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Press Release · March 17, 2004

Los Angeles County: A House Divided, Racial, Political Groups Have Different Take On Present, Future

Residents Also Conflicted Over Immigration, Fiscal and Economic Policy Issues

SAN FRANCISCO, California, March 17, 2004 — The mood of Los Angeles County residents may be more upbeat than it was a decade ago, but how they feel about quality of life, the future course of the county, and government services and policies depends a lot on who they are and where they stand politically, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Today, the number of residents who believe LA County is headed in the right direction is nearly double (45%) what it was 10 years ago (24%). But that upswing masks deep differences in attitudes between racial and ethnic groups and among political parties. “We find such contradictory views about quality of life and preferences on public policies and government priorities that it’s almost as though some residents of this one region are living in parallel universes,” says PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare.

Differences along racial and ethnic lines, particularly for blacks, are striking. With the exception of blacks, attitudes toward day-to-day life seem to be generally positive: 86 percent of whites, 85 percent of Asians, and 80 percent of Latinos say they are satisfied with the community they live in, but one-third of blacks (33%) are dissatisfied. Looking ahead, a majority of Asians (52%) and Latinos (50%) think the county is headed in the right direction, but whites (43%) and blacks (36%) are less optimistic.

Blacks also have a different take on the most important problems facing the county. Over the past decade, concern with crime as the biggest problem dropped from 34 to 14 percent, top concern with gangs dropped from 31 to 13 percent, and top concern with drugs dropped from 12 to 5 percent. Despite this general decline, 24 percent of blacks now say gangs are the county’s most important problem, 21 percent name crime, and 13 percent name drugs. Further, and probably related to these perceptions, blacks (52%) are much less likely than whites (72%), Asians (66%), or Latinos (65%) to give police protection high marks.

“Quality-of-life issues like neighborhood satisfaction and personal safety are the stuff of daily experience; they are vital in shaping attitudes toward the community,” says Baldassare. “Civic leaders need to consider what is so different about the experience of African Americans that it makes their outlook distinctively more negative.”

And Then There’s Politics… Partisan Divisions Rival Racial/Ethnic Differences

The perceptions and opinions of LA County’s Republicans, Democrats, and independents are more divergent than the racial and ethnic differences. Baldassare observes that “In LA County, we’re seeing the same kind of growing political polarization that is making the state even more difficult to govern.”

There are stark partisan differences in approval ratings for Governor Schwarzenegger and in dealing with state debt. Republicans (80%) give the governor much higher approval ratings than Democrats (45%) or independents (53%). Although Democrats (78%), Republicans (76%), and independents (73%) strongly agree that the state budget deficit is a big problem, they part company when asked how best to deal with it. Pluralities of Democrats (42%) and independents (44%) support a mixture of spending cuts and tax increases, compared to just one-third (33%) of Republicans, who prefer using mostly spending cuts (44%). Republicans also approve of the governor’s plan to take local property tax money and use it to lower the state deficit, nearly two to one over Democrats (64% to 33%).

Conflicting views about how to reduce the deficit mirror differences about cutting public services. Far more Democrats than Republicans or independents say they are very concerned about cuts to K-12 education (Democrats 76%, independents 57%, Republicans 43%), health and human services (Democrats 74%, independents 53%, Republicans 36%), and government services such as parks, police, and transportation (Democrats 63%, independents 48%, Republicans 29%).

Tensions over Taxes

Despite these partisan differences on cutting services, most of LA County’s likely voters are willing to raise state taxes to maintain current funding levels for K-12 education (56%), health and human services (48%), and local government services (50%). Once again, however, a partisan divide prevails: Majorities of Democrats support tax increases for the three areas (K-12 education 66%, health and human services 56%, local government services 54%), while majorities of Republicans oppose them (K-12 education 52%, health and human services 62%, local government services 56%).

