SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 24, 2007 — Despite Californians’ support for the stunning congressional power shift, they remain deeply unhappy about the direction of the country and skeptical about their national leaders’ ability to work together, according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Much – but not all – of this distress may arise from their increasingly bleak assessment of the situation in Iraq.
The shift in power notwithstanding, Californians have decidedly mixed feelings about the performance of the U.S. Congress: 42 percent approve; 44 percent disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job. Still, this is higher than the 37 percent approval rating that residents gave Congress in September 2006. What’s driving the improvement? The recent leadership change is an important factor: Residents seem to like the ideas presented by the new Democratic majority in Congress, with 56 percent approving of their policies and plans for the future. Many Californians are also upbeat about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi: Half of all adults (49%) and likely voters (51%) say they have a favorable impression of the San Francisco Democrat.
Nevertheless, these positive developments haven’t dispelled the pessimism that Californians were feeling before the November election: Six in ten adults (60%) today, as in October 2006 (62%), say the United States is headed in the wrong direction. More Californians (53%) prefer to see Democratic congressional leaders rather than President George W. Bush (30%) take the lead in solving the nation’s problems. But no matter who calls the shots, a significant majority of state residents (56%) believe that the president and Congress will not be able to work together in the coming year. “Californians are skeptical that the change in congressional leadership will result in the kind of bipartisan productivity at the national level that they’ve come to expect in Sacramento,” says PPIC statewide survey director Mark Baldassare.
Moreover, decreasing approval of President Bush’s performance in office reinforces pessimism about the country’s direction and national leadership. The president’s approval ratings have hit a new low: Only 29 percent of Californians now approve of the way he is handling his job (compared to 32 percent in October 2006); 68 percent disapprove. Majorities of state residents also disapprove of his handling of the federal budget and taxes (59%) and health care policy (58%). However, Californians deliver the most stinging assessment of the president’s performance for his handling of Iraq. Three in four state residents (75%) and likely voters (72%) – including 91 percent of Democrats, 45 percent of Republicans, and 78 percent of independents – disapprove of the way he is handling this situation. Disapproval of President Bush’s Iraq policy has grown by 10 points since January 2006 (65%).
STRONG OPPOSITION TO IRAQ TROOP SURGE
When asked how things are going for the U.S. in Iraq, most Californians (78%) say poorly. For the first time in a PPIC statewide survey, a majority of state residents (52%) say things in Iraq are not going at all well, with another 26 percent saying they are not going too well. Although the percentages vary, majorities of Democrats (89%), Republicans (63%), and independents (76%) all describe the situation in negative terms. California is more pessimistic than the nation as a whole about Iraq: According to a recent Pew Research Center poll, six in 10 Americans think things are not going well.
Adding to the gloom, many Californians don’t see light at the end of tunnel for the U.S. in Iraq. Only 31 percent say it is likely that a stable democratic government will be established there; 65 percent say it is unlikely. This perception may contribute to the growing sentiment that it was not worth going to war in the first place: 69 percent of Californians hold this view, up from 62 percent in January 2006.
Against this bleak backdrop, it is not surprising that 70 percent of Californians oppose the president’s proposal to increase the size of U.S. military forces in Iraq; only 26 percent support the proposal. This overwhelming opposition masks some significant partisan differences: Majorities of Democrats (87%) and independents (71%) oppose the plan, while a majority of Republicans (59%) support it. Overall, however, Californians are more negative than Americans to this plan: An ABC News–Washington Post poll found that 65 percent of Americans opposed it.
SUPPORT FOR BIPARTISAN APPROACH IN SACRAMENTO
Californians’ negative assessment of the national scene is all the more stark when compared to their generally upbeat assessment of the state of the state. Many Californians think the state is headed in the right direction (55%) and expect good economic times in the coming 12 months (50%). And after a year in which Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state legislature shared a number of major legislative accomplishments, including passage of a historic bond package and legislation to combat global warming, Californians are far more positive in their ratings of state officials. Forty percent say they approve of the way the state legislature is doing its job, a better rating than at any time in 2005 or 2006. Ratings have also increased for Governor Schwarzenegger: Today, 58 percent of state residents approve of his performance in office, an 11-point increase since October (47%) and an 18-point increase from a year ago. And the governor gets his highest marks ever on a number of specific issues – including the environment (55%), transportation (43%), and K-12 education (40%).
