SAN FRANCISCO, California, March 30, 2006 — In a rare convergence of public opinion, Californians of all political persuasions and in all regions approved of the major infrastructure measures that state leaders recently proposed – but couldn’t work together to put on the June ballot – according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). In the aftermath, the legislature’s approval rating has dropped to its lowest level in over a year, and belief that Governor Schwarzenegger and lawmakers can work together in the future has tumbled.
“It’s an unfortunate irony that state leaders were unable to reconcile their differences, while voters – who are often deeply split along partisan lines – were very much in agreement,” says PPIC Statewide Survey director Mark Baldassare. “This was an opportunity to give the public something it collectively wanted.”
Californians overwhelmingly support (69%) Governor Schwarzenegger’s plan to restore and expand the state’s deteriorating infrastructure by spending $222 billion over 10 years – and public approval is as high today as it was when he announced the plan in January (68%). There is also strong majority support (59%) for the governor’s proposal to issue $70 billion in state bonds, as part of his larger infrastructure package. And approval for both plans crosses all party and regional lines.
Residents also strongly favor the legislature’s infrastructure proposals: 60 percent favor the Democrats’ plan to issue $50 billion in bonds in 2006 and 2008 to fund a variety of public works; 65 percent support the Republicans’ plan for a pay-as-you-go system that would set aside 1 percent of the state’s annual revenue for ten years to pay for infrastructure. “Essentially, all of these competing plans that were headed for the June ballot were very popular,” says Baldassare. However, when comparing ways to fund infrastructure, more residents like the idea of paying for projects out of the general fund (32%) than by issuing bonds (25%), raising taxes (16%) or increasing user fees (13%).
Fallout from the leaders’ failure to reach a compromise solution has been significant: The number of Californians who believe the governor and legislature will be able to work together and accomplish a lot in the next year has plunged to 30 percent – a 13 point drop since January, and is just as low among likely voters (31%). In fact, 57 percent of likely voters do not believe lawmakers and the governor can work together, up 6 points from January.
Let the Blame Game Begin…
Who takes the most blame for the infrastructure crash? Lawmakers, not the governor, seem to be bearing the brunt of residents’ displeasure: The legislature’s approval rating has dropped from an already dismal 29 percent in January, to 25 percent today – similar to its lowest point (24%) since PPIC first asked this question in 2000. Approval among likely voters is slightly lower (23%), and on infrastructure specifically, only 21 percent of likely voters like the job lawmakers are doing. Disapproval of the legislature is high across party lines (Democrats 55%, Independents 63%, Republicans 67%) and geographic regions (SF Bay Area, 56%; Central Valley, 58%; Los Angeles and Other Southern California, 61% each).
In contrast, although the governor’s job performance ratings remain low, they haven’t, apparently, been negatively affected by recent events – and they are notably higher than the legislature’s. The governor now has an overall approval rating of 37 percent; it was 35 percent in February. Among likely voters, his approval is nearing the halfway mark (47%). His own party is much happier with him than Democrats are: Nearly three-fourths (72%) of Republicans like the job he is doing, but very few Democrats (21%), and less than a majority of independents (40%), agree. On the issue of infrastructure, approval of the governor is only slightly lower among residents (36%) and likely voters (45%) than his overall rating.
The governor’s ratings may be holding steady because of his personal appeal: 71 percent of likely voters say they like Schwarzenegger, even though a majority (53%) dislike his policies. This congenial personal view of the governor holds across party lines (Democrats 57%, Independents 70%, Republicans 86%) and among Latinos (61%). Less than one-quarter (24%) of likely voters dislike Schwarzenegger personally.
Angelides, Westly In Dead Heat, Making Little Impression So Far
In the wake of Schwarzenegger’s failure to get an infrastructure measure on the ballot, voters still support him over Democratic gubernatorial candidates Phil Angelides and Steve Westly. Among likely voters today, 41 percent say they would vote for Schwarzenegger over Angelides (29%) and 39 percent would vote for him over Westly (31%). There is a big undecided factor (30%) in both potential match-ups. Not surprisingly, there are vast partisan differences: Republicans prefer Schwarzenegger to Angelides (72% to 4%) or Westly (71% to 7%), and Democrats prefer Angelides (55% to 15%) and Westly (55% to 16%) to Schwarzenegger. Independents are divided between Westly and Schwarzenegger (29% to 26%), and favor Schwarzenegger over Angelides (32% to 24%). Both Democratic candidates do better with Latino voters (Angelides 42% to Schwarzenegger 26%, and Westly 42% to Schwarzenegger 24%.)
