SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 27, 2006 — Next week’s televised debate could be Democratic challenger Phil Angelides’ best hope to gain momentum in the race for governor—given voter disgust with the major candidates’ silence on policy issues of importance to them. Still, no matter how eloquent a performance Angelides gives, turning the tide of Governor Schwarzenegger’s widening lead and surging approval ratings will be a daunting challenge, according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with funding from The James Irvine Foundation.
Among likely voters, Schwarzenegger’s lead over Angelides has jumped to 17 points (48% to 31%)—four points higher than it was last month. Only 15 percent of likely voters remain undecided. Angelides has majority support among Democrats (57%), but it is not overwhelming. And although he leads Schwarzenegger among Latino likely voters (42% to 30%), that support falls short of a majority.
The governor’s overall approval ratings have also risen. Today, 53 percent of likely voters approve of his job performance, a sharp contrast to his 33 percent approval ratings in September 2005. The increase may reflect Californians’ generally increasing optimism about where the state is headed: Although, they are evenly split over whether California is going in the right or wrong direction (45% each), those numbers represent a major upturn from one year ago when 60 percent of residents thought the state was going in the wrong direction and only 31 percent believed it was going in the right direction.
Despite the recent optimism, likely voters remain anxious about the challenges facing the state and are dissatisfied with the amount of attention being focused on serious issues in the campaign. Over half of likely voters (54%) think the leading gubernatorial candidates are not paying enough attention to the issues and policies that are most important to them. The disgruntlement could make the upcoming candidates’ debate pivotal. Nearly three-fourths of likely voters (72%) say what they hear in the debate will be important to how they vote. “Voters are so thirsty for a serious discussion of relevant issues that the debate could give Angelides a chance to get a stronger footing in the race—or for Schwarzenegger to slam the door shut,” says PPIC survey director Mark Baldassare.
Voters Tuning In… and Turning Off?
Whether driven by antipathy or disbelief, many likely voters simply aren’t buying the messages being sent in the race. Case in point: Linking Schwarzenegger to George W. Bush has been a recurrent theme in Angelides’ campaign advertising. This might seem like a promising strategy, given that the president’s approval ratings are near an all-time low with California voters this month (35% approve, 63% disapprove). However, even among those who disapprove of the president, the Bush-Schwarzenegger theme hasn’t been compelling enough to give Angelides a majority edge over the incumbent governor (46% to 30%).
Disenchantment with the candidates’ messages could explain why 40 percent of likely voters say they are less enthusiastic than usual about going to the polls. And this malaise seems to be well informed: Most (74%) say they are following election news either fairly or very closely. Ironically, some findings suggest that hearing more from a candidate could have negative consequences: Likely voters say they have seen more Angelides than Schwarzenegger ads (32% to 27%), yet the Democrat lags badly. “It’s a telling comment on California’s political times and mood,” says Baldassare. “Voters are engaged, are following election and candidate news—yet they are not only uninspired, they are turned off to the point where they may turn away.”
Infrastructure Bonds Ahead but Facing Resistance; Prop 89 Facing Rejection
As for November’s measures, the $37 billion in infrastructure bonds put on the ballot by the legislature, and championed by Governor Schwarzenegger, are all ahead—but far from being home free, because undecided voters could still tip the scales. The bond to fund affordable housing (Proposition 1C) has the most comfortable lead (57% yes, 30% no, 13% undecided), and the water facilities bond (Proposition 1E) is a close second (55% yes, 30% no, 15% undecided). But prospects are more uncertain for the transportation bond (51% yes, 36% no, 13% undecided) and the education facilities bond (49% yes, 40% no, 11% undecided)—Propositions 1B and 1D, respectively.
In contrast, Proposition 89, the citizens’ initiative to provide public financing for political campaigns by taxing corporations and financial institutions, faces a definite uphill battle: Among likely voters, 61 percent would vote no, 25 percent would vote yes, and 14 percent are undecided. Opponents outnumber supporters among Republicans (73% no, 15% yes), independents (63% no, 27% yes), and Democrats (50% no, 34% yes).
These views fit strangely with the opinion of 61 percent of likely voters that campaign contributions have a bad effect on public policy decisions (only 6 percent say they have a good effect, and 21 percent say they make no difference). “Voters clearly cast a jaundiced eye on the current system of campaign contributions,” says Baldassare. “It’s likely that opposition to Prop 89 has more to do with distrust of how the state manages taxpayer money, skepticism over whether such changes would do any good, and possibly—because likely voters are more involved in the system—a reluctance to change the status quo.”