The governor’s State of the State address was also well received: About half of adults (47%) and likely voters (51%) say they had a favorable impression. The public reaction to two specific – and largely bipartisan – proposals in the State of the State speech is even more positive: 76 percent of Californians favor the creation of a low carbon fuel standard that would reduce vehicular greenhouse gas emissions and 63 percent support selling $43.3 billion in new infrastructure bonds for the construction of schools, prisons, reservoirs, and other projects.
Two in three Californians (68%) say they are satisfied with the budget proposal, released January 10th by Governor Schwarzenegger, that called for increased spending without new taxes. But there is a twist: Despite their high approval of his performance and policies, state residents are more likely to prefer the approach of Democrats in the legislature (38%) rather than of the governor (22%) in making tough budget choices. “Californians have high hopes for their state leaders – as long as they continue to chart a moderate path together,” says Baldassare. “Schwarzenegger’s success depends heavily on continuing to find common ground with the Democratic legislature.” In sharp contrast with their view of national leadership dynamics, most Californians are optimistic about Sacramento bipartisanship: 62 percent think the governor and state legislature will be able to work together and accomplish a lot in the next year.
IMMIGRATION STATUS COMPLICATES SUPPORT FOR HEALTH PROPOSAL
Health care is increasingly on the minds of Californians. When asked to name the one issue that is most important for the governor and legislature to work on this year, state residents say immigration (22%), education and schools (18%), and health care (13%). A year ago, only 5 percent mentioned health care as a top issue.
On January 8th, Governor Schwarzenegger outlined a proposal requiring all Californians to have health insurance, with costs shared by employers, health care providers, and individuals. Most state residents (71%) – including majorities of Democrats (79%), Republicans (55%), independents (68%), and likely voters (65%) – support the governor’s plan. Californians are even more enthusiastic about the governor’s proposal to guarantee medical coverage for children in low-income families: 79 percent of state residents and 72 percent of likely voters say they favor it. Support for this proposal drops substantially, however, when residents are asked specifically about providing medical coverage to lower-income children—regardless of their immigrations status. Fifty-six percent of Californians still approve in this case, but 40 percent are opposed. Among likely voters, opposition exceeds support (50% to 46%). Latinos strongly support the proposal (86% favor, 12% oppose), while a majority of whites oppose it (54% oppose, 41% favor).
Four in ten Californians (43%) say they approve of Governor Schwarzenegger’s performance when it comes to health policy, but only 29 percent like the way President Bush is handling the issue. Still, most state residents believe both the state (55%) and the federal government (61%) are spending too little on health care. Californians prefer a universal health insurance system – in which people are covered under a government program like Medicare – to the current system in which most health insurance is provided by employers or purchased privately. And they are willing to ante up to get it: Six in 10 adults (63%) and likely voters (59%) say they favor such a system even if it means raising taxes.
MORE KEY FINDINGS
- Little support for prisons in boosting state spending — Page 13 and 14
Prodded by the federal courts, Governor Schwarzenegger has made spending on corrections a priority in his budget. However, Californians are not convinced: 54 percent of state residents – including majorities of Democrats (55%), Republicans (53%), and independents (60%) — oppose using the state’s additional revenue to increase funding for prisons and corrections, while 41 percent favor the proposal. Most residents would prefer to use the extra dollars to boost spending on K-12 education (79%) or to reduce the amount of state debt (78%). These preferences are consistent with Californians’ budget priorities generally: Majorities of residents say state government should spend more money on K-12 public education (68%), health and human services (60%), roads and infrastructure (58%), and public colleges and universities (55%). Only 34 percent believe the state should devote more resources to the prisons and corrections system, while 29 percent would have the state spend less in this area.
- Small majority likes big government — Page 13
A slim majority of state residents (53%) say they prefer paying more taxes and having state government provide more services. Still, a substantial proportion of adults in the state (40%) want lower taxes and fewer services. Likely voters are more divided than are residents in general on this issue: 49 percent favor more services and 44 percent want fewer.
- Residents see improvement on state budget — Page 15
Fewer than half of Californians today (45%) believe that the state budget is a big problem, a vast improvement from January 2004 and 2005 when 70 percent viewed the budget situation as a crisis. Still, most residents (87%) say the state budget remains at least somewhat of a problem.
ABOUT THE SURVEY
The purpose of the PPIC Statewide Survey is to develop a profile of the social, economic, and political forces affecting California elections and public policy preferences. This survey was supported by funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,014 California adult residents interviewed between January 11 and January 18, 2007. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for the 1,180 likely voters is +/- 3%. For more information on methodology, see page 25.
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.