The race between the two Democrats is in a statistical dead heat: Among likely Democratic primary voters, 22 percent would vote for Angelides, 23 percent for Westly, and a majority 55 percent don’t know. The undecided vote is by far the biggest factor in this race. When asked about the candidates’ political ideologies, most voters say they don’t know where Angelides (57%) or Westly (58%) fall on the liberal-conservative scale. Among likely Democratic primary voters, who presumably would be better informed about these candidates, the “don’t knows” are almost as high (Angelides 56%, Westly 55%).
If the match-up remains tight, independents could be the wild card, says Baldassare. “If the race is close among Democratic voters, independents will become a very important part of the equation,” he says. “They may account for less than 10 percent of voters in the Democratic primary, but that may be enough to tip the scales.” At this point, most independent likely voters (57%) say they will choose a nonpartisan ballot, but 19 percent say they will vote in the Democratic primary, and 12 percent don’t know.
Immigration Rises In Importance; Majority Support For Reiner-Backed Prop 82
What one issue do likely voters most want to hear about in the upcoming elections? Once again, education and public schools top the list (23%), a response similar to one when PPIC asked this question before the 2002 primary election (21%). In fact, only one issue has significantly changed in terms of voter interest since 2002 – immigration. Immigration, legal or illegal, has jumped 10 points (4% to 14%) and now holds the number two spot among the issues voters most want to hear candidates discuss. Among Republicans (22%), it is the number one issue.
Voters also appear to be focused on Proposition 82 (on the June ballot), which would raise income tax on high-income residents to fund voluntary pre-school education for all four-year olds. About half (52%)support the measure, 41 percent oppose it, and only 7 percent say they don’t know. “This is a particularly low number of undecideds at this stage in this campaign,” says Baldassare. Voter resolve may be partly explained by the fact that most (66%) of those who support the proposition believe it is generally a good idea to link a specific tax to a specific service. Among the proposition’s opponents, a majority (56%) think such linkage is a bad idea.
Bush Approval Hits Record Low; Low Marks In Ethics, Disaster Preparedness
This month, President Bush’s approval ratings in California hit their lowest point since he first took office in 2001. Only 34 percent of adults and 38 percent of likely voters approve of the job he is doing. And Californians are only slightly less approving than adults nationwide (34% to 37%), according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll from mid-March. In California, on ethics in government and disaster preparedness, Bush fares as badly or worse (34% and 28% approval, respectively) than he does overall. With respect to disaster readiness, the federal government as a whole commands little confidence: A strong majority of Californians (58%) say they have little or no confidence that the U.S. government is ready to respond if a major natural disaster hits the state.
More Key Findings
- Under the Radar… — Page 4
At this stage in the lead-up to the California governor’s election, nearly half (48%) of likely voters say they are not following news about the candidates very closely or at all.
- Disaster’s Coming, But We’re Prepared — Page 11 and 12
Nearly three-fourths (73%) of Californians think their area will be hit with a major disaster in the next ten years; 81 percent say they know how to prepare, and 60 percent have a disaster supplies kit in their home.
- Congressional Corruption… — Page 16
Nearly four in ten Californians (39%) believe that most members of the U.S. Congress are corrupt.
- … But Not In My Backyard — Page 14 and 15
Despite cynicism about ethics in Washington, likely voters approve of their own representatives (59%), Senator Dianne Feinstein (56%), and Senator Barbara Boxer (50%).
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 2,002 California adult residents interviewed between March 15th and March 22nd, 2006. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The size and sampling error for subgroups is as follows: For the 1490 registered voters, the sampling error is +/- 2.5%; for the 1008 likely voters, it is +/- 3%; and for the 444 Democratic primary likely voters it is +/- 5%. 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 recent book, A California State of Mind: The Conflicted Voter in a Changing World, is available at www.ppic.org.
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.