legal immigration should be reduced (48%), rather than maintained (34%) or increased (15%).
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 2,000 California adult residents interviewed from November 26 to December 4, 2001. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for the 1503 registered voters is +/- 2.5% and for the 953 likely voters is +/- 3.5%. For more information on survey methodology, see page 21.
Dr. Mark Baldassare is a senior fellow and program director 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. Dr. Baldassare is the author of numerous books, including California in the New Millennium: The Changing Social and Political Landscape (University of California Press, 2000).
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.