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Press Release · December 5, 2012

Optimism Rises About State’s Outlook, Leaders

After Proposition 30, New High For Brown's Job Approval—But Little Support For More Taxes

SAN FRANCISCO, December 5, 2012—In the wake of Governor Jerry Brown’s successful campaign to pass Proposition 30, his job approval rating hit a record-high 48 percent among Californians, according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). Passage of the measure to increase taxes changed the feelings of most Californians about the state budget situation—and many are feeling more positive: 46 percent say the initiative’s approval has made them more optimistic, 23 percent say it has made them more pessimistic, and 28 percent say it has not changed their views.

The governor’s current approval rating surpasses his high of 46 percent in January 2012. Still, 35 percent disapprove of his job performance and 17 percent are uncertain. Likely voters are more likely to approve than disapprove of the governor (49% approve, 40% disapprove, 11% don’t know). Brown isn’t the only state officeholder with improved ratings. The legislature’s job approval rating among all adults—34 percent—tops 30 percent for the first time since January 2008 (34%). But likely voters are less positive: 61 percent disapprove.

This post-election PPIC survey also looks broadly at Californians’ views of their state. It finds that, after years of recession, their optimism is on the rise. The percentage of adults who say things in California are generally going in the right direction is 44 percent—the highest level since June 2007 and up 30 points since a low of 14 percent in July 2009. Across age groups, this favorable view is highest among adults age 18–34 (50%) and declines with age. It is also much higher among Latinos (54%) and Asians (51%) than whites (36%). A majority of whites (60%) say the state is heading in the wrong direction. Although 53 percent of Californians name the economy and jobs as the most important issue facing the state, their views about California’s economic outlook have improved. Today, 41 percent say they expect good economic times in the next year—the highest level since January 2007 (50%) and up from a low of 15 percent in July 2008. More Latinos today expect good times (51%) than do Asians (36%) or whites (34%). The expectation of good times decreases as age and income levels increase.

When Californians look ahead to 2025, 42 percent say the state will be a better place to live than it is now—a 17 point increase since this question was asked in June 2004 (25%). Just 28 percent say the state will be a worse place to live, and 23 percent predict no change. Since 2004, there have been double-digit increases across regions, demographic groups, and parties in the view that California will be a better place. Republicans are the exceptions, with a majority (54%) saying the state will be a worse place to live.

Despite Californians’ increased optimism, nearly all continue to call the state budget situation a problem (68% big problem, 26% somewhat of a problem). But their approval of Proposition 30 does not mean they are willing to raise taxes on themselves again. Record-high majorities of adults (65%) and likely voters (68%) oppose extending the sales tax to services that are not currently taxed. Majorities—also at record levels—oppose raising the vehicle license fee (79% adults, 78% likely voters). Across parties, regions, and demographic groups, majorities oppose each idea.

“Many Californians are feeling positive about the state’s outlook now and optimistic about the future,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “But they are also feeling fiscally frugal. They are strongly opposed to raising their state taxes and strongly in favor of spending limits.”

Strong Support for Spending Reforms

The survey examines attitudes about reform—electoral, fiscal, and governance—and finds that Californians support spending changes, as they have in previous surveys. Strong majorities favor:

  • Strictly limiting the amount of money that state spending can increase each year (65% adults, 65% likely voters)
  • Increasing the size of the state’s rainy day fund and requiring that above-average revenues be deposited there for use in economic downturns (72% adults, 70% likely voters)
  • Requiring any major new or expanded state program or tax reductions to identify a specific funding source (79% adults, 82% likely voters)

Smaller majorities of Californians—and even fewer likely voters—support three fiscal reforms that have been proposed to address structural issues in the state budget and local budget issues:

  • Establishing a two-year state budget cycle in place of the current one-year cycle (56% adults, 49% likely voters)
  • Replacing the two-thirds majority vote requirement with a simple majority vote for the state legislature to pass state taxes (51% adults, 45% likely voters)
  • Replacing the two-thirds vote requirement with a 55-percent majority vote for voters to pass local special taxes (54% adults, 50% likely voters)

Proposition 13—Popularity Endures

Now that Californians have approved the Proposition 30 tax initiative and Democrats have gained a two-thirds majority in the legislature, there is renewed discussion about changing Proposition 13, the 1978 initiative that limits both residential and commercial property taxes. Asked about Proposition 13, Californians remain highly positive about its overall impact. Solid majorities (60% adults, 64% likely voters) say it has been mostly a good thing for the state. Fewer (31% adults, 29% likely voters) say it has been mostly bad. Across political groups, regions, and demographic groups, majorities consider it a good thing for the state. However, Californians’ views are mixed when asked about the effect of Proposition 13’s tax limitations on local government services: 29 percent say the effect has been good, 25 percent say it has been bad, and 36 percent say there has been no effect.

