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Press Release · August 29, 2002

Neither/Nor: Californians Unsatisfied With Choices In Governor’s Race

Majority Believe State Still Mired in Recession; Most Will Commemorate Anniversary of September 11

September 11th: Californians Edgy One Year Later

As Californians face the anniversary of September 11th, they remain concerned about the possibility of future attacks: 64 percent view terrorism and security as a problem in the state, with 23 percent calling it a big problem. Despite this anxiety, most residents are not worried that they or someone in their family will be the victim of a terrorist attack: Only 12 percent are very worried about the prospect. Why the disconnect? Residents worry more about power plants and water supplies (37%) than about airports and airplanes (17%), high rise buildings and downtown areas (10%), and roads, bridges, and tunnels (9%) combined. Residents of Los Angeles (21%), the site of a recent airport shooting, are most concerned about airports and airplanes, while Bay Area residents (21%) express greatest concern about roads, bridges, and tunnels.

Although they are uneasy about terrorism, many Californians do have confidence in their government officials and agencies. Seventy percent of state residents say they approve of the way President George W. Bush is dealing with terrorism and security, and 62 percent also support Governor Davis’ handling of the issue. In addition, 55 percent say they are at least somewhat confident that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies will be able to prevent future attacks. And they express even greater confidence in the readiness of their local fire department (90%), local police department (74%), and public health agencies (69%) to respond to a terrorist threat. However, although Californians support passage of legislation to create a Department of Homeland Security (60%), they remain more concerned that government will restrict civil liberties in their fight against terrorism (51%) than they are worried that government will fail to enact strong anti-terrorism laws (41%).

Notably, Latinos remain far more likely than non-Hispanic whites to see terrorism and security in California as a big problem (38% to 18%) and to be very worried that they or a loved one will be the victim of a terrorist attack (33% to 4%). However, they also express greater confidence that their government officials and agencies can respond to the challenge.

More key findings

  • Observing September 11th – Page 9
    Although most Californians (74%) say they plan to treat September 11th as they would any other day rather than taking special precautions, 77 percent also say they will observe the day by taking a moment of silent prayer, gathering with friends, or attending a memorial service. Seventy-five percent also expect to display the flag or other American symbols.
  • Overall Approval Ratings for Bush, Davis – Page 18
    Support for President Bush remains high in California: 64 percent of state residents say they approve of the job he is doing, while only 32 percent disapprove. Governor Davis has improved his standing among Californians, with 51 percent saying they approve of his performance as governor compared to 39 percent in June. Both Bush (72%) and Davis (69%) enjoy strong support from Latinos.

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. PPIC will conduct large-scale public opinion surveys on a regular basis leading up to the November 2002 election. Findings of the current survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,014 California adult residents interviewed from August 14 to August 21, 2002. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for the 1,549 registered voters is +/- 2.5% and for the 993 likely voters is +/- 3%. For more information on survey methodology, see page 19.

Dr. Mark Baldassare is research director at PPIC, where he holds the Arjay and Frances Fearing Miller Chair in Public Policy. He is founder and director of the PPIC Statewide Survey, which he has conducted since 1998.

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 state and federal legislation nor does it endorse or support any political parties or candidates for public office.

SAN FRANCISCO, California, August 29, 2002 – Facing gloomy economic times, Californians are intensely interested in the race for governor but not inspired by their choices, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Defying the conventional wisdom that voters tune in to the general election only after Labor Day, 74 percent of the state’s likely voters today say they are closely following news about the gubernatorial candidates, compared to 56 percent in the month before the March primary. And voters are taking note of the political advertising that is already saturating the airwaves: 68 percent say they have seen commercials by Democratic Governor Gray Davis (54%) and his Republican challenger Bill Simon (14%).

But despite their keen interest, a majority of California’s voters say they are not content with their choices in the race for governor: 54 percent express dissatisfaction with the choice of candidates, while only 38 percent say they are satisfied. In fact, a majority of voters across all regions of the state – men and women alike – say they don’t like their choices. Republicans (58%) are slightly more likely than Democrats (50%) to say they are not satisfied with the candidates. “It’s a long road until November, but at this point neither candidate is connecting with voters on the issues they care about,” says survey director Mark Baldassare.

