PPIC Logo Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Press Release · December 6, 2006

Post-Election Voter Survey: What a Difference a Year Makes: Optimistic Voters Take Leap of Faith, Have High Hopes for Bipartisanship in Sacramento

But Voters Still Wary Of Government, Nervous About State’s Future

SAN FRANCISCO, California, December 6, 2006 — One year ago, angry voters delivered a vote of no confidence to Sacramento, rejecting the governor’s political reform package and condemning the performance of state leaders. But last month, optimistic voters carried the day, approving the largest bond package in state history and raising their ratings of those same elected leaders. Why the attitude adjustment? Recent bipartisan action in Sacramento and deep concern about California’s future were key factors in November’s election outcome, according to a post-election survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from The James Irvine Foundation.

The new survey – which polled 2,000 voters in the 12 days following the election – finds that, by a wide margin, voters were more likely to say that November’s election made them feel better about California politics (30% to 14%), although for 54 percent it made no difference. That is a long and large difference from PPIC’s 2005 post-election survey when 38 percent of voters said the special election made them feel worse and only 21 percent said that it made them feel better about state politics.

The bipartisan nature of this election’s infrastructure bond package may have contributed to voters’ positive feelings about the election. After a year in which Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state legislature shared a number of major legislative accomplishments, including passage of the bonds, voters give them an enthusiastic thumbs up: A majority (53%) approve of the way that the governor and the legislature are working together. A year ago, 76 percent disapproved of their working relationship. This sea change has helped reverse the political fortunes of state leaders, most notably Governor Schwarzenegger, who won reelection by a wide margin. Sixty percent of general election voters approve of his performance in office, a 21-point improvement over his approval rating one year ago (39%). Although only 36 percent approve of the state legislature’s job performance, this is significantly higher than it was following the 2005 special election (20%).

Besides better feelings about politics and leadership, voters apparently brought something else with them to the polls on November 7th that may help explain the ultimate outcome – a good mood. About half (53%) say that things in the state are generally going in the right direction, compared to only 23 percent one year ago. And about a half (51%) expect good economic times in the coming year. A year ago, only 35 percent predicted good economic times.

But this heady atmosphere should not make state leaders complacent. “Voters are happy, but not satisfied,” says PPIC survey director Mark Baldassare. “Their expectations are extremely high, especially when it comes to getting the job done in Sacramento. If state leaders cannot sustain a bipartisan atmosphere – or if the economy lags – voters could be quick to turn on them.” Fifty-eight percent of voters – including majorities of Democrats (56%), Republicans (62%), and independents (62%) – expect that the governor and legislature will be able to work together and accomplish a lot in the next year. Adding to the challenge, voters have only a little more faith in state government than they had a year ago. Only 28 percent say they can trust officials in Sacramento to do what is right just about always (3%) or most of the time (25%), compared to 17 percent in November 2005. Sixty-eight percent say the state government is run by a few big interests, down from 78 percent one year ago. And a majority (57%) believe state government wastes a lot of their tax dollars, similar to the response one year ago (61%).

Concern About California’s Future Drives Support for Bonds

Before the election, it was very uncertain how voters would respond to the massive $37.3 billion infrastructure bonds package. In pre-election surveys, six in 10 likely voters said that it was a good idea to issue state bonds to pay for public works projects. Nevertheless, six in 10 also said that the amount of money for bonds on this ballot was too much. Still, when push came to shove on November 7th, voters not only passed the bond package, they seemed happy doing it. Sixty-one percent of general election voters say it was a good idea for the governor and legislature to place the bond package on the ballot.

Six in 10 voters also say they were at least somewhat happy about voting on all 13 ballot propositions. But voter interest in ballot measures did not translate into passage on Election Day. Proposition 87 (energy/oil tax) generated the greatest interest among voters (21%) but lost, while all four of the infrastructure bonds combined were cited as most interesting by only 14 percent of voters. So why did the vote go the way it did for the four bond measures? A common thread: Concern about the future.

  • Proposition 1B ($19.9 billion transportation bond): Top reasons for voting yes: belief that the measure is important for the future of the state, belief that roads are in need of repair, and concern about traffic congestion. Majorities of Democrats (69%), Republicans (54%), and independents (63%) voted in favor of Proposition 1B. Those who approve of the job performance of the governor and state legislature strongly supported this measure (70%).
  • Proposition 1C ($2.85 billion affordable housing bond): Top reasons for voting yes: it helps people in need, it is important for California’s future, the cost of housing is too high, and emergency shelters are needed. Seven in 10 Democrats (69%) and nearly six in 10 independents (57%) supported this measure, while 60 percent of Republicans opposed it. Support was higher among Latinos than whites (67% to 54%) and among renters than homeowners (75% to 51%).
  • Proposition 1D ($10.4 billion education facilities bond): Top reasons for voting yes: belief that it is important to the future of the state, belief in always supporting education, and belief that schools are too crowded. Most Democrats (71%) and 57 percent of independents voted yes on this measure, while 59 percent of Republicans voted no. Seventy-four percent of Angelides voters – compared to 49 percent of Schwarzenegger voters – supported it.
  • Proposition 1E ($4.1 billion water and flood control bond): Top reasons for voting yes: flood control and disaster preparedness are important, the measure is important to California’s future, and the state’s levees and dikes need repair. Democrats (74%), Republicans (54%), and independents (61%) united in support of this proposition. Women were more likely than men to have voted yes (67% to 60%). Seventy-four percent of those who approve of the legislature and 65 percent of those who approve of Governor Schwarzenegger voted yes on Proposition 1E.

