SAN FRANCISCO, California, March 28, 2007 — Much of the political reform activity that has absorbed Sacramento’s time and energy recently is underwhelming many state residents, according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from The James Irvine Foundation.
Passionate as state leaders have been about moving the state’s presidential primary from June to February, residents are barely convinced that the move is worthwhile. Moreover, they are downright resistant to ideas being floated for changing the rules on term limits. In contrast, a large majority is ready to wrest redistricting from the hands of the governor and legislature.
“The state’s residents and leaders seem to be marching to different drummers,” says PPIC president and CEO Mark Baldassare. “A lot of this dissonance springs from distrust of their leaders’ ability to lead.”
YES, NO, MAYBE: DIVERGING SUPPORT FOR REFORM PROPOSALS
Just under half (49%) of all Californians and slightly over half (52%) of likely voters think moving the primary forward is a good thing. Residents are equally lukewarm about one effect of the move – holding three elections in 2008: Half (50%) of residents and fewer likely voters (46%) like the idea of going to the polls three different times next year.
Tepid support turns to flat resistance when it comes to reforming term limits. Over two-thirds of likely voters (68%) believe those limits, on the books since 1990, have been a good thing for the state. And a strong majority of them (64%) oppose a term limits reform initiative that proponents hope to put on the February 2008 primary ballot. That resistance is unambiguous across party lines, with majorities of Republicans (70%), independents (68%), and Democrats (61%) saying they would oppose the initiative.
Redistricting is the one reform proposal that Californians are rallying around. A full two-thirds (66%) of likely voters think the current redistricting process needs at least minor changes. Nearly four in 10 (39%) believe it needs major changes. And 66 percent say they would favor the reform that gives an independent commission of citizens the power to determine legislative districts.
DISTRUST IN GOVERNMENT GOES FROM BAD AT THE STATE LEVEL…
Californians’ ambivalence toward reform efforts reflects deep reservations about their state political leaders. On the one hand, with some slippage since January, residents give Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger good marks and are less disapproving of the state legislature than they have been in some time. Fifty-one percent of all Californians and 56 percent of likely voters approve of the governor’s job performance (a 7% and 5% decline, respectively, since January). The legislature is also doing relatively well in the eyes of residents and voters – in fact, the legislature’s approval ratings among all adults (41%) are nearing their highest point in recent years (43% in October 2004). While approval is lower among likely voters (39% approve, 47% disapprove), it remains significantly higher than it was one year ago (23% approve, 65% disapprove).
On the other hand, and at odds with the approval ratings, most Californians and even more likely voters continue to express low levels of trust in state government. Fewer than one-third of residents (32%) and likely voters (30%) believe that the government in Sacramento can be trusted to do the right thing most or just about all of the time. Nearly two in three (64%) Californians say that state government is run by a few big interests rather than for the benefit of all the people (28%).
… TO WORSE AT THE FEDERAL LEVEL
Californians’ feelings about their state leaders and government are almost starry-eyed compared with their feelings about national leadership. President George Bush’s approval ratings have reached an all-time low in the state, with only 28 percent of residents saying they approve of the way he is handling his job and nearly seven in 10 (69%) saying they disapprove.
Level of trust in the federal government is strongly linked to opinions of the president. Among Californians who disapprove of President Bush, only 19 percent say they trust the federal government at least most of the time; among those who approve, 51 percent say they do. Californians trust in the federal government has deteriorated across the board: Fewer than three in 10 (28%) believe they can trust the government at least most of the time – a 10 point drop since February 2003. Moreover, 68 percent of Californians think the federal government wastes a lot of their tax money (a 10-point increase since the PPIC survey first asked this question in January 2000).
AXIS OF BAD APPROVAL RATINGS
Even more Californians believe the Bush Administration is dropping the foreign policy ball. When asked how we’re doing against the “axis of evil,” majorities say they disapprove of the way President Bush is handling the situations in Iraq (74%), Iran (68%), and North Korea (54%). Although there are sharp partisan differences over Iraq, Republican support (56% approve, 40% disapprove) is not nearly as clear-cut as opposition from Democrats (9% approve, 90% disapprove) or independents (18% approve, 78% disapprove). Clear majorities of all Californians (62%) and likely voters (59%) oppose the administration’s recent move to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Particularly striking, Californians seem to be leery of following the path in Iran that the United States is following in Iraq. Likely voters say it is more important to avoid a military conflict with Iran (54%) than it is to take a firm stand against Iranian actions (39%). Partisan divisions, however, are stark: Democrats and independents largely prefer avoiding military conflict (68% and 61% respectively), while a majority of Republicans (62%) say it is more important to take a firm stand.
