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Press Release · May 11, 1998

Majority Say Candidate Debates Will Influence Their Vote In Primary, Survey Finds

People Care How Candidates Fund Their Campaigns; Latino Support for Bilingual Education Initiative Waning

SAN FRANCISCO, California, May 11, 1998 – Eighty-five percent of California’s likely voters say that candidate performances in public debates will influence how they vote, according to a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California. Ironically, although more Californians get their political news from television than from any other source (41%), no major network has agreed to televise the first gubernatorial debate, scheduled for Wednesday, May 13.

The second in a series of large-scale surveys conducted by Mark Baldassare shows Democrat Gray Davis with 23%, Al Checchi with 19%, and Jane Harman with 8% support among likely voters. Republican Dan Lungren receives 23%. While support for Checchi and Lungren remains unchanged since PPIC’s April survey, Davis has gained 11 points and Harman has dropped 10. Crossover voting continues to influence the race, with Democratic candidates receiving one in four Republican votes. Latino voters still favor Checchi by a wide margin.

In the U.S. Senate race, Darrell Issa has expanded his lead over Matt Fong, his challenger for the Republican nomination. Among likely voters, Issa receives 22% – an 8-point gain since April – and Fong 10%. Democrat Barbara Boxer has lost four points since the last survey and now receives 39%. She is backed by a majority of Latino voters (53%).

Subtle but important shifts are under way in voter preferences about candidate qualifications and campaign financing. By 46% to 36%, likely voters now say experience in elected office is a more important qualification than experience running a business. One month ago, voters were almost equally divided when asked which qualifications they value more in candidates for statewide office. Last month’s survey also found that six in 10 California voters were indifferent about self-funding. Now, the current survey indicates that when voters are asked to choose, they prefer a candidate who collects money from supporters rather than one who uses personal wealth to finance a campaign, by a fairly wide margin (52% to 34%).

“As Election Day draws nearer and more voters tune in, they seem to be returning to more traditional political values about candidates and losing enthusiasm for some of the more controversial initiatives,” said Mark Baldassare, director of the PPIC Statewide Survey.

California voters continue to strongly support Proposition 227, the initiative that would end most bilingual education programs in public schools, but support has slipped since President Clinton announced his opposition and the state legislature passed a bill authorizing local school districts to make decisions about bilingual programs. Sixty-seven percent of likely voters support the initiative – an 8-point drop from last month’s survey – while 28% are opposed. Latino voters, who favored the initiative just one month ago (58% to 39%), are now equally divided (48% to 48%).

Proposition 226, while still favored by a majority of likely voters, has also lost support. The initiative, which would require that unions obtain permission from their members before using union dues for political contributions, is supported by 59% of likely voters, with 33% opposed. PPIC’s April survey showed 67% in favor and 25% opposed. Voters more strongly support placing restrictions on corporate campaign contributions (55%) than on union contributions (50%). A majority of Latino voters (51%) oppose Proposition 226.

Latinos differ from Californians as a whole on a number of diverse issues. They are more willing to increase funding for social programs, even if it means increasing taxes (58% to 51%). A greater number believe that government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest (63% to 54%). Latinos are less likely to support a woman’s right to choose: 42% are in favor, compared with 61% of all Californians. However, contrary to received wisdom, Latinos are as likely as Californians as a whole to believe that homosexuality should be accepted by society (55% to 58%). These findings support the conclusions of the April survey that California Latinos defy political, social, and economic labels.

The April survey also revealed that crime and education, in that order, were Californians’ top public policy concerns. Responses to follow-up questions in the current survey indicate that Californians see crime and the quality of schools as very serious problems facing the state. Ninety-four percent of Californians believe that crime is a problem, with 66% calling it a “big problem.” Although concern about crime pervades all regions of the state, residents in the Central Valley are more likely to consider it a big problem than San Francisco Bay area residents (76% to 53%). Despite recent reports of falling crime rates throughout the state, 46% of Californians believe that the crime rate is rising. Paradoxically, when asked how safe they feel in their own neighborhoods at night, the majority of Californians in all regions of the state say they feel very to somewhat safe.

Nearly 80% of Californians also believe that the quality of K-12 education in the state is a problem, with 46% calling it a big problem. San Francisco Bay area residents express the most serious concern: 53% believe it is a big problem. Interestingly, parents of public school children are slightly less concerned than the population as a whole: 42% call K-12 education a big problem. Although they believe public education is in bad shape, residents are not in favor of making it easier for local school districts to raise taxes. Fifty-six percent oppose allowing a simple majority, rather than the current two-thirds requirement, to approve local tax increases for schools. Residents are more supportive of another proposal: 58% are in favor of providing parents with tax-funded vouchers. Parents of public school children overwhelmingly support this option (67% to 29%).

The purpose of the PPIC Statewide Survey is to develop an in-depth profile of the social, economic, and political forces at work in California elections and in shaping the state’s public policies. The surveys are intended to provide the public and policymakers with relevant information on the following: Californians’ overall impressions of key policy issues and of quality of life; differences in social and political attitudes among demographic groups and across different regions of the state; the characteristics of groups that are shaping the state’s elections and policy debates; and the political attitudes underlying “voter distrust” of government and low voter turnout. A minimum of four surveys will be conducted and released during the 1998 election cycle. The first survey was released in April 1998.

Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,008 California adult residents interviewed from May 1 to May 6, 1998. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for the 1,557 voters is +/- 2.5% and for the 960 likely voters is +/- 3%. For additional information on survey methodology, see page 23 of the attached report.

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, KCAL-TV, KRON-TV, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

PPIC is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to independent, 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.

Media interested in contacting survey respondents for reinterview should call Abby Cook at 415/291-4436.