SAN FRANCISCO, California, June 27, 2007 — When it comes to Californians’ public policy priorities, immigration is leaving other issues in the proverbial dust, according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), supported by funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Although California residents support some of the federal proposals for immigration reform, they have little faith that the Republican president and Democratic-led Congress can work together effectively in the coming year. And they feel the same way about the “post-partisan” circumstances in Sacramento.
Immigration tops just about everyone’s list of the most important issues facing California today. This holds true across regions, political parties, racial and ethnic groups, and gender. One-quarter (25%) of all residents name immigration/illegal immigration as the state’s most pressing issue. The economy (11%) and health care (8%) lag behind, a distant second and third. Results are almost identical for likely voters (27% immigration, 11% health care, 9% economy).
Although Republicans (39%) are far more likely than Democrats (15%) and much more likely than independents (25%) to call immigration the state’s most important issue, it still holds first place across parties. It is also the most important issue among Latinos (23%), whites (28%), men (26%), and women (24%).
“Considering how much more leeway the state has to address the state’s pressing health care, education, and budget problems, this pervasive fixation on immigration is troubling,” says PPIC president and statewide survey director Mark Baldassare. “State leaders cannot make immigration policy, but they will continue to feel the fallout of voter discontent over its effects.” And, as he notes, Californians have identified immigration as their most important issue in every PPIC survey since April of 2006.
SUPPORT FOR FEDERAL IMMIGRATION REFORM
About three-fourths (74%) of all residents say U.S. immigration policy needs major changes, a belief shared by at least two-thirds in all political parties and all demographic and racial and ethnic groups. And they support many of the proposals in the Senate’s current immigration reform bill. Nearly three-fourths (74%) say illegal immigrants who have lived in the United States for more than two years should be given a chance to keep their jobs and apply for legal status. Only about one-fourth (23%) say these immigrants should be deported to their native countries. Support for providing a path to legalization is also very high among the state’s likely voters (65%). However, it is higher among Democrats (79%) and independents (72%) than among Republicans (51%).
There are also partisan differences in support for another proposed reform—temporary guest worker programs. Seven in 10 Republicans (71%) support the idea of allowing foreigners to be employed as guest workers in the United States, and then requiring them to return home, compared to 64 percent of Democrats and 59 percent of independents. About two-thirds of all adults (63%) and likely voters (67%) favor this kind of guest worker program.
However, Californians are more divided over another element in the Senate bill—who should be given priority in being admitted to the country. About half of residents (49%) think priority should be given to immigrants with job skills and education, while 35 percent choose family ties in the United States as the most important criterion (9% say it depends and 7% don’t know). Among likely voters, preference for skills and education reaches a majority (56%), while fewer (30%) favor family status.
HONEYMOON OVER FOR NEW CONGRESS, PELOSI
Despite this support for federal immigration reform, residents have little faith that Republican President George W. Bush and the Democratic-led Congress will work together to accomplish a lot this year: 68 percent say they will not. Only 28 percent believe they will—a 10-point drop from the 38 percent who believed this in January. In general, the new Congress’s grace period is definitely over. Only one-third (33%) of Californians give Congress positive ratings, a 9-point drop since the new Democratic majority took over in January (42%). The news is similar for Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, whose approval ratings have fallen 13 points among her fellow Californians since March (52% to 39%).
On the whole, only about one-third (31%) of Californians say things in the nation are going in the right direction, while nearly two-thirds (63%) say they are going in the wrong direction. Likely voters are even more pessimistic (26% right direction, 68% wrong direction). Majorities across political parties also believe things are going in the wrong direction (Democrats 74%, independents 66%, Republicans 54%), although Republicans (40%) are twice as likely as Democrats (20%) to say things are going in the right direction.
BUSH: WAR TORN AND IMMIGRATION BASHED
While Congressional ratings are slumping, approval for President Bush may be nearing rock bottom. The president’s ratings remain at the historic low mark they reached in March: 68 percent disapprove of the job he is doing and only 28 percent approve. And likely voters feel about the same (69% disapprove, 29% approve). Moreover, the partisan differences in his ratings are not as wide as might be expected. While a majority of Republicans (56%) approve of the president’s job performance, the share who disapprove—40 percent—is at the highest point it has ever been. And among Democrats and independents, disapproval is very high (88% and 76%, respectively).
The president’s low approval ratings reflect his ratings on the Iraq conflict. Disapproval is overwhelming among all Californians (75% disapprove, 21% approve), Democrats (91% disapprove, 7% approve) and independents (80% disapprove, 19% approve). Republicans are closely split (47% disapprove, 49% approve).
The attitude most residents have about progress in Iraq may explain a lot about the president’s low approval on the issue: Over half (53%) say things are going not at all well, 26 percent say they are not going too well, 15 percent say they are going somewhat well, and only 3 percent say they are going very well. These views precisely mirror those of likely voters.
Moreover, most Californians today (71%) say it was not worth going to war in Iraq in the first place. This is a 10-point jump since PPIC first asked this question in August 2004. Although a majority of Republicans (57%) continue to say the effort was worthwhile, this is much smaller than the majority of Democrats (88%) and independents (71%) who disagree.
