Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Press Release · December 12, 2018

Majorities Put High Priority on Universal Health Coverage, Free Community College


SAN FRANCISCO, December 12, 2018—As Governor-Elect Gavin Newsom prepares to begin his first term, most Californians say universal health coverage and tuition-free community college should be high priorities for new state funding. This is among the key findings of a new statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

In his campaign, Newsom highlighted a number of policy priorities, including universal preschool and tuition-free community college. He also indicated support for statewide universal health coverage.  The PPIC survey asks about these policies and one more—building a high-speed rail system—that would require a significant amount of new state funding. The results:

  • Majorities of adults (60%) and likely voters (57%) say universal health coverage should be a very high or high priority.
  • A slight majority of adults (53%) and nearly half of likely voters (47%) say tuition-free community college should be a very high or high priority.
  • Fewer than half of Californians (48% adults, 41% likely voters) say the same about universal preschool.
  • Far fewer (25% adults, 19% likely voters) say the same about high-speed rail. Californians voted to allocate money to begin building the rail project in 2008.

Summing up, PPIC president and CEO Mark Baldassare said: “Majorities of Californians place a high priority for new state spending on universal health coverage and tuition-free community college, rather than high-speed rail.”

The survey asks Californians to make fiscal choices for the next budget year, when the state is projected to have a surplus of several billion dollars. A majority of adults (57%) say they would prefer to spend the surplus to increase state funding for education and health and human services. Far fewer would prefer to use the surplus to pay down debt and build up a reserve (21%) or for one-time spending for transportation, water, and infrastructure (16%).

Signs of Concern about the Economy

In the wake of the November election, a majority of California adults (54%) say that things in the state are generally going in the right direction. Their responses were similar in September. But residents are more pessimistic today when asked if we will have good times financially in the state in the year ahead—fewer than half of adults (46%) believe this. Optimism was higher in September when a majority of residents (53%) predicted good financial times ahead.

In keeping with this note of caution about the economy, Californians are most likely to name jobs and the economy (17%) as the most important issue facing people in the state today. The next most frequently named issues are the environment (10%), housing affordability (9%), and immigration (9%). Notably—in the wake of the recent wildfires—9 percent say wildfires are the most important state issue. Across regions, San Francisco Bay Area residents are the most likely to name housing affordability as the top issue, and Central Valley residents are the most likely to say wildfires.

When asked what the state government’s most important priority should be in planning for the future, 39 percent say improving jobs and the economy, 20 percent say protecting the environment, and 15 percent say updating water and transportation infrastructure. Across all parties and demographic groups, improving jobs and the economy is the highest priority.

“Californians say that improving jobs and the economy is the most important priority for the future,” Baldassare said. “And many believe that children will be worse off than their parents.”

Half of adults (50%) say that children growing up today will be worse off financially than their parents, while fewer (40%) say children will be better off. Slight majorities of Latinos (54%) and Asian Americans (51%) think children will be better off, while most African Americans and whites (62% each) say they will be worse off. US-born Californians (34%) are much less likely than immigrants (53%) to say children will be better off than their parents.

Asked if the state will be a better or worse place to live in 2025 than it is now, 40 percent say it will be better, 32 percent say worse, and 23 percent say it will be the same.

Two-thirds of Californians (67%) say the state is divided into two economic groups: the “haves” and the “have nots.” Solid majorities across income groups express this view, as do majorities across parties (Democrats 73%, independents 69%, Republicans 60%). Across racial/ethnic groups, African Americans (82%) are the most likely to say the state is divided into haves and have nots, followed by Latinos (68%), whites (67%), and Asian Americans (55%).

When asked to choose which of the two economic groups they are in, Californians are split: 40 percent say they are haves, and 45 percent say they are have nots. Two-thirds of residents (66%) with an annual household income of $80,000 or more say they are in the haves group, while 62 percent of those with incomes under $40,000 say they are have nots. Californians with annual household incomes of $40,000 to $80,000 are divided (42% haves, 44% have nots).

Should the government do more to make sure that all residents have an equal opportunity to get ahead? A majority (53%) say yes, while 41 percent say that all Californians have an equal opportunity now.

Less Than Half Approve of Newsom’s Policies—A Third Don’t Know Yet 

After Newsom’s landslide victory in November, 42 percent of adults and 41 percent of likely voters approve of his plans and policies based on what they know so far, while 25 percent of adults and 32 percent of likely voters disapprove. About a third say they don’t know or haven’t heard enough to have an opinion yet (34% adults, 27% likely voters).  Asked if they want Newsom to generally continue outgoing governor Jerry Brown’s policies, just 35 percent of adults and 39 percent of likely voters say yes. Half (48% adults, 50% likely voters) say they want Newsom to mostly change to different policies.