“Although taxes generally top the list of contentious issues between Republicans and Democrats, the divide on K-12 education, where there is usually more voter consensus, is surprising,” says Baldassare. For example, there is acute disagreement over a proposal that would reform Proposition 13 tax limits and increase taxes on commercial and residential properties that produce income in order to fund K-12 education and to establish universal preschool programs: Republicans are strongly opposed (57%) and Democrats are strongly in favor (64%) of this proposal. There is similar disagreement on the local level, where majorities of Democrats (70%) and independents (69%), but less than half of Republicans (49%), would vote yes if a local school district bond appeared on the November ballot.

Despite all the partisan contention over taxes, there are points of agreement. Majorities of Democrats (79%), Independents (74%), and Republicans (55%) support raising the state income tax paid by the wealthiest Californians. Even greater majorities support raising so-called “sin” taxes on alcohol and cigarettes in order to fund county health services (Democrats 81%, independents 72%, Republicans 67%). Moreover, there is majority opposition to increasing the vehicle license fee among all parties (Republicans 79%, independents 68%, Democrats 66%).

Attitudes Toward Immigrants Split; Political, Racial/Ethnic Differences Emerge Again

Other issues also create division. While a majority of residents (55%) believe immigrants are good for the region because of their hard work and job skills, illegal immigration continues to trouble LA County. A 1994 Los Angeles Times poll found that 52 percent of residents thought the amount of illegal immigration into LA County was a major problem; today, 47 percent say the same. Baldassare notes that negative views toward illegal immigration and positive ones toward immigrants are not contradictory. “Many residents distinguish between immigrants, as people, and illegal immigration. They see immigrants as contributing to the community, while illegal immigration is associated with a variety of costs and problems.”

Again, the general consensus masks a polarization of Republicans and Democrats: In perfect contrast, 58 percent of Democrats say immigrants are a benefit and 58 percent of Republicans say they are a burden. A split also occurs along racial and ethnic lines, with Latinos (70%) and Asians (68%) being far more likely than blacks (38%) or whites (44%) to see immigrants as a benefit. Despite these varied opinions, a strong majority (61%) of all county residents believe undocumented immigrants and their children should have access to public health care, including majorities of every racial and ethnic group (whites 51%, blacks 52%, Asians 55%, Latinos 74%).

It’s All in the Packaging: Support for Workers’ Comp Reform Depends on Question

On another divisive issue – workers’ compensation reform – voters’ response may hinge on how the debate is framed. Two in three LA County voters (67%) favor reducing employer costs for workers’ compensation – however, that support drops to 42 percent if it means reducing benefits to employees injured at work. Here again, voters diverge along party lines: Most Republicans (74%) favor lowering employer costs even if it means fewer benefits for injured employees (59%), while Democrats support for lowering employer costs (59%) diminishes to 33 percent if it means fewer benefits. “If this issue appears on next November’s ballot, the victors may be the ones who control the spin,” says Baldassare.

More Key Findings

  • Repeal of SB2 Health Coverage Law Unpopular — Page 16
    Majorities of Democrats (70%), independents (65%), and Republicans (54%) are opposed to current efforts to repeal state law SB2, which requires large and medium-sized employers to buy health insurance coverage for their employees.
  • Support for Mental Health — Page 17
    A strong majority (68%) of likely voters say they approve a 1 percent tax increase on income over $1 million to fund mental health services.
  • State vs. Local — Page 18
    Sixty-six percent of likely voters support requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislature and voter approval before any reduction in local government revenue occurs – however, this support drops to 53 percent when it means less revenue for state services.

About the Survey

The Special Survey of Los Angeles County — a collaborative effort of PPIC and the School of Policy, Planning, and Development at the University of Southern California — is a special edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey, supported in part through a grant from the California Community Foundation. This is the second in an annual series of PPIC surveys of Los Angeles County. Findings of this survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,002 Los Angeles County adult residents interviewed between February 27 and March 9, 2004. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. For more information on survey methodology, see page 19.

Mark Baldassare is research director at 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. His most recent book, A California State of Mind: The Conflicted Voter in a Changing World, is available at

PPIC is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to improving public policy through objective, nonpartisan research on the economic, social, and political issues that affect Californians. 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.