Ironically, despite the diplomatic efforts and military actions of the past five years, Californians still put the “axis of evil” at the top of the list when asked to name the country that poses the greatest danger to the United States: Most respondents name Iran (20%), followed closely by North Korea (19%) and Iraq (15%). The most ironic comment of all on U.S. foreign policy? Respondents rated the United States a greater danger to itself (8%) than Al Qaeda or terrorist groups (2%).
CONCERNS AT THE GRASSROOTS?
While political reform dominates conversation in the state capitol, Californians say immigration (19%) is the most important issue facing the state today, followed by jobs and the economy (13%), and education (12%). Despite their concerns about immigration, a majority of residents (60%) also believe immigrants are a benefit to the state because of their hard work and job skills, while one-third (33%) say they are a burden because of their use of public services.
Residents’ focus on immigration comes at a time when Congress and the president are preparing to discuss immigration reform. One key element of the debate – one with potentially heavy consequences for California – is allowing illegal immigrants to obtain work permits. A solid majority (64%) of Californians think immigrants who are in the United States illegally should be allowed to apply for work permits. Underlying the overall support, however, there are differences between political parties, and particularly between Latinos and whites, with Latinos being far more likely than whites (90% to 55%) to support work permits for illegal immigrants.
Attitudes go the other way on providing driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. Fifty-four percent of Californians, and 64 percent of likely voters, say they would oppose state legislation allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. The partisan divide runs deep on this issue: Republicans and independents are clearly opposed (82% and 59% respectively), while Democrats are divided (49% favor, 47% oppose).
State residents also do not support providing health care coverage to illegal immigrants. A majority (53%) say they oppose the idea while 43 percent support it. An overwhelming majority of Republicans (83%) are opposed, compared to a lesser majority (57%) of independents and a minority (44%) of Democrats.
WITH HEALTH CARE FOR ALL?
Although not at the top of their concerns, most Californians (71%) think the state’s health care system is in need of major changes – and this view is held strongly both by those who are currently covered by health insurance (70%) and those who are not (73%).
There is strong support for many of the specific health care reform proposals put forward by the governor and legislative leaders. For instance, 65 percent of likely voters say they would favor a plan that requires all Californians to have health insurance, with the costs shared by employers, individuals, and providers. Only 29 percent would oppose such a plan. Sixty-seven percent of likely voters also think it’s a good idea to require employers to either provide health insurance to their employees or pay a fee to the state. One key component of the proposed plan that meets strong resistance, however, is the requirement that physicians and hospitals pay a fee to the state to help cover health care costs: 63 percent of likely voters think this is a bad idea, compared to just 30 percent who think it is a good idea.
“The overriding message we get from these findings is that people do have angst about the current system, and that they seem willing to support some very different policy directions in order to see more Californians covered,” says Baldassare. Indeed, 85 percent of all respondents say they are at least somewhat concerned about providing health care to all residents, including 60 percent who say they are very concerned.
MORE KEY FINDINGS
- Californians See Storm Clouds for Economy — Page 8
About half (51%) of Californians think bad economic times are coming in the next 12 months. This is a significant 12 point jump since January, when only 39 percent of residents were expecting bad economic times. The deteriorating mood is also evident when it comes to the present direction of the state: Today, less than a majority (45%) of residents say the state is going in the right direction, down from 55 percent in January.
- Voters Approve of Madam Speaker, Madam Senators Pages 19
A majority (53%) of likely voters approve of the job performance so far of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Equal numbers of likely voters (53%) approve of the job Senator Barbara Boxer is doing, and even greater numbers (59%) say Senator Dianne Feinstein is handling her job well.
- Clinton, Giuliani Early Front Runners in ’08 — Page 22
Among likely voters today, Hillary Rodham Clinton (35%) is the favored Democratic presidential candidate, leading Barack Obama (24%), John Edwards (14%), and Bill Richardson (6%). On the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani (33%) holds a comfortable early lead over John McCain (19%), Newt Gingrich (14%), and Mitt Romney (7%).
- California’s First Lady a Ratings Hit… And a Question Mark — Page 27
First Lady Maria Shriver earns high marks from a majority (53%) of Californians, while very few (14%) see her in an unfavorable light. The rest? A full one-third (33%) say they don’t know.
ABOUT THE SURVEY
This edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey – the 22nd in PPIC’s Californians and Their Government series – is supported by funding from The James Irvine Foundation. This survey is intended to raise public awareness, inform decisionmakers, and stimulate public discussions about state and national issues as well as about the California presidential primary in February 2008. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,000 California adult residents interviewed between March 13 and March 20, 2007. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for the 1,122 likely voters is +/- 3%. For more information on methodology, see page 25.
Mark Baldassare is the 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. He conducted this survey with coauthors Dean Bonner, Jennifer Paluch, and Sonja Petek.
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.