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Press Release · February 20, 2004

March 2nd Measures On Shaky Ground

Kerry Pulls Far Ahead in Presidential Primary, Partisan Schism Growing in State

SAN FRANCISCO, California, February 20, 2004 — When it comes to next month’s primary election, “skeptical uncertainty” might best describe the mood of California voters. All four propositions on the March 2nd ballot face uncertain fates because many residents haven’t decided how they will vote. And the number of undecided voters hasn’t changed much since January, according to a new survey released by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Among the measures, the $15 billion economic recovery bond (Proposition 57) still has much less than majority support, while the California Balanced Budget Act (Proposition 58) has a bare majority of 52 percent among likely voters. Thus far, television ads supporting the economic recovery bond have had little effect on increasing support. Immediately before the ads began on February 10th, 37 percent were in favor and 45 percent opposed. Since then, 38 percent are in favor and 38 percent are opposed. If anything, the ads may have swung more into the undecided column, with 18 percent undecided before they ran and 24 percent after. Overall, little has changed since January, when 35 percent were in favor, 44 percent opposed, and 21 percent undecided. Although Republicans are more likely than Democrats (45% to 34%) to support the measure, equally large numbers of both also remain undecided (22% each).

Despite Governor Schwarzenegger’s high approval ratings, his public support for the recovery bond doesn’t seem to assure its passage at this time. Among the 61 percent of likely voters who approve of the way he’s handling his job, 49 percent support the bond and 31 percent oppose it. Of the 65 percent of voters who know that he supports the bond, 44 percent support it, while 41 percent are opposed. Fiscal concerns may be overriding other considerations for voters. “People have real misgivings about doing anything that will put the state further into debt – including passing bonds, which has historically been the most palatable way of raising money,” says PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare.

The other bond measure – a $12.3 billion effort to raise money for public school facilities – is just under the majority line: 49 percent support it, 36 percent are opposed, and 15 percent are undecided. Fiscal concern also seems to be affecting voters’ enthusiasm for school bonds, which have historically enjoyed high levels of support. Since 2002, the number saying they would support a bond for their local school district has dropped from 70 percent to 59 percent.

Reversal of Fortune in Presidential Preferences; Confidence in Federal Government Wavering

Since the January survey, California’s likely voters have catapulted John Kerry from fourth (6%) to first (56%) place among Democratic candidates, while moving Howard Dean from first (31%) to second (11%) place. (Edwards has 10 percent, followed by Clark with 4 percent, Kucinich with 4 percent, and Sharpton with 1 percent; 12 percent are undecided.) At this point, however, a Democrat nominee would get more votes (54%) than President George W. Bush (37%) if the election were held today, a significant shift from January when it was tied at 45 percent for a Democrat nominee or President Bush.

The president’s approval ratings have also changed: 56 percent of likely voters now say they disapprove of the way he’s handling his job, a 12 percent jump since January, and approval has dropped from 53 percent to 43 percent. Not surprisingly, Bush receives high marks from Republicans (81% approve), and low ones from Democrats (76% disapprove). His approval ratings are also somewhat higher among Latinos (55%) than whites (50%).

The federal government’s fortunes have also taken a downturn. Today, 30 percent of Californians say they trust the U.S. government to do what is right just about always or most of the time, compared to 46 percent in January 2002 in the aftermath of September 11. With this drop, Washington’s ratings are approaching the low level of trust likely voters have in the state government: In January 2004, only 27 percent said they trust Sacramento to do what is right just about always or most of the time. “Californians disaffection with state government has been growing steadily over the last several years,” according to Baldassare, “and now the malaise seems to be spreading to what’s going on in Washington as well.”

Boxer Lead Growing in Senate Race; Jones Still GOP Favorite

Among likely voters, Senator Barbara Boxer’s lead has more than doubled since the January survey: At that time, likely voters gave her a 47 percent to 40 percent lead over a Republican challenger in November. It is now 53 percent to 36 percent. Among the Republican candidates, Bill Jones remains the frontrunner, with increased support since January (17% to 24%). Second-place Rosario Marin is the only other Republican candidate who has seen gains in the past month – increasing her support from 2 percent to 12 percent.

A People Divided: Partisan Rifts Becoming More Severe in California

Among pundits, alarm has been growing that America is in the throes of partisan polarization. Evidently, California is experiencing some of its own. In the past two-to-four years, the gap has widened between Republicans and Democrats on issues of abortion, the environment, immigrants, gay and lesbian rights, poverty, and homeland security and civil liberties. “Many people have pointed to the redrawing of electoral districts as the reason partisanship has increased in the legislature, but we’re finding that California’s voters are themselves further apart on many issues than they were just a few years ago,” says Baldassare. “If this trend continues, it could make California even more difficult to govern—through representative government or direct democracy.”

On the issue of gay and lesbian rights – specifically the very topical issue of gay marriage – the partisan gap has grown. Four years ago, 49 percent of Democrats and 23 percent of Republicans favored allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry. Today, the gap has increased by 8 points (57% among Democrats; 23% among Republicans). Overall in California, the percentage of residents who favor gay marriage has risen 6 points, from 38 percent in 2000 to 44 percent in 2004.

One of the biggest changes is in attitudes toward homeland security and civil liberties. Since 2002, the partisan split has grown by 15 points. Democrats have become more concerned that government will enact anti-terrorism laws that excessively restrict civil liberties (55% to 64%), while Republicans are less concerned (40% to 34%). The partisan division over immigration has increased by 11 points. When asked in February 2000 whether immigrants are a benefit or a burden to the state, 59 percent of Democrats and 41 percent of Republicans said they were a benefit, compared to 61 percent and 32 percent, respectively, today.

The partisan gap over whether stricter environmental regulations are worth the cost has grown by 16 percentage points. And although a large majority of Californians (69%) believe that government should not interfere with a woman’s access to abortion, the gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown by 5 percentage points since 2000. Poverty might be seen as a less divisive issue than abortion, but, in fact, the partisan divide has grown by 14 percentage points over whether poor people have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them.

More Key Findings

  • Iraq Disapproval — Page 8
    Fifty percent of state residents, and 56 percent of likely voters, disapprove of the way President Bush is handling the situation in Iraq.
  • Senators Remain Popular… — Page 9
    Majorities of likely California voters approve of the way Senator Barbara Boxer (52%) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (57%) are doing their jobs.
  • …But Trouble on the Hill — Page 10
    Three in 10 Californians rate the job performance of the U.S. Congress as good or excellent. Among likely voters, 71 percent rate Congress as doing only a fair or poor job.
  • Special Interest Scrutiny — Page 12
    Most Californians (67%) think the federal government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves; this is a 9 point increase from 2002 when 58 percent answered the same way.
  • Death Penalty — Page 25
    Although a majority (57%) of Californians say they believe in capital punishment, there is growing support for life in prison with no possibility of parole for first-degree murder (47% to 53% from 2000 to 2004).

About the Survey

The purpose of the PPIC Statewide Survey is to develop an in-depth profile of the social, economic, and political forces affecting California elections and public policy preferences. Findings of this survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,004 California adult residents interviewed between February 8 and February 16, 2004. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for subgroups is larger. For more information on 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.