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Press Release · September 30, 2015

Likely Voters Divided on Temporary Extension of Proposition 30—Most Support Cigarette Tax

Large Majority Say Voters Should Have Voice in Public Employee Benefits

SAN FRANCISCO, September 30, 2015—Half of California’s likely voters favor extending Proposition 30’s temporary tax increases. But support declines when those in favor of an extension are asked about making the increases permanent. Support is considerably higher for raising taxes on the purchase of cigarettes, with a strong majority in favor.

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.

The survey began amid discussions about turning a number of tax proposals into citizens’ initiatives for the 2016 ballot. Two ballot measures have been proposed to extend aspects of Proposition 30, which temporarily raised taxes on sales and on high earners to fund schools and public safety realignment. One of the proposals would make tax increases permanent.

When likely voters are asked if they favor extending the tax increases—set to fully expire in 2018—in their current form, 49 percent are in favor and 46 percent are opposed. Democrats (64%) are more likely than independents (49%) and nearly twice as likely as Republicans (33%) to be in favor. Only 32 percent of likely voters prefer making the increases permanent.

A proposal to tax the extraction of oil and gas also falls short of majority support, with 49 percent of likely voters in favor. Support is higher for two other tax proposals being discussed. A majority of likely voters (55%) favor changing Proposition 13 so that commercial properties are taxed according to their current market value. Most Democrats (65%) and independents (56%) favor this “split roll” approach to Proposition 13, and most Republicans (55%) oppose it. Support is stronger for the idea of increasing cigarette taxes—66 percent of likely voters are in favor, and majorities across party lines support it.

Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO, noted: “As the legislature and proponents of tax initiatives search for new revenue sources, the proposal to increase cigarette taxes stands out because it has majority support across party lines.”

Majority Support Changing Pension System for New Public Employees

Changes to public employee pensions may also be headed for the ballot. Today, 72 percent of likely voters say the amount of money spent on public employee pensions is a problem. When they are asked who they prefer making decisions about retirement benefits for public employees, 70 percent say voters should make some of these decisions at the ballot box. Just 24 percent say state and local governments should make all the decisions.

One proposed change to the current public employee pension system is to place new employees in a defined contribution system, similar to a 401(k) plan, rather than a defined benefits system. Most likely voters (70%) favor this change, while 20 percent oppose it. Strong majorities across parties (74% Republicans, 69% independents, 65% Democrats) are in favor. Californians age 55 and older (61%) are somewhat less likely to support the proposal than those age 18 to 34 (70%).

“Most Californians want to expand their already formidable powers in ballot-box budgeting by having a greater say in public employee pensions,” Baldassare said.

Worried About Drought, Feeling Better About Neighbors’ Response to It

The survey finds that about half of Californians (48%) say things in the state are generally going in the right direction and half (48%) say the state will have good economic times in the next year. What is the most important issue facing Californians today? Residents are more likely to name water and drought (32%) than other issues, followed by jobs and the economy (20%). Less than 10 percent of adults name any other issue.

A record-high 70 percent of adults say the supply of water in their part of the state is a big problem. With data from June and July indicating that California has met the goal of reducing statewide water use by 25 percent, residents are less likely today than they were earlier this year to say that their neighbors are doing too little to respond to the drought. Although nearly half (48%) say that people in their part of the state are not doing enough, this share has declined 18 points since March (66% March, 60% May, 52% July). About half of Californians in Los Angeles (54%), the Central Valley (52%), the Inland Empire (49%), and Orange/San Diego (48%) say people are not doing enough, while half of San Francisco Bay Area residents (51%) say people are doing the right amount to respond to the drought.

Brown’s Job Approval Holds Steady, Legislature’s Is Up Slightly

As the state’s elected leaders finish their work for the session, majorities of Californians and likely voters approve of Governor Brown’s job performance (52% adults, 55% likely voters). The legislature’s job approval rating is 45 percent among adults and 39 percent of likely voters—up slightly from last September (37% adults, 32% likely voters). Asked to assess the job performance of their own representatives in the state assembly and senate, 47 percent of adults and likely voters approve.