There is support for one change to Proposition 13—a “split roll” property tax. Majorities (57% adults, 58% likely voters) favor taxing commercial properties—now protected under Proposition 13—according to their current market value. Most Democrats (66%) and independents (58%) favor the proposal, while Republicans are divided (47% favor, 48% oppose).

Satisfied With Redistricting, Primary Reforms

This election year saw the test of two electoral reforms passed by voters. Proposition 11 (passed in 2008) established a citizens’ commission to handle redistricting, and Proposition 14 (passed in 2010) changed the state’s partially closed primary to a top-two system. Asked about the impact of these reforms, 58 percent say Proposition 11 turned out to be mostly a good thing for the state (21% mostly a bad thing, 18% don’t know) and 63 percent say this about Proposition 14 (23% mostly a bad thing, 13% don’t know). The results underscore Californians’ faith in their own decisionmaking, Baldassare notes:

“Most Californians are happy with the initiative process and the outcomes of the fiscal and governance changes that voters enacted at the ballot box—from Proposition 13 in 1978 to legislative redistricting, the top-two primary system, and Proposition 30 in November.”

In another indication of their view of initiatives, majorities (59% adults, 59% likely voters) say the public policy decisions voters make through this process are probably better than those made by the governor and state legislature. Most have held this view since PPIC began asking the question in 2000.

There is, however, support for two proposed reforms to the initiative process. Overwhelming majorities (76% adults, 86% likely voters) favor requiring the “yes” and “no” campaigns for initiatives to increase disclosure of their contributors. Strong majorities (69% adults, 66% likely voters) favor requiring voters to renew initiatives after a certain number of years by voting on them again. Both of these proposals have majority support across parties, regions, and demographic groups. A third proposed reform fares less well: allowing the legislature, with the governor’s approval, to amend initiatives after a certain number of years. About half of adults (48%) favor this idea, while more than half of likely voters (55%) are opposed.

There is much less enthusiasm for three proposals to change the legislative structure. Adults are divided on whether to change the legislature from full-time to part-time status, with 48 percent calling it a good idea and 45 percent saying it’s a bad one. They oppose changing the legislature from two houses to a single house of 120 members (36% good idea, 51% bad idea). Residents also oppose simply increasing the number of legislators so that each represents fewer constituents (40% good idea, 53% bad idea).

Concerned About College Costs, Accessibility

Nearly all Californians say the state’s public higher education system is very important (85%) or somewhat important (11%) to the quality of life and economic vitality of the state over the next 20 years. Yet they express growing concern about the system. The share of adults who say affordability is a big problem is at a new high of 65 percent, up 13 points since 2008. And 43 percent say overall accessibility is a big problem, an increase of 19 points since 2007. Despite passage of Proposition 30—which averted trigger cuts to higher education—64 percent say the state budget situation is a big problem for higher education. These concerns come at a time when a record-high 51 percent of parents of children age 18 or younger say they hope their youngest child will attain a graduate degree. How much confidence do residents have in the state government to plan for the future of higher education? Half have at least some confidence (13% a great deal of confidence, 37% only some confidence). The other half have very little (34%) or none (15%).

Divided on Water Policy Priorities

Most Californians think that the supply of water is a big problem (31%) or somewhat of one (28%) in their part of the state. The share of those calling this a big problem has declined 13 points since December 2009 (44%), when the state was in a drought. Residents of the Central Valley (38%) are the most likely to say the supply in their area is a big problem, while those in the San Francisco Bay Area (20%) are the least likely. When presented with two approaches to manage the water supply, 47 percent say the focus should be on building new water storage systems and increasing supply, while 50 percent say it should be on conservation and using the current water supply more efficiently. And, with declining fish populations a contentious topic, 61 percent of Californians favor increasing state spending to improve conditions for native fish. But that support drops to 39 percent if this would mean an increase in residential water bills.


The PPIC Statewide Survey has provided policymakers, the media, and the general public with objective, nonpartisan information on the perceptions, opinions, and public policy preferences of Californians since 1998. The current survey was conducted with funding from the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, The San Francisco Foundation, The David and Susan Coulter Family Foundation, and the Walter S. Johnson Foundation. Findings are based on a survey of 2,001 adult residents reached by landline and cell phones throughout the state. Interviews took place from November 13–20, 2012. They were conducted in English and Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences. The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.5 for all adults. For the 1,334 registered voters, it is ±3.7 percent; for the 1,025 likely voters, it is ±4.0 percent; and for the 778 parents of children age 18 or younger, it is ±5.9 percent. There is more information on methodology on pages 25–26.

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.

PPIC is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. As a private operating foundation, 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.