“The public’s loss of faith has settled pretty deeply on Iraq and will almost certainly make leading and going forward on the issue very difficult,” says Baldassare. Case in point: As the administration continues to increase troop numbers in Iraq, most Californians say the action is either making the situation worse (40%) or making no difference (37%). Second case in point: Nearly seven in 10 (69%) residents think the United States should set a timetable to withdraw from Iraq sometime in 2008, something the Bush administration strongly opposes.
As bad as Iraq has been for the president’s ratings, immigration may be hurting him as much—or even more among Republicans. Sixty-two percent of Republicans disapprove of how the president is handing the issue of immigration; only 29 percent approve. These numbers are not so far from ratings by Democrats (72% disapprove, 20% approve) and are very close to independents’ ratings (65% disapprove, 26% approve). Perceptions are also similar among all likely voters (69% disapprove, 22% approve).
POST-PARTISAN DEPRESSION AND HEALTH CARE BLUES?
The growing misgivings Californians have about partisanship at the national level reflect their misgivings about state government. Residents are much less likely today than they were in January to believe that state leaders will be able to work together and accomplish a lot in the coming year. Confidence that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state legislature will be able to work together has dropped 13 points from a solid majority (62%) in January, to just about half (49%) today. This has not, however, affected approval ratings for the governor (57% all adults and 65% likely voters approve), or the legislature (39% all adults and 35% likely voters approve). These numbers have remained about the same as they were in January.
So why the lack of faith? “A number of recent events could be signaling trouble and affecting the public’s confidence in state leadership,” says Baldassare. “For example, at the beginning of the year, there was big fanfare about health care from Sacramento, but people have seen little progress.” And Californians do think health care is in crisis. Three-quarters (75%) of all residents and likely voters say the number of people without health insurance is a big problem in the state today, a view held by seven in 10 residents in every regional and demographic group. Little wonder that seven in 10 (72%) Californians also think the state’s health care system is in need of major changes.
What kind of changes? Residents (72%) and likely voters (65%) strongly support Governor Schwarzenegger’s plan to require residents to have health insurance, and have employers, health care providers, and individuals share the costs. In fact, majorities across the political spectrum support the proposal (Democrats 81%, independents 69%, Republicans 52%). Some of the push for change may reflect Californians’ personal fears about being able to afford health care if a member of their family gets sick: A majority (56%) are very concerned, 15 percent are somewhat concerned, and only 28 percent say they are not too concerned or not at all concerned.
Given the current health care debate, and the competing plans being circulated by the governor and other legislative leaders, it is important to note that among residents who currently have health insurance, two-thirds are either very worried (40%) or somewhat worried (27%) about having to pay more for their health care or insurance. Fewer are very worried (19%) or somewhat worried (17%) about losing their coverage. On this question, most are either not at all worried (40%) or not too worried (23%). However, there are major differences across income levels, with households earning less than $40,000 per year far more likely to be very worried about losing their insurance than households earning over $80,000 annually (30% to 8%, respectively).
WHO’S MINDING THE STORE?
PPIC’s May survey found very low levels of knowledge among likely voters about policy issues. This month’s survey finds that incredibly few likely voters know who some of the state’s top elected officials and most powerful decisionmakers are. Only 11 percent can name Fabian Núñez as the speaker of the state assembly, and about half that number (6%) can name Don Perata as the president pro tem of the state senate. In contrast, Governor Schwarzenegger enjoys just about universal recognition among likely voters (97%). A mere 3 percent of likely voters can correctly name all three.
MORE KEY FINDINGS
- National Health Insurance — Page 13
Two-thirds (66%) of residents think the U.S. government should provide a national health insurance program even if it means higher taxes. Even more (73%) support such a program for children under the age of 18.
- Abortion Rights — Page 22
Most Californians (61%) say the ability to get an abortion should either stay the same or be easier; one-third (33%) believe it should be more difficult—a 7-point jump since September 2006.
- Same-Sex Marriage Splits Residents — Page 22
Californians remain deeply divided on the issue of allowing same-sex couples to be legally married. Almost half (49%) are opposed, while 45 percent are in favor, and 6 percent don’t know. Attitudes on this question have barely budged in the three times PPIC has asked it since February 2004.
- Clinton, Guiliani Early Favorites in ’08 Primary — Pages 23 and 24
Hillary Clinton leads Barack Obama (35% to 20%) among likely Democratic primary voters; Rudy Guiliani leads John McCain (29% to 15%) among likely Republican primary voters.
- Democrats Happier With Choice Of Candidates — Pages 23 and 24
Likely Democratic primary voters are much more satisfied with their choice of candidates than likely Republican primary voters are with theirs (74% to 57% respectively). Members of both groups are highly engaged even at this early stage, with 75 percent of Democrats and 72 percent of Republicans following news about the candidates either fairly or very closely.
ABOUT THE SURVEY
This edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey is the 24th in the institute’s Californians and Their Government series and is 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 social, economic, and political trends that influence public policy preferences. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,003 California adult residents interviewed between June 12 and June 19, 2007. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for subgroups is larger: For the 1,451 registered voters it is +/-2.5%, and for the 983 likely voters it is +/- 3%. For more information on methodology, including the sampling error for additional subgroups, see page 27.
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.