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Press Release · June 3, 2015

For First Time, Water and Drought Seen as Biggest California Issue

Most Support Brown's Revised Budget, Back Plan For UC And New Tax Credit

SAN FRANCISCO, June 3, 2015—Californians see water and drought as the most important issue facing the state, and most residents say people in their region are not doing enough to respond. These are among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from The James Irvine Foundation.

For the first time in a PPIC survey, Californians are most likely to name water and drought (39%) as the most important state issue, followed by jobs and the economy (20%). Water and drought is the most frequently named issue in all regions, but Central Valley residents are the most likely to mention it (53%) (42% San Francisco Bay Area, 37% Orange/San Diego, 36% Inland Empire, 31% Los Angeles). In addition, 69 percent of Californians say the supply of water in their part of the state is a big problem—a record high since the survey began asking this question in 2009.

Just 28 percent of Californians say that people in their part of the state are doing the right amount to respond to the drought, while 60 percent say that their neighbors are not doing enough (7% too much).

The survey also asked about the governor’s order to implement water restrictions in cities and towns to reduce water usage statewide by 25 percent. Nearly half of residents (46%) say the restrictions do the right amount to respond to the drought. About a third (36%) say the restrictions do not do enough, and 12 percent say they do too much.

“Public concern about the drought is at a record-high level today,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “Most Californians are satisfied with the governor’s actions, but a sizable number say the mandatory water reductions have not gone far enough.”

When asked about Governor Brown’s handling of the drought, 47 percent of Californians approve, 38 percent disapprove, and 15 percent don’t know (likely voters: 44% approve, 47% disapprove, 10% don’t know). Brown’s overall job approval rating is slightly higher: 52 percent approve, 27 percent disapprove, 21 percent don’t know (likely voters: 54% approve, 36% disapprove, 10% don’t know). The legislature’s job approval rating is 37 percent among adults and 30 percent among likely voters. Asked to rate national leaders, 58 percent of California adults and 49 percent of likely voters approve of the job President Obama is doing, while 27 percent of adults and 20 percent of likely voters approve of the U.S. Congress.

Support for State Earned Income Tax Credit, UC Plan

The survey began just after the governor released his revised budget. After hearing a brief summary of the plan, 73 percent of adults and 70 percent of likely voters say they favor it, while about a quarter (23% adults, 25% likely voters) are opposed. Majorities across parties favor the proposal, but support is much higher among Democrats (80%) and independents (73%) than among Republicans (55%).

Most Californians (60%) also favor the governor’s proposed state Earned Income Tax Credit, a refundable credit for wages earned that would benefit 2 million of the lowest-income Californians and cost $380 million in its first year. About half of likely voters (53%) are in favor. Brown also proposes increasing state funding for the University of California system by 4 percent for each of the next four years in return for a two-year tuition freeze by UC. Most residents (63%) and likely voters (61%) support this plan.

In addition to increased spending on K–12 and higher education, the governor proposes modest spending increases for health and human services, prisons, and courts. The budget includes funds to pay down the state’s debt and puts $1.9 billion into the state’s rainy day fund. How do Californians want a projected budget surplus used? Slim majorities (52% adults, 53% likely voters) would prefer that the state pay down debt and build up a reserve. Fewer (43% adults, 42% likely voters) would prefer that some of this money be used to restore some funding to social service programs that were cut in recent years.

The survey shows that the public’s concerns about the state budget situation have steadily eased over time. Today, 47 percent of adults say the budget situation is a big problem—close to the record low on this question reached in May 2007 (44%). Californians’ opinions about the direction of the state and their own economic futures are about the same as in May 2014. Today, 45 percent of adults and 40 percent of likely voters say things are generally going in the right direction. About half (48%) of adults and 44 percent of likely voters expect good times financially in the next year. Residents in the San Francisco Bay Area are more upbeat than those in other regions about the direction of things in California (53% right direction), and more likely to expect good economic times (57%).

