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Press Release · October 25, 2006

PPIC Statewide Survey: Californians And The Future: What Election? Candidates Skirt the Issues, Voters Tune Out

Voters Remain Skeptical About Cost Of Bond Measures; Majority Want Democrats To Control Congress, But Also Want Third Party

SAN FRANCISCO, California, October 25, 2006 — As gubernatorial candidates barnstorm the state and bombard the airwaves, they are failing to heed the central message from California’s voters: Talk about the issues. The result? An electorate that is turned off and tuned out, according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with funding from The James Irvine Foundation.

Likely voters continue to name immigration (21%) and education (19%) as the issues they most want the candidates for governor to discuss, followed by the state budget and taxes (10%), and jobs and the economy (7%). But two weeks before Election Day, and in the wake of the sole gubernatorial debate, most voters (60%), and at least half of Democrats (67%), Republicans (50%), and independents (60%), say they are dissatisfied with the attention that gubernatorial candidates are giving to the issues. And the level of frustration has grown since September, when 54 percent of voters said the candidates weren’t spending enough time talking about important issues. This neglect of issues may have affected voter engagement: Although 74 percent of voters say they are following news about the election, only 19 percent say they are following this news very closely. That is similar to interest levels prior to the historic low turnout in November 2002 (22% in October 2002) but down significantly from more recent years (49% in September 2003, 61% in October 2004, and 31% in October 2005).

“The voters’ frustration is palpable,” says PPIC statewide survey director Mark Baldassare. “Immigration is their most important issue, yet the candidates have studiously avoided it. That may work as an election tactic but it has long-term consequences. Disengagement and distrust only make it more difficult for leaders, once they are elected, to govern effectively.”

Among likely voters, Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s lead over Democratic challenger and State Treasurer Phil Angelides has remained steady. Angelides trails Schwarzenegger by 18 points (30% to 48%), similar to last month’s margin of 17 points (31% to 48%). Thirteen percent of voters remain undecided. However, since last month, Angelides has lost some ground in the San Francisco Bay Area, a key Democratic stronghold: Although the candidates were tied in this region one month ago (39% each), Schwarzenegger now leads Angelides by a six-point margin (40% to 34%). Schwarzenegger continues to pull much greater support from Republicans (86%) than Angelides does from Democrats (57%), and Republicans remain far more satisfied than Democrats with their choice of candidates (66% to 44%). A bright spot for Angelides? His support among Latino voters has soared: He is now favored over Schwarzenegger by a two-to-one margin (52% to 25%), compared to a 12-point margin in September (42% to 30%).

Little Interest, Lackluster Support for Infrastructure Bonds

Strong support for Governor Schwarzenegger’s reelection bid does not necessarily translate into votes for the ballot measures he is backing. Although each of the four infrastructure measures that the governor and state legislature put on the ballot are supported by at least 50 percent of likely voters, that support is less than overwhelming. The key reason? Republicans are not sold on the bonds. The evidence? Support for the four measures follows the same pattern – double-digit leads from Democrats and independents and less-than-majority support from Republicans.

  • Proposition 1B ($19.9 billion transportation bond): Despite the fact that 80 percent of likely voters say it is very or somewhat important for the state to be spending public funds on surface transportation projects in their part of the state, this measure is favored by a bare majority of voters (51%) and 38 percent oppose it. Support for Proposition 1B is unchanged from last month (51%).
  • Proposition 1C ($2.85 billion affordable housing bond): 56 percent of likely voters support this measure, while 34 percent are opposed. Support was similar in September (57%). Sixty-seven percent of likely voters say it is important that the state spend public funds on affordable housing projects in their region.
  • Proposition 1D ($10.4 billion education facilities bond): 87 percent of likely voters consider state spending on school facilities important to their region, and 61 percent say it is very important. However, the fate of Proposition 1D is uncertain, with 51 percent of likely voters favoring the measure and 39 percent opposing it. Support for the measure has changed little since last month (49%).
  • Proposition 1E ($4.1 billion water and flood control bond): 53 percent of likely voters say they would vote yes on this measure, while 36 percent oppose it. Support for this measure has changed little since September (55%). Despite the lukewarm support for the measure, most likely voters (77%) believe state spending on water and flood control is important for their region.

A fifth measure – Proposition 84 — would provide about $5.4 billion in state bonds for water, flood control, natural resources, parks, and conservation projects. Voters remain split over this initiative (42% yes, 43% no).

Overall, Californians show more support for the general concept of using state bonds to pay for infrastructure than they do for any of the specific measures on the November ballot: 61 percent of likely voters think it is a good idea for the state government to pay for infrastructure improvements by issuing bonds. The sheer size of the package may help explain the disconnect: 58 percent of likely voters say the $43 billion price tag for the five measures on the ballot is too much. “The fate of all these measures hangs in the balance and it’s up to state leaders to explain to the voters why the cost is justified,” says Baldassare. The challenge? Lack of voter interest and attention. Of the 58 percent of voters who are able to cite a specific ballot measure that interests them the most, less than one in 10 name one of the bond measures. Voters are most likely to express interest in Proposition 87, the alternative energy initiative (28%).

