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Press Release · June 3, 2020

Many in State Say the Worst of COVID-19 Is Ahead for U.S., Most Prefer Caution in Easing Restrictions in Their Area


SAN FRANCISCO, June 3, 2020—Many Californians believe that the worst is yet to come for the US with the COVID-19 pandemic, and less than three in ten believe restrictions on physical activity in their area should be decreased. Governor Newsom’s job approval has increased since earlier this year—and most Californians approve of his handling of the pandemic—but his recently released budget plan gets mixed reviews. These are among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California.

Asked where they think the US stands with regard to the coronavirus outbreak, 48 percent of Californians say the worst is yet to come, 46 percent say the worst is behind us, and 6 percent say they don’t know. Across racial/ethnic groups, 69 percent of African Americans say the worst is yet to come, as do 53 percent of both Asian Americans and Latinos, and 41 percent of whites.

As the issue of gradually lifting “shelter in place” orders continues to generate much discussion, less than three in ten Californians (28%) want restrictions on physical activity reduced in their local area, while 46 percent want about the same number of restrictions and 25 percent want more restrictions. Less than one-third across all regions want fewer restrictions (31% Central Valley, 29% Inland Empire, 28% San Francisco Bay Area, 27% Los Angeles, 27% Orange/San Diego).

Asked about the prospect of state governments easing restrictions, a majority of Californians (58%) say their greater concern is that states lift restrictions on public activity too quickly, while 38 percent say their greater concern is states not lifting restrictions quickly enough.

“Many Californians fear the worst is yet to come in the COVID-19 crisis and favor caution when it comes to their localities and states lifting the current restrictions on public activity,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

Many Californians Are Concerned about Getting COVID-19 and Needing Hospitalization, while One in Three Report Job Loss due to COVID-19

A strong majority of Californians are very concerned (24%) or somewhat concerned (34%) about getting COVID-19 and needing hospitalization. The share saying they are very concerned is largest among lower-income Californians (30% annual household income under $40,000, 22% $40,000 to under $80,000, 17% $80,000 or more), and there is also variation across racial/ethnic groups (30% African Americans, 29% Latinos, 23% Asian Americans, 18% whites). Across all regions, at least one in five Californians say they are very concerned about getting COVID-19 and needing to be hospitalized (26% Inland Empire, 26% Los Angeles, 23% Central Valley, 21% Orange/San Diego, 21% San Francisco Bay Area).

More than one-third of adults (35%) report that they or someone in their household have been laid off or lost their job due to the coronavirus outbreak, and half (51%) report someone in their house having work hours reduced or pay cut. Some groups have been hit harder than others. Those in households with annual incomes under $40,000 (47%) are much more likely than those making $40,000 to under $80,000 (34%) and twice as likely as those making $80,000 or more (22%) to report a job loss. Also, job loss is higher among Latinos (49%) than among other racial/ethnic groups (35% African Americans, 34% Asian Americans, 24% whites).

“Californians’ perceptions and experiences with the COVID-19 crisis demonstrate the deep fault lines based on income and race and ethnicity in California today,” Baldassare said.

Governor’s Approval Rating Rises

Nearly two-thirds of Californians (65% adults, 64% likely voters) approve of the job Governor Newsom is doing. This is an increase from February (53% adults, 52% likely voters), which had been Newsom’s highest approval rating as governor. Across partisan groups, 86 percent of Democrats, 49 percent of independents, and 27 percent of Republicans approve of the governor’s performance.

Solid majorities approve of how the governor is handling the coronavirus pandemic (69% adults, 69% likely voters), and majorities also approve of his handling of jobs and the economy (59% adults, 57% likely voters). Despite the various challenges presented by the pandemic, most Californians (58% adults, 56% likely voters) say that things in the state are generally going in the right direction.

“Governor Newsom is receiving high marks for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis, and most Californians are surprisingly upbeat about the direction of the state,” Baldassare said.

Californians Are Split on the Governor’s Budget, while Most Oppose Tax Increases

Facing a multibillion-dollar deficit due to a steep decline in projected state revenues, Governor Newsom in mid-May released his revised state budget proposal for 2020–21. Opinion is divided on the revised budget, with 43 percent favoring (40% likely voters), 43 percent opposing (46% likely voters), and 14 percent saying they don’t know or haven’t heard anything about the budget (15% likely voters). Across partisan groups, 48 percent of Democrats, 31 percent of independents, and 26 percent of Republicans approve; 38 percent of Democrats, 52 percent of independents, and 62 percent of Republicans oppose.