Half Favor Extending Proposition 30 and Changing to Split Roll

With a number of tax proposals under discussion in Sacramento, how do Californians feel about the tax system? Half of adults (49%) and 54 percent of likely voters say major changes are needed to the state and local tax system. About a third (32% adults, 31% likely voters) say minor changes are needed. Across income groups, those in the middle—with household incomes from $40,000 to less than $80,000—are most likely to say that major changes are needed. The survey also asked about specific tax changes being discussed:

  • Extending Proposition 30. About half of adults (49%) and 46 percent of likely voters favor extending the temporary tax increases on sales and the incomes of high earners to fund schools and guarantee public safety realignment funding. When those who favor extending Proposition 30 are asked if they favor making the increases permanent, support declines significantly (33% adults, 30% likely voters).
  • Changing Proposition 13. The survey asked about a “split roll” tax on property—taxing commercial properties according to their market value while leaving limits on residential property taxes intact. Half of adults and likely voters (50% for each) favor this idea.
  • Increasing cigarette taxes. Most (70% adults, 67% likely voters) support raising state taxes on cigarettes. Strong majorities across political parties, age groups, and income groups are in favor.
  • Taxing the extraction of oil and natural gas. Californians are divided (44% favor, 50% oppose) over whether to institute this tax, as are likely voters (47% favor, 48% oppose).
  • Extending the sales tax to services. Californians are also split (42% favor, 46% oppose) over extending the state sales tax to services not currently taxed while lowering the overall tax rate. Among likely voters, 41 percent favor this idea, while 49 percent are opposed.

Baldassare noted: “Most efforts to make changes to our state’s tax system face difficult hurdles even in the favorable climate of an improving economy.”


Strong Majorities Support Requiring Vaccinations for School Children

The legislature is debating a bill that would eliminate personal-belief and religious exemptions to the requirement that parents vaccinate their children before enrolling them in kindergarten. Asked how they feel about requiring children to be vaccinated to attend public schools, two-thirds of Californians (67%) and public school parents (65%) say children should not be allowed to attend unless they are vaccinated. Majorities of adults across all regions and demographic groups say children should be required to be vaccinated. Overwhelming majorities also say that, in general, vaccines given to children are very safe (57% adults, 54% public school parents) or somewhat safe (30% adults, 34% public school parents). This view holds across racial/ethnic groups, though Latinos (49%) are much less likely than whites (65%) to view vaccines as very safe.

Slim Majority Favor Legalizing Marijuana

A record-high 54 percent of residents favor legalizing marijuana, while 44 percent are opposed. Californians hold similar views to adults nationwide, according to a recent CBS News Poll (53% favor, 43% oppose). Among California likely voters, 56 percent favor legalization and 41 percent are opposed. A majority of whites (60%) favor legalization, while a similar proportion of Latinos (60%) oppose it. Across age groups, Californians age 18 to 34 (62%) are more likely to favor legalization than are older residents (51% age 35 to 54, 49% age 55 and older). Just under half of Californians (46%) say that if marijuana were legal, they would be very concerned that more underage people would be led to try it (18% somewhat concerned). Latinos (63%) are far more likely than whites (37%) to say they are very concerned.

High Levels of Distrust in Government

Distrust in the state and federal governments is high, with the federal government faring worse. Strong majorities of adults (65%) and likely voters (69%) say they can trust the federal government to do what is right only some of the time. And 72 percent of Californians say the federal government is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves. Just 23 percent say it is run for the benefit of all the people. Likely voters hold similar views (76% big interests, 19% benefit of all). A solid majority of adults (61%) say the federal government wastes a lot of the money they pay in taxes (likely voters 66%).

Asked the same series of questions about state government, 61 percent of adults and 62 percent of likely voters say they can trust the government in Sacramento to do what is right only some of the time. Solid majorities (62% adults, 65% likely voters) say state government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves. A slim majority of adults (52%) and 57 percent of likely voters say people in state government waste a lot of tax money.

Proposals to Boost Voter Turnout, Registration Favored

In the wake of record-low voter turnout in both the 2014 primary and general elections, most Californians (59% adults, 66% likely voters) say it is a big problem that many people who are eligible to vote don’t always do so. When adults not registered to vote are asked why they haven’t done so, one of the most frequently cited reasons—apart from citizenship status (32%)—is that they are too busy or don’t have enough time (10%). Lack of time is also the top reason registered adults give for not voting (30%).

The survey asked about two proposals—one that would make it easier to register and one that would make it easier to vote. Support for each is high. When asked about automatically registering people to vote when they visit the Department of Motor Vehicles, 69 percent of adults are in favor. When asked whether each registered voter should automatically be sent a vote-by-mail ballot, 70 percent of adults are in favor. Support for both ideas is higher among Democrats than among independents or Republicans.


The PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,706 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from May 17–27, 2015. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.

The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.6 percent for all adults, ±4.0 percent for the 1,374 registered voters, and ±4.6 percent for the 1,048 likely voters. For more information on methodology, see page 22.

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. 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.