Among likely voters, Davis leads Simon by 11 points (41% to 30%), with no third-party candidate receiving more than 4 percent of the vote. Davis is buoyed by strong support from Latinos, women, and independent voters. While non-Hispanic whites are divided between the two candidates (35% each), Latinos favor Davis by more that 2-to-1 (58% to 22%). There is a substantial gender gap: Women support Davis over Simon by 19 points (44% to 25%), while men are split (37% to 36%). Thirty-one percent of independent and third-party voters choose Davis, while Simon (19%) is virtually tied with Green Party candidate Peter Miguel Camejo (18%) among this group.

Voters Prefer Simon on Electricity, Davis on Ethics

As was the case in the primary, California’s likely voters are most eager to hear the candidates talk about the three E’s – education (17%), the economy (13%), and electricity (11%) – during the fall campaign. When asked which candidate would do a better job on these issues, voters prefer Davis over Simon on education (50% to 29%), are split on the economy (40% each), and select Simon over Davis on electricity and energy policy (43% to 34%). By a narrow margin, voters also say that Davis will do a better job on state budget and tax issues (42% to 39%). Davis also gets the nod when it comes to maintaining high ethical standards in government: 43 percent prefer Davis on this issue, compared to 28 percent for Simon. But despite recent reports of financial fraud and accounting scandals in the corporate world, California voters remain as likely today as in the 1998 governor’s race to be split over their preference for a candidate who has experience in running a business (42%) versus experience in elected office (44%).

Majorities Back After-School Programs, Same-Day Voter Registration

Support for Proposition 49 – a measure that would increase state funding for before- and after-school programs – is running high, with 59 percent of likely voters supporting the measure. Interestingly, the initiative, which has been promoted by GOP activist Arnold Schwarzenegger, receives its strongest support from Democrats (72% yes, 17% no), while Republicans oppose the measure (39% yes, 51% no). But both parties agree on one aspect of the proposition: Democrats (76%) and Republicans (52%) say that the funding it provides would improve children’s safety. A majority of Democrats (66%) also say that the measure will raise student test scores, while a majority of Republicans (50%) say it will not. Overall, 67 percent of voters say that Proposition 49 will improve safety for children and 54 percent believe it will help raise test scores.

A slimmer majority (52%) say they favor Proposition 52 – a measure that would allow eligible California adults to register to vote on election day. Again, Democrats support the initiative (56% yes, 33% no), while Republicans are more likely to oppose it (43% yes, 48% no). Support for Prop. 52 is also high among independents (58% yes, 33% no). Only small percentages of likely voters believe that this same-day voter registration measure will greatly boost voter turnout (8%), as claimed by advocates, or significantly increase voter fraud (12%), as alleged by critics.

Stock Market Losses Impose Economic Pall

California residents are far less optimistic about the state’s overall direction and economic prospects than they were just six months ago. Today, only 44 percent believe the state is headed in the right direction, compared to 56 percent in February. And 51 percent say they expect bad times financially in the coming year. “The boost in optimism we saw around the new year seems to have dissipated, and we’re back to where we were one year ago,” says Baldassare. But consistent with earlier trends, Latinos are far more likely than non-Hispanic whites to believe that the state is headed in the right direction (58% to 39%) and to expect good times in the year ahead (52% to 35%).

For all the reports of economic recovery, the percentage of Californians (54%) who believe their region is in an economic recession remains virtually unchanged since February. Although near majorities in every region of the state say their region is facing a recession, the perception is strongest in the San Francisco Bay Area, where 73 percent of residents say the economy is in recession and 26 percent believe the situation is serious. In February, 19 percent of Bay Area residents called the recession serious.

Why the economic pessimism? The stock market may be a big factor: A majority of Californians believe they are casualties of the recent stock market slump – whether or not they are stockholders. More than half (55%) of state residents say their financial situation has suffered because of the stock market decline. While the finances of stock owners are most heavily affected by the downturn, it has also had a spillover effect on others: 72 percent of stockholders and 33 percent of those who do not own stocks say their financial situation has suffered. Older and high-income residents are more likely than younger, lower-income Californians to say they have been hurt by the market’s slump.