Residents Less Enthusiastic About Initiative Process, Ambivalent About Future Conditions
Overall, Californians’ seemingly rock-solid faith in the citizens’ initiative may be waning. Residents’ preference that the initiative process have more influence than the legislature or the governor over public policy has dropped since last September (39% to 33%). Moreover, two in three residents think the initiative process needs either major (37%) or minor (31%) changes. Most residents (59%) somewhat or strongly agree that there are too many propositions on the state ballot—and an even greater number (77%) think the wording for initiatives on ballots is too complicated to make their consequences clear.
Californians have mixed views about specific challenges facing the state—despite the fact that a growing percentage think the state is headed in the right direction. Looking ahead to the year 2025, a majority of residents (53%) believe the state’s water and flood control system will improve (32% say it will get worse), and they are divided over whether public education will improve (47%) or get worse (44%). But residents have a decidedly pessimistic outlook about traffic and affordable housing. Nearly three-fourths (74%) of adults and even larger numbers of likely voters (82%) think traffic conditions on freeways and major roads will get worse in the next 20 years. Most adults (72%) and likely voters (74%) also think the availability of affordable housing will get worse.
Rock Bottom: Approval for Bush, Congress Dropping
Although President Bush’s approval ratings have recently increased nationally (44% approval, Gallup Poll, September 2006), they are near an all-time low among California voters this month (35% approve, 63% disapprove). While there are the expected partisan divisions—with overwhelming majorities of Democrats (86%) and independents (73%) disapproving of President Bush’s performance—one-third (34%) of Republicans also disapprove. As the November elections loom, California’s likely voters are just as unimpressed with the job the U.S. Congress is doing (31% approve, 63% disapprove). Nationally, congressional approval is even lower (25% approval, CBS News/New York Times Poll, September 2006). But California’s own representatives can breathe easier: Sixty percent of the state’s likely voters say they approve of the way their own congressperson is handling his or her job. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who faces GOP challenger Richard Mountjoy in November, also enjoys majority approval among voters (53%).
More Key Findings
- Latino Voters Engaged, More Enthusiastic—Pages 9 and 10
Seventy-nine percent of likely Latino voters say they have seen televised ads by one or both of the two major gubernatorial candidates. Latino voters are also more enthusiastic about going to the polls than voters in general (38% to 32%)—and are more than twice as likely as whites (52% to 26%) to say the upcoming debate is very important to how they will vote.
- Low Approval Ratings Still Dog Legislature—Page 17
Half of all Californians disapprove of the job state lawmakers are doing (34% approve, 50% disapprove). This is virtually unchanged from where it was one year ago (32% approve, 53% disapprove, September 2005). However, approval has risen more among some groups (Republicans 21% to 30%, independents 32% to 40%).
- Harsh Assessment of Iraq—Pages 24 and 27
Seventy-three percent of Californians say the war in Iraq is not going well; 26 percent say things are going well. Approval of President Bush’s handling of Iraq is dismal (68% disapprove, 28% approve), although he gets higher marks on terrorism and homeland security (54% disapprove, 42% approve). Additionally, well over half of residents (59%) believe the conflict in Iraq is separate from the war on terrorism.
- Work Permits for Illegal Immigrants Gaining Support—Page 28
Today, nearly two-thirds (65%) of Californians believe illegal immigrants should be allowed to apply for work permits in order to stay in the U.S.—a 5-point jump from one year ago (60%).
- Have Shifts in Supreme Court Justices Spurred Abortion Defense?—Page 29
Since last October—when the U.S. Supreme Court began changing in composition—the share of Californians who want the court to make it harder to get an abortion has dropped by nine points (35% to 26%); a majority (54%) want access to stay the same, and 16 percent want it to become easier.
- Same-Sex Marriage Continues to Divide—Page 29
Likely voters are divided over whether gay and lesbian couples should be allowed to legally marry (46% oppose, 47% favor). There are wide attitudinal differences between Republicans (66% oppose, 27% favor) and Democrats (35% oppose, 58% favor), while independents fall in between (43% oppose, 49% favor).
About the Survey
This edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey – a pre-election survey that looks at Californians and the future – is the second 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 2,003 California adult residents interviewed between September 13 and September 20, 2006. 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 31.
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.