Despite the billions in bonds, many general election voters believe that the state needs to invest more in infrastructure to prepare for the future. Significant proportions of voters think that the levels of state funding for surface transportation (47%), affordable housing (53%), school facilities (50%), and water systems and flood controls (39%) are still not adequate. “California voters view these bonds as a down payment rather than mission accomplished,” says Baldassare. “Because they are so concerned about the future, they were willing to take a leap of faith that state government will do the right thing with this investment. They will be watching to see if this faith is justified or if state government deserves the distrust so many of them still feel.”

So far, voters are not convinced that the bond package will make a big difference in the future direction of the state. Although one in three voters (34%) say they feel more optimistic after the passage of the bonds, half (51%) say they feel about the same about California’s future, and 14 percent are more pessimistic. A majority of voters continue to believe that the state will be a worse place to live in 2025 than it is today (51%) and that the anticipated population growth of 10 million residents over the next two decades is a bad thing (60%). One reason for the pessimism? The lack of confidence in government’s ability to plan for the future: Only 7 percent of general election voters have a great deal of confidence in that ability, while 46 percent have only some confidence. Among those with little or no trust in state government’s ability to plan, 70 percent think the state’s population increase is a bad thing. One bright spot: Voters are optimistic about Governor Schwarzenegger’s plans and policies for the state’s future (56% approve, 32% disapprove).

Voters Remain Open to Initiative Process Reforms

Despite the fact that 47 percent of general election voters say they have not too much confidence or none at all in their fellow voters’ ability to make policy at the ballot box, the initiative process remains extremely popular. Indeed, more voters today than after the special election one year ago say they are satisfied with that process (69% to 53%). Still, a strong majority (67%) believes that major (35%) or minor (32%) changes need to be made. Some specific criticisms of recent initiatives: Ballot wording was complicated and confusing (63%), there were too many initiatives on the ballot (60%), and too much money was spent to finance the campaigns (78%).

Given these concerns, what reforms are voters willing to support? Strong majorities of general election voters support allowing for a period of time in which the initiative sponsor and the legislature could meet to attempt to forge a compromise (80%). And, on the heels of an election in which vast sums were spent to finance initiative campaigns, a huge majority (84%) favor increasing public disclosure of funding sources for initiative campaign and signature-gathering efforts.

More Key Findings

  • Immigration top issue for voters — Page 8
    Voters in November’s election rank immigration (20%) as the most important issue facing the state, followed by the economy (14%) and education (13%).
  • Voters did not view bonds as a package deal — Page 17
    Many voters were selective in their voting when it came to the infrastructure bond measures. Fewer than three in 10 (28%) say they voted yes on all of the bond measures and only 15 percent voted no on all bonds.
  • Internet a major source of election information — Page 21
    More than one-third of voters (35%) say they got election information from the Internet this fall. However, when asked what was most helpful in deciding how to vote on state propositions, voters named more traditional sources of political information. The official voter information guide and sample ballot (42%) were viewed as most helpful, followed by advertisements (17%) and news coverage (11%).
  • Moderates key to Schwarzenegger victory — Page 22
    Self-described moderate voters supported Governor Schwarzenegger over challenger Phil Angelides by a double-digit margin (57% to 39%). Schwarzenegger also enjoyed majority support among both men and women (59% and 54%, respectively), and was helped by the backing of 30 percent of Democrats and 54 percent of independents.
  • Public funding for campaigns losing steam… — Page 29
    Voter support for a system in which taxpayers would help pay for state and legislative campaigns has declined sharply in the past four years, from 57 percent in November 2002 to 38 percent today.
  • … But voters warming to idea of required debates — Page 29
    Sixty-seven percent of voters say they would support an initiative that required gubernatorial candidates to participate in five prime-time publicly broadcasted debates. That is much higher than the 56 percent of likely voters who favored this idea in November 2002.

About the Survey

This edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey – a post-election survey about Californians and the future – is the final in a series of four surveys supported by funding from The James Irvine Foundation. This survey is intended to raise public awareness, inform decisionmakers, and stimulate public discussions about Californians’ attitudes toward the future and the November 2006 election. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,000 California voters in the November 7th election interviewed between November 8 and November 19, 2006. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. For more information on methodology, see page 29. 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.

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.