“As Gavin Newsom makes plans for his new administration, nearly half of Californians say they want him to take a different policy direction from Governor Brown,” Baldassare said.

In the final survey before the end of his fourth term, Brown’s approval rating stands at 51 percent among adults and 52 percent among likely voters. His rating after the November 2014 election was similar (54% adults, 57% likely voters). After the November 2010 election, it was lower (41% adults, 47% likely voters).

In the aftermath of an election that gave Democrats a majority in the California Legislature of more than two-thirds, the legislature’s approval rating is 47 percent among adults and 43 percent among likely voters. Ratings were similar after the November 2014 election (41% adults, 39% likely voters) but lower after the November 2010 election (26% adults, 18% likely voters).

Half Have No Confidence that Trump Will Make the Right Decisions

In contrast with their views about the direction of the state, only about a third of Californians (32% adults, 27% likely voters) are satisfied with the way things are going in the nation. Partisan differences are stark: 51 percent of Republicans are satisfied, but just 18 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of independents are. Half of state residents (48% adults, 50% likely voters) have no confidence at all that President Trump will make the right decisions for the country’s future.

The president’s job approval rating is 32 percent among adults and 36 percent among likely voters, with partisans divided (76% Republicans, 28% independents, 12% Democrats approve). Approval of Congress is lower (29% adults, 20% likely voters). Republicans are more likely to disapprove (56%) than approve (34%), and strong majorities of Democrats (74%) and independents (73%) disapprove.

California played a prominent role in shifting control of the US House of Representatives from the Republicans to the Democrats. How do Californians feel about the switch? Majorities of adults (53%) and likely voters (55%) say it is a good thing. Far fewer say it is a bad thing (17% adults, 22% likely voters) or will make no difference (27% adults, 21% likely voters). Majorities of Latinos (66%) and African Americans (59%) say the switch is a good thing, while fewer Asian Americans (47%) and whites (44%) agree. Notably, women (59%) are much more likely than men (46%) to say this is a good thing.

With congressional Democrats now in the majority, California adults are split over whether their representative should work with the Trump administration (49%) or push back (44%). A small majority of likely voters (53%) prefer working with the administration (41% push back).

“Most Californians say the election outcome of Democratic control of the House is a good thing,” Baldassare said. “About half say they have no confidence at all in President Trump.”

Bipartisan Support for a Way to Let Undocumented Residents Stay

The survey asks about two issues of national debate: immigration and government regulation.

  • Immigration: Since January 2013, at least two-thirds of Californians have said that immigrants are a benefit to the state because of their hard work and job skills. Today, a large majority of Californians (72%) express this view, while 23 percent say immigrants are a burden to the state because they use public services. Majorities across regions agree that immigrants are a benefit to the state. Across parties, 83 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of independents say immigrants are a benefit, while 55 percent of Republicans say they are a burden. There is bipartisan agreement on one aspect of immigration: 84 percent of adults say there should be a way for undocumented immigrants living in the US to stay here legally if certain requirements are met, with 94 percent of Democrats, 85 percent of independents, and 60 percent of Republicans in agreement.
  • Regulation: Majorities (58% adults, 58% likely voters) say government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest, while far fewer (35% adults, 39% likely voters) say regulation does more harm than good. Asked about environmental regulation, most (59% adults, 61% likely voters) say stricter environmental laws and regulation are worth the cost, while just a third (33% adults, 33% likely voters) say they cost too many jobs and hurt the economy. While most Democrats and independents view regulation of business and the environment positively, two-thirds of Republicans say that business regulation does more harm than good (66%) and environmental laws and regulation hurt the economy (67%).

About the Survey

The Californians and Their Government series is supported with funding from the James Irvine Foundation and the PPIC Donor Circle.

Findings in this report are based on a survey of 1,704 California adult residents, including 1,193 interviewed on cell phones and 511 interviewed on landline telephones. Interviews took place from November 11–20, 2018. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.

The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.3 percent for all adults. More information on methodology begins on page 21.

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.

The Public Policy Institute of California is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. We are a public charity. We do not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor do we endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Research publications reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of our funders or of the staff, officers, advisory councils, or board of directors of the Public Policy Institute of California.