Asked whether Governor Newsom should have included tax increases in his budget plan, only one-third of Californians (32% adults, 34% likely voters) say he should have. Solid majorities (60% of both adults and likely voters) say that tax increases should not have been included. Across partisan groups, Democrats (43%) are much more likely than independents (29%) and Republicans (14%) to say tax increases should have been included.

“Governor Newsom’s plan to close a multibillion-dollar state budget gap is receiving mixed reviews, while tax increases are opposed by a two-to-one margin,” Baldassare said.

Overwhelming Majority Supports Expanding Vote-by-Mail

Governor Newsom recently directed county election officials to send vote-by-mail ballots for the November election to all registered voters. An overwhelming majority of likely voters (73%) say this is a good idea, while just 24 percent say it is a bad idea and 2 percent don’t know. Democratic likely voters (94%) are far more likely than independents (63%) or Republicans (37%) to say it is a good idea. Across regions, support is highest in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area (80% likely voters in both), followed by Orange/San Diego (69%), Central Valley (68%), and the Inland Empire (62%).

Concerns Are High about the State and National Economies

An overwhelming share of Californians (71% adults, 72% likely voters) say that California is in an economic recession, and more than one-third (34% adults, 38% likely voters) believe it is a serious recession rather than a moderate (25% adults, 23% likely voters) or mild (9% adults, 8% likely voters) recession. Across all regions at least 30 percent say California is in a serious recession (40% Orange/San Diego, 34% Los Angeles, 32% Inland Empire and San Francisco Bay Area, 31% Central Valley).

Regarding the national economy, Californians’ optimism is low: 23 percent of adults (20% likely voters) expect the nation to have good times financially during the next 12 months. This is a steep decline from the 47 percent of adults saying this in November 2019 and the lowest in PPIC surveys since the Great Recession.

“The overwhelming consensus is that the state has fallen into a recession today, while positive expectations of the US economy for the next year have fallen sharply,” Baldassare said.

President’s Approval Rating in California Is Low but Stable

President Trump’s approval rating is 35 percent among adults and 33 percent among likely voters, very similar to where it stood in February (35% of both adults and likely voters) and in May of last year (34% adults, 38% likely voters). Across partisan groups, 83 percent of Republicans, 41 percent of independents, and 7 percent of Democrats approve. In a recent Gallup poll, 49 percent of adults nationally approved of the president’s job performance.

Among Californians who say they approve of President Trump’s job performance, an overwhelming majority (70%) say that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind the US.

Looking ahead to the November election, 57 percent of likely voters in California say they would vote for Joe Biden for president, and 33 percent say Donald Trump. Asked about their preference for the US House of Representatives in November, 59 percent of likely voters would vote for or lean toward the Democratic candidate in their district, while 34 percent would vote for or lean toward the Republican candidate. Among likely voters who approve of President Trump’s job performance, 84 percent say they would vote for or lean toward the Republican candidate in their House district in November. In the seven competitive House races identified by the Cook Political Report (districts 10, 21, 22, 25, 39, 45, and 48), a slim majority of likely voters favor the Democratic candidate (52%) over the Republican (44%).

Currently, 38 percent of California adults and 31 percent of likely voters approve of the way the US Congress is handling its job—similar to the approval ratings for the president.

“President Trump’s approval rating has been stable, and it is a powerful predictor of Californians’ attitudes towards the COVID-19 crisis now and their vote preferences in November,” Baldassare said.

Californians’ Trust in the Federal Government Remains Low

As was the case early this year before the coronavirus outbreak, trust in the federal government is low. Asked how often they can trust the federal government to do what is right, 6 percent say just about always and 18 percent say most of the time, while 64 percent say only some of the time and 9 percent say none of the time (volunteered). Findings were similar in January (5% always, 19% most of the time, 66% only some of the time, 8% never).

“Californians started the year with low trust in the federal government and this has not changed after months of living with the COVID-19 crisis,” Baldassare said.

About the Survey

The Californians and Their Government survey is supported with funding from the Arjay and Frances F. Miller Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, and the PPIC Donor Circle.

Findings in this report are based on a survey of 1,706 California adult residents, including 1,278 interviewed on cell phones and 428 interviewed on landline telephones. The sample included 514 respondents reached by calling back respondents who had previously completed an interview in PPIC Statewide Surveys in the last six months. Interviews took an average of 19 minutes to complete. Interviewing took place on weekend days and weekday nights from May 17–26, 2020. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.

The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.5 percent for all adults, ±4.1 percent for the 1,326 registered voters, and ±4.6 percent for the 1,048 likely voters. For more information on methodology, see page 20.

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.