SAN FRANCISCO, May 29, 2013—Most Californians support Governor Jerry Brown’s revised budget proposal, and they overwhelmingly favor his spending plan for public schools. 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.
When read a brief description of the overall budget proposal, solid majorities of Californians (61%) and likely voters (60%) favor the plan, which includes increased spending for K–12 education and modest increases to higher education, health and human services, and corrections. The governor’s plan would also reduce state debt and maintain a $1.1 billion reserve—a potential focus of debate, as some Democratic legislators look to restore funding to social services. When asked about the tradeoff, a majority of Californians (55%) prefer paying down debt and building a reserve to restoring some funding for social service programs (39%). Likely voters are twice as likely to prefer reducing the debt (62%) to restoring funding to social services (32%).
The governor’s education funding plan allocates $1 billion to help schools prepare for implementation of the math and English standards called the Common Core State Standards in 2014. Asked about this component of the plan, 73 percent of Californians express support. A key feature of Brown’s school funding plan would give each K–12 school district more money than in 2011–12 and allocate additional funding to districts with more English Learners and lower-income students. In the survey, 77 percent of Californians support this idea.
“Strong majorities favor the governor’s cautious approach to the budget,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “And they overwhelmingly support his ideas for school financing.”
Brown’s Approval Rating Holds Steady
The survey—begun the day the governor released his revised state budget proposal—finds his approval rating at 48 percent among all adults (31% disapprove, 21% don’t know). Approval among likely voters is identical, but they are more likely to disapprove (40%) and less likely to be unsure (11%) of his job performance. Brown’s approval has been close to 50 percent since December 2012. About a third of Californians (35%) approve of the job the state legislature is doing, while half (50%) disapprove. Likely voters are more negative (29% approve, 59% disapprove).
Most Californians continue to see the state’s budget situation as a big problem (61% all adults, 67% likely voters). Most also say that recent state budget cuts have affected their local government services a lot (59% all adults, 57% likely voters). When asked a more general question about their approach to government, 48 percent of Californians say they would prefer to pay higher taxes and have a state government that provides more services, while 44 percent would rather pay lower taxes and have fewer services. This is a significant change from last May, when residents preferred higher taxes and more services by a 21 point margin. Since the passage in November of Proposition 30—which increased taxes—this margin has shrunk to 15 points in December and 4 points today.
Despite the state’s improved fiscal condition, just 32 percent of adults and 21 percent of likely voters say they trust state government to do what is right just about always or most of the time. Strong majorities (61% adults, 70% likely voters) say state government is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves. Given their distrust in state leaders, Californians’ faith in their ability to make policy through the initiative process is not surprising. Most (57% adults, 60% likely voters) say policy decisions made by initiative are probably better than those made by the governor and legislature.
Majority Favor Split-roll Property Tax
This year, Democratic legislators have talked about making changes to Proposition 13, the landmark 1978 initiative that limits residential and commercial property taxes. Proposition 13 remains popular, with 58 percent of adults and 61 percent of likely voters saying it has been mostly a good thing for the state. But one proposed reform gets majority support: 58 percent of adults and 56 percent of likely voters favor a split-roll property tax, which would tax commercial properties according to their current market value. But less than half of Californians (46% adults, 42% likely voters) favor another proposed reform, which would lower the vote threshold from two-thirds to 55 percent to pass local special taxes.
“Californians remain steadfast supporters of Proposition 13 tax limits on the 35th anniversary of its passage, but they are open to some change,” Baldassare says. “Most support altering the provision that calls for the same treatment of residential and commercial property taxes. They are a lot less willing to lower the vote requirement to pass a local special tax.”
Despite support for the initiative process, policymaking at the ballot box is a challenge for many. Majorities (70% adults, 67% likely voters) say there are too many propositions on the state ballot. Larger majorities (78% adults, 83% likely voters) say the wording of initiatives is often too complicated and confusing for voters to understand what would happen if an initiative passes. Californians also feel that special interests control the initiative process a lot (55% adults, 63% likely voters).
How should the system be changed? One idea that gets strong support (68% adults, 69% likely voters) is an independent citizens’ initiative commission that would hold public hearings on initiatives and make recommendations in the official voter guide. Majorities also favored three other ideas:
- Having voters review initiatives—by voting on them again—after a certain number of years (64% adults, 64% likely voters)
- Giving initiative sponsors more time to qualify initiatives if they use only volunteers to gather signatures, rather than paid signature gatherers (72% adults, 75% likely voters)
- Having the “yes” and “no” sides of campaigns participate in a series of televised debates (75% adults, 76% likely voters)
But another idea, which would increase state leaders’ authority, fails to get majority support: allowing the legislature, with the governor’s approval, to amend initiatives after a certain number of years (47% adults, 36% likely voters are in favor).