Residents Rate Own Representative Much Higher Than Congress

President Obama’s approval rating stands at 60 percent among California adults and 53 percent among likely voters. Californians give Congress a much lower approval rating (32% adults, 17% likely voters). But they hold a more favorable view of their own representative in the House of Representatives (51% adults, 51% likely voters). California’s two US senators get similar ratings: 52 percent of adults and 53 percent of likely voters approve of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s job performance, while 49 percent of adults and 47 percent of likely voters approve of Senator Barbara Boxer’s.

Majorities Concur Undocumented Immigrants, Abortion, Poverty, Gun Laws

The survey asked about a number of issues that have already surfaced in the 2016 presidential campaigns.

  • Immigration. Asked about undocumented immigrants living in the US, 75 percent of Californians say they should be allowed to live and work here legally if they pay a fine and meet other requirements. Large majorities of Democrats (83%) and independents (70%) and a majority of Republicans (53%) express this view. Adults nationwide (60%) are less likely than Californians to say that undocumented immigrants should be allowed to stay legally, according to a July ABC News/Washington Post poll.

    In addition, a solid majority of adults (65%) say immigrants are a benefit to California because of their hard work and job skills, while 28 percent say immigrants are a burden because they use public services. Across racial/ethnic groups, strong majorities of Latinos (86%) and Asians (69%) say immigrants are a benefit, while 53 percent of blacks and half of whites (49%) say so.

  • Abortion. Most Californians (69%) say the government should not interfere with a woman’s access to abortion, a view shared by solid majorities of Democrats (80%), independents (74%), and Republicans (62%). Majorities of men and women and majorities across regional, age, income, education, and racial/ethnic groups express this view. Among racial/ethnic groups, Latinos (56%) are the least likely to say the government should not interfere with access (87% blacks, 77% whites, 69% Asians).

    Among religiously affiliated Californians, 75 percent of mainline Protestants and 60 percent of Catholics say the government should not interfere with abortion access. Evangelical Protestants (48%) are the most likely to favor more laws restricting abortion access.

  • Poverty and income inequality. An overwhelming 92 percent of Californians believe that poverty is either a big problem (62%) or somewhat of one (30%). Across all regions, parties, and demographic groups, overwhelming majorities view poverty as at least somewhat of a problem. A solid majority (68%) say the government should do more to reduce the gap between rich and poor—a slight increase from March of this year, when 61 percent expressed this view. Just 29 percent say this is not something the government should be doing. There is a strong partisan split on this question: 84 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of independents today say the government should do more, while 32 percent of Republicans say so.

    Baldassare noted: “As issues are taking shape in the presidential primaries, Californians of all political stripes are concerned about poverty, but they are deeply split on the government’s role.”

  • Gun laws. A solid majority of adults (65%) say that laws covering the sale of guns should be stricter than they are now. Californians are more likely than adults nationwide (52%) to favor stricter laws, according to an August CBS News poll (65%). Among adults with a gun, rifle, or pistol in their home, 83 percent favor keeping laws the same (38%) or making them stricter (45%).
  • Most adults (57%) say that controlling gun ownership is more important than protecting the right of Americans to own guns, while 40 percent say protecting gun ownership is more important. There are sharp partisan differences, with 74 percent of Republicans and 52 percent of independents saying that protecting gun ownership is more important, compared to just 26 percent of Democrats. Among adults with a gun, rifle, or pistol in their home, 58 percent favor protecting gun ownership.

More Key Findings

  • Half view crime as a big problem—page 12
    Nearly a year after Proposition 47 reclassified some drug and property felonies as misdemeanors, 52 percent of adults say crime in California is a big problem; perceptions were similar in October 2014 (50%), just before the measure passed.
  • Most are confident that state can plan for future of higher education—page 13
    Half of Californians expect the state to have a shortage of college-educated workers in 20 years, and 55 percent are at least somewhat confident in state government’s ability to plan for the future of the higher education system.


The PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,708 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from September 13–22, 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, ±3.9 percent for the 1,391 registered voters, and ±4.4 percent for the 1,066 likely voters. For more information on methodology, see page 23.

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.