The Digital Divide
While television dominates, computers and the Internet represent a growing source of information and knowledge for many Californians. The state leads the nation in computer use – many Californians use a computer at home, work, or school (74%), use the Internet, World Wide Web, or e-mail (60%), or have personal computers in their homes (63%). However, there are profound differences in rates of use between ethnic and socioeconomic groups in the state. Latinos are less likely to use computers (62%), use the Internet (39%), or have a personal computer at home (40%). Computer use increases dramatically with household income (59% for those under $40,000 compared to 94% for those $80,000 and over).
A large number of Californians say they use the Internet to look for information for their job (45%), get news about current events or politics (43%), or purchase goods or services (30%). Here again, Latinos and those with lower incomes lag behind. Interestingly, independent voters are more likely to use the Internet to gather information about current events or politics than Republicans or Democrats (51% to 47% to 42%).
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 are based on a telephone survey of 2,013 California adult residents interviewed from August 26 to September 3, 1999. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for the 1,585 voters is +/- 2.5% and for the 989 likely voters is +/- 3.5%. For additional information on survey methodology, see page 27.
Dr. Mark Baldassare is a senior fellow at PPIC. He is founder and director of the Orange County Annual Survey at UC Irvine. For over two decades, he has conducted surveys for major news organizations, including the Orange County Edition of the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, KCAL-TV, and KRON-TV. Dr. Baldassare is the author of a forthcoming book on the changing social and political landscape of California (expected in February 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.
SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 9, 1999 – With Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George Bush locked in a virtual dead heat six months before the California Primary, Latinos are emerging as a pivotal voting group in the state, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California.
Looking forward to the open primary, likely voters are evenly divided between Democrat Gore and Republican Bush (27% each), with no other candidate receiving double-digit support. In a PPIC survey last December, Gore led Bush by a 10-point margin (31% to 21%). Gore’s support among Latinos has dropped 11 points (from 50% to 39%), while Bush has picked up four points (from 16% to 20%). Bush leads Gore (49% to 44%) in a head-to-head general election match up. While Latino voters favor Gore over Bush by twenty points (57% to 37%), the margin is not as great as it has been for Democrats in recent statewide elections.
“Clearly, one of the factors driving Bush’s success in the state is that he is making a respectable showing among Latinos,” said PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare. “Latino votes will be crucial to both parties in the 2000 elections – they are one of the fastest growing voter groups and in many ways reflect where the state is headed politically.”
Interestingly, the generally positive attitude Californians have about President Clinton and his policies has not translated into a ground swell of support for his chosen successor. Although 55 percent of Californians say Clinton is doing an excellent or good job in office, they make a clear distinction between their feelings for Clinton personally and his policies. This distinction correlates directly with their support for Gore. Of the 34 percent of likely voters who say they like Clinton and his policies, Gore receives 82 percent support. However, among the 24 percent of likely voters who say they dislike Clinton but like his policies, support for Gore and Bush is almost evenly divided (45% to 44%). “It does appear that support for Gore in California is affected by voters who dislike the President personally, even if they support his positions on the issues,” said Baldassare.
The Conflicted California Voter
California voters express solid support for the “definition of marriage” initiative, which states that only a marriage between a man and a woman is recognized by the state. The initiative has already qualified for the March 2000 ballot and receives support from 63 percent of likely voters – results that are virtually unchanged since December. Despite their strong feelings about the initiative, voters are deeply divided when it comes to other issues involving gay and lesbian rights. Thirty-four percent say they believe that the government has done “too little” to protect the rights of gays and lesbians, 30 percent “the right amount,” and 30 percent “too much.” A slim majority (51%) say they think companies should be required to provide insurance and other benefits for domestic partners of gay and lesbian employees, while 43 percent say they should not.
Although only 15 percent of likely voters have “a lot of confidence” that their local school district officials are spending money wisely (and 47 percent have “not much confidence”), three in four voters (76%) support an initiative expected to qualify for the March ballot that would change the majority needed to pass local school bonds from two-thirds to a simple majority vote. Californians appear to distinguish between local bonds and local taxes: A PPIC Statewide Survey in May 1998 found that a majority (56% to 38%) were opposed to allowing local school districts to raise local taxes with a simple majority rather than a two-thirds vote.
The conflicted voter surfaces again in the matter of taxes more generally. On the one hand, Californians feel that taxes, especially federal taxes, are much too high. About two-thirds complain that their federal income taxes are much or somewhat too high, which is considerably more than the number saying that state and local sales taxes (53%), state income taxes (49%), or local property taxes (43%) are too high. On the other hand, they favor President Clinton’s smaller tax cut over the larger tax cut proposed by the Republican Congress (69% to 28%). Of those who say that their federal income taxes are much too high, 57 percent favor the smaller tax cut plan over the larger one (39%).
One thing Californians are not conflicted about is the need for campaign finance reform. By a three-to-one margin, voters support a not-yet-qualified initiative that would limit campaign spending and contributions in California elections. A feeling that campaign fundraising has had a negative effect on the political system drives voter support for this initiative. Sixty-six percent say that campaign contributions are having a bad effect on the public policy decisions made by elected officials in Sacramento. Sixty-seven percent of voters also say that campaign spending by candidates in California statewide elections is too high – with 44 percent saying “much too high.”
The Apathetic Public
Among all Californians, the number following political news “very closely” is 12 percent. Even among California voters, state politics and elections are not getting much attention – only 19 percent of likely voters say they are following news stories about California politics and elections “very closely.” The number of Californians who report a high level of interest in government and public affairs more broadly has also dropped sharply since last year. Today, 28 percent say they follow government and public affairs “most of the time,” compared to 37 percent last December. The number reporting that they infrequently or never follow public affairs has risen to 30 percent, an increase of 10 points since December.
While political interest is uniformly low, a high level of interest in public affairs is more common among non-Hispanic whites than Latinos (33% to 18%). Interest in public affairs also increases with age: 14 percent of those 18 to 34 express a high level of interest, compared to 29 percent of those 35 to 54 years old and 46 percent of those 55 and older. Independents (27%) are less likely than Democrats (30%) and Republicans (37%) to follow government and public affairs issues “most of the time.” Central Valley residents are the least likely to pay attention to public affairs at least some of the time (65%), while San Francisco Bay Area residents are the most likely (77%). “Policymakers and political candidates have their work cut out for them. The groups that will determine the outcome of next year’s primary and general elections – Latinos, independent voters, and Central Valley residents – are really tuned out right now,” said Baldassare.
Television continues to be the main source of political information for Californians. Forty-five percent name television and 30 percent newspapers when asked where they get most of their information about politics. The dominance of television over newspapers is increasing and is most pronounced among Latinos (63% to 19%), younger adults ages 18-34 (51% to 22%), and adults with household incomes under $40,000 (55% to 23%).