Californians Divided About Direction of State
The survey finds Californians generally more optimistic about the state than they were a year ago. While they are divided today about whether things are generally going in the right direction (46%) or wrong direction (48%), pessimism has declined 15 points since last May (63% wrong direction). There are demographic distinctions. Most younger adults (57% ages 18–34) are optimistic, while older adults (56% ages 35–54, 51% 55 and older) are pessimistic about the state’s direction. Most residents in the Central Valley (56%), Orange/San Diego (56%), and Inland Empire (52%) are pessimistic, and most in the San Francisco Bay Area (54%) and Los Angeles (52%) are optimistic. Most blacks (59%) and whites (52%) are pessimistic; most Asians (55%) and Latinos (51%) are optimistic.
Most Say Sequestration Cuts Hurting Economy, Fewer Feel Impact
Californians were also asked about a number of national issues, including the effects of the across–the-board cuts in spending that took effect after President Obama and congressional Republicans failed to reach a budget agreement. Most Californians (69% adults, 63% likely voters) say the cuts are hurting the economy. Fewer (49% adults, 46% likely voters) say they have personally felt any negative impact. Californians with incomes of $40,000 or less (61%) are more likely than middle- (44%) or higher-income (34%) residents to say they have personally felt a negative impact. The president’s approval rating today is 62 percent among California adults and 53 percent among likely voters, similar to his approval ratings in March (66% adults, 57% likely voters) and January (65% adults, 56% likely voters). Just 31 percent of adults and 19 percent of likely voters approve of the job Congress is doing. Californians are more likely to approve of their own representatives in the U.S. House (53% adults, 50% likely voters).
Concern About Global Warming Increases
Californians are more likely to see global warming as a threat than they were a decade ago, and they are more likely to see it as a threat than adults nationwide. A majority of Californians (57%) say global warming will pose a serious threat to them or their way of life, while 39 percent say it will not (45% yes, 50% no in July 2003). A Gallup poll in March found that most U.S. adults (64%) do not think global warming will pose a serious threat (34% yes).
On two questions of energy policy, Californians express more caution than their counterparts nationwide. Less than half of Californians (39%) favor the increased use of fracking, the drilling method that uses high-pressure water and chemicals to extract oil and natural gas from underground rock formations. A March Pew Research Center survey found 48 percent of U.S. adults in favor. Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport Canadian oil to Texas refineries, has the support of a slim majority (53%) of Californians. The Pew survey found a solid majority of U.S. adults (66%) in favor.
Support for Same-sex Marriage Hits New High
On three other national issues, the views of Californians are similar to those nationwide:
- Same-sex marriage. With the U.S. Supreme Court expected to rule on this issue in June, support for legalizing same-sex marriage has reached a record high in California (56% favor, 38% oppose). Support is similar today among adults nationwide in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll (55% support, 40% oppose).
- Gun laws. Most Californians (57%) say the government does not do enough to regulate access to guns. This is a decline of 8 points since January—after the Newtown school shootings and before the gun control debate. An overwhelming majority (89%) favor a federal law requiring background checks on all potential gun buyers. In an April CBS/New York Times poll, a similar 88 percent of U.S. adults favored background checks.
- Immigration policy. Just 33 percent of Californians consider immigrants a burden to California because they use public services, while 61 percent say immigrants are a benefit because of their hard work and job skills. And 78 percent of Californians say immigrants living here illegally who meet certain requirements should be allowed to stay, with 50 percent saying these immigrants should be allowed to apply for U.S. citizenship and 25 percent preferring permanent residency. A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 73 percent of U.S. adults think these immigrants should be allowed to stay (44% apply for citizenship, 25% apply for residency).
ABOUT THE SURVEY
The PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,704 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from May 14–20, 2013. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.
The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.8 percent for all adults, ±4.0 percent for the 1,450 registered voters, and ±4.6 percent for the 1,129 likely voters. Some questions about the initiative process were asked of a random half-sample (questions 21a and 21b, and 23a–24b); for these, the sampling error is about ±5.3 percent. For more information on methodology, see page 25.
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. As a private operating foundation, 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.