How Low Can It Go? As Trust in Feds Drops, Californians Seek Change

Californians find little to cheer about as they consider the national scene. Six in 10 state residents (62%) say things are going in the wrong direction. They are divided about the nation’s economic outlook, with 46 percent anticipating bad times and 44 percent expecting good times. And approval ratings for President George W. Bush remain very low: Far more state residents and likely voters disapprove (62% each) than approve (32% all residents, 34% likely voters) of his performance in office. Could it get any worse? It just did. Trust in the federal government reached a new low this month: Only 26 percent of state residents – and 23 percent of likely voters – say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right just about always or most of the time. That is down from 46 percent in January 2002 and 29 percent in October 2005. Consistent with their harsh assessment of federal leadership, most Californians (65%) and likely voters (69%) say the federal government wastes a lot of their tax dollars.

Against this bleak backdrop, Californians want to see change at the national level come this November. A majority of likely voters (55%) say they would prefer to see Democrats control Congress. Statewide, Democratic congressional candidates hold a 12-point edge over Republican candidates (48% to 36%). This represents an increase in the Democratic advantage since October 2000, when Democrats held a seven-point statewide lead among likely voters (47% to 40%). Another example of the desire for change? In four key areas of federal leadership, Democrats are now seen as more capable than Republicans. Californians believe they would do a better job of managing the economy (47% Democrats, 37% Republicans), handling the situation in Iraq (45% Democrats, 34% Republicans), handling immigration (41% Democrats, 36% Republicans), and protecting the environment (56% Democrats, 28% Republicans).

The current favor for Democrats notwithstanding, a long-term challenge looms for the two-party system. Majorities of Californians (53%) and likely voters (56%) believe that the Republican and Democratic parties do such a poor job of representing the American people that a third major party is needed. Independents (72%) are far more likely than Democrats (52%) and Republicans (45%) to believe a third party is needed, but the numbers of voters who hold this view are significant across the board. “The growing numbers of independent voters may drive this change, but the fact is that many Californians question the relevance of the current system,” says Baldassare.

More Key Findings

  • As optimism about state’s prospects grows… — Page 17
    Californians are divided about the direction of the state, with 44 percent saying it is headed in the right direction and 46 percent believing it is headed in the wrong direction. One year ago, perceptions of the direction of the state were far more negative (30% right, 60% wrong in October 2005). The view of the state economy is also brighter today: Half of state residents (50%) and likely voters (52%) expect good times in the coming year. Last October, only 34 percent of Californians and 35 percent of likely voters expressed optimism about the state’s economic future.
  • … so do approval ratings for some state officials — Pages 16 and 17
    Among likely voters today, 52 percent approve and 41 percent disapprove of the way Governor Schwarzenegger is doing his job – a dramatic improvement from one year ago (38% approve, 57% disapprove). Likely voters are far less forgiving when it comes to the state legislature: Today, only 26 percent approve and 61 percent disapprove of its performance. In October 2005, 21 percent of likely voters approved and 65 percent disapproved of the way the legislature was doing its job.
  • Not a winning combo: Redistricting reform sort of hot, term limits reform not — Page 19
    Earlier this year, lawmakers considered the idea of a ballot measure combining redistricting reform and term limits reform. How would such a measure fare in today’s political climate? Today, majorities of state residents (54%) and likely voters (59%) favor redistricting reform that would require an independent commission of citizens, rather than the governor and state legislature, to adopt a new redistricting plan after each Census. However, there is little support for even modest changes to term limits laws. Seven in 10 Californians (72%) and likely voters (73%) oppose the idea of allowing members of the state legislature to serve up to 14 years of total legislative service in either the assembly or senate.
  • Californians open to initiative process reforms — Page 20
    Californians’ affection for the initiative process is strong, but it is not blind. State residents are open to several significant reforms. More than seven in 10 residents (72%) and likely voters (73%) favor a system of review and revision of proposed initiatives in order to avoid legal and drafting errors. Similar numbers of residents and likely voters (75% each) favor having a period of time during which the sponsor of a proposed initiative and the legislature could meet to seek a compromise before the initiative goes to the ballot. Most Californians (75%) and likely voters (82%) favor public disclosure of funding sources for signature gathering efforts and initiative campaigns. Finally, 53 percent of state residents and 48 percent of likely voters favor extending the amount of time a sponsor has to gather signatures to qualify an initiative for the ballot.

About the Survey

This edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey – a pre-election survey that looks at Californians and the future – is the third 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 2,002 California adult residents interviewed between October 15 and October 22, 2006. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for the 1076 likely voters is +/- 3%. 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.