Issues Key To Gore’s Strong Showing In California
Substantial Gender Gap in All Major Races; Majority Now Opposes Voucher Initiative
Governor Gray Davis continues to enjoy high job approval ratings. Two in three Californians say they approve of the way he is handling his job and only one in four disapproves. However, more Californians disapprove of Davis’ handling of the recent utility deregulation crisis in San Diego than approve of how he has handled the issue (36% to 28%). Among Californians closely watching this news story, 34 percent approve and 45 percent disapprove of the Governor’s performance on deregulation.
Although few Californians closely followed news stories about bills passed by the State Senate and Assembly before their recent session ended, the California Legislature also receives the approval of a majority of residents (56%). Residents also voice support for the way the Legislature has handled the investigation of the scandal-plagued State Insurance Commissioner, with 56 percent approving of the Legislature’s performance and 24 percent disapproving. Among Californians who closely followed this news story, 69 percent approve of the Legislature’s handling of the investigation.
Other Key Findings
Consumer confidence is still climbing in the state: 42% of residents say they are better off today than they were a year ago, and 48% say they expect to be even better off a year from now.
8 in 10 homeowners say they have seen the value of their home increase in the past few years, with 66% of San Francisco Bay Area homeowners saying their property value has increased a lot. 69% of renters – and 77% of Latino renters – say they expect to own a home in the state someday.
Most Californians (65%) and a majority of Latinos (51%) say an open border between the United States and Mexico – as suggested by Mexican President-elect Vicente Fox – is a bad idea.
By a two-to-one margin, Californians believe members of Congress should read polls to learn the public’s views on the issues (66% to 30%).
Strong majorities believe the state (73%) and counties (71%) should be required to spend all money they receive from the national tobacco lawsuit settlement on health-related programs.
68 percent of Californians say they often or sometimes use the Internet, compared to 60 percent one year ago.
A majority of Californians (54%) believe that employers should be allowed to monitor the e-mail messages of their employees at work.
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. Findings of the current survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,014 California adult residents interviewed from September 5 to September 11, 2000. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for the 1,651 registered voters is +/- 2.5% and for the 1,099 likely voters is +/- 3.5%. For additional information on survey methodology, see page 35.
Dr. Mark Baldassare is a senior fellow and program director at PPIC. He is founder and director of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has conducted since 1998. For over two decades, he has directed surveys for the University of California, Irvine and major state news organizations. 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 the lives of Californians. The Institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.
In the first independent survey since the Labor Day campaign kickoff, Vice President Gore leads Texas Governor George W. Bush by a 9-point margin in California (48% to 39%). The biggest changes since last month’s survey? An 8-point increase for Gore accompanied by a sizeable decline in support for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader (from 8% to 4%) and a 7-point drop in undecideds. In August, voters outside the two major parties favored Bush over Gore; now, they favor Gore over Bush by a wide margin (42% to 28%). Gore is ahead by a 20-point margin among women (54% to 34%) and has narrowed Bush’s earlier lead among men to just 2 percent (42% to 44%). In addition, Gore now leads Bush by a wider margin among Latinos (61% to 28%) and has cut Bush’s lead among non-Hispanic whites to a single point (43% to 44%).
“In California’s new political landscape, once-marginal voter groups such as Latinos and independents now hold the key to success at the polls,” said PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare. “Since the Democratic convention in August, Al Gore seems to have found a way to connect with these key voters. As a result, they are now swinging his way – and toward Democrats in general.”
Indeed, Gore’s progress in California may also hinder Republican efforts to hold on to Congress. There are early signs of a “coattail effect”: 86 percent of Gore’s voters – including many independents -favor the Democrat in their local Congressional race. And when voters are asked who they support in Congressional elections, Democrats now hold the same 9-point edge over Republicans that they do in the Gore-Bush match-up (48% to 39%). Interestingly, state voters (57%) are more likely than the nation as a whole (46%) to say that the issue of which party controls Congress will be a factor in their vote. Those who say party control is a factor favor Democrats over Republicans (51% to 40%) in their House races.
Much of Gore’s current success in California appears driven by his connection with voters on a few major issues. When asked what one issue they would most like to hear the candidates talk about during next month’s debates, voters say schools and education (19%), health care and HMO reform (15%), Social Security and Medicare (14%), and taxes and tax cuts (11%). On all but one of these topics, voters say they believe that Gore would do a better job of handling the issue. In fact, Gore holds double-digit leads over Bush on the top three issues for state voters: education (55% to 36%), health care (58% to 32%), and Social Security (54% to 36%). On the issue of tax cuts, Bush leads Gore by a wide margin (53% to 35%), although Latinos prefer Gore over Bush on this issue (52% to 36%).
Voters also express more confidence in how Bush would handle issues concerning the military (55% to 32%). But despite Republican efforts to create a campaign issue over military preparedness, a majority of Californians (54%) believe the military is currently as strong as it needs to be, mirroring the results ofnational surveys. Like the nation as a whole, Californians also favor a prescription drug benefit through Medicare (74%) – even if it means increasing premiums and program costs – and prefer using the budget surplus to cut taxes (40%) rather than to reduce the debt (33%) or improve funding for government programs (22%). However, on the subject of controlling gun violence, Californians stand apart from the rest of the nation: They are more likely to say that better enforcement of existing gun laws, rather than the adoption of new laws and regulations, is the way to decrease gun violence (56% to 41%).
Public Conflicted About Education Initiatives
Although education is a priority for state voters, a majority (53%) are now opposed to Proposition 38, the school vouchers initiative. Prop. 38 faces an uphill battle in large part because it is not viewed as a solution to improving schools or student performance: Voters believe that passage of the voucher initiative will not help the public school system (56%) or the students with the lowest test scores (53%).
A near majority of voters (49%) say they will vote yes on Proposition 39, which would make it possible to approve local school bonds with a 55 percent majority rather than a two-thirds vote. Opposition to Prop. 39 increases from 37 percent to 48 percent when voters learn that the initiative could result in property tax increases. However, support for the initiative grows from 49 percent to 57 percent when voters are told of the measure’s school accountability requirements. “The outcome of the measure hinges on the ability of supporters and opponents to focus voters on the details,” said Baldassare.
Year of the Woman: The Sequel?
A sizeable gender gap is evident in each of the statewide political contests included in the PPIC Statewide Survey and, interestingly, women appear to be on the majority side in each of these races. As he moved into the lead in California, Al Gore saw his margin of support among women expand rapidly (from 13% in August to 20% in September). U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein – who remains far ahead of Rep. Tom Campbell in the race for U.S. Senate (48% to 31%) – has a two-to-one lead over her Republican challenger among women (51% to 26%). Women also support the Democrat over the Republican candidate in Congressional races by a 20-point margin (55% to 35%), oppose Proposition 38 by 21 points (55% to 34%), and favor Proposition 39 by 19 points (51% to 32%). “Women voters appear to be picking the political winners in California this election cycle,” said Baldassare.
On the issues, women are more interested than men in hearing the candidates’ views on education (21% to 16%), health care (18% to 12%), and Social Security and Medicare (16% to 11%), while men express greater interest in tax cuts (14% to 9%) and foreign policy (7% to 3%).