SAN FRANCISCO, January 28, 2015—Californians give Governor Jerry Brown a record-high job approval rating and his budget proposal has strong bipartisan support in a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with support from The James Irvine Foundation. Strong majorities of state residents favor the governor’s plan to require that state employees start contributing to their retirement health coverage.
At the start of the governor’s historic fourth term, a record 61 percent of adults (58% likely voters) approve of his job performance—a big increase from January 2011 (41% adults, 47% likely voters), when he first took office. His approval rating today is 82 percent among Democrats, 56 percent among independents, and 30 percent among Republicans. The legislature has a job approval rating of 49 percent among adults and 41 percent among likely voters—the highest levels since January 2002. Asked about the job performance of their own assembly and state senate representatives, a slim majority of adults (53%) and half of likely voters (48%) approve.
Brown’s budget proposal includes increased spending for K–12 and higher education and smaller increases for health and human services, prisons, and courts. It also allocates funds to pay down state debt and puts $1.2 billion into the state’s rainy day fund. When read a brief description of the plan, 75 percent of adults and 79 percent of likely voters favor it. Majorities across parties are also in favor (87% Democrats, 76% independents, 68% Republicans). The governor’s proposal that state employees contribute to their retirement health plans has the support of 73 percent of adults and 75 percent of likely voters. Strong majorities across parties, regions, and demographic groups are also in favor.
Half Favor Increases for Higher Education—and Wiser Use of Current Funds
In addition to proposing increased spending for higher education, Brown wants the systems to freeze tuition and improve performance. What do Californians see as the best approach to improving the state’s higher education system? About half (48%) say the amount of state funding should be increased and that existing funds need to be used more wisely. Fewer (41%) say that just using existing funds more wisely would improve quality, and only 8 percent say that a funding increase alone would achieve this result.
“Californians are supportive of giving more state funds to higher education,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “But most want to know that the money being spent now is being spent wisely.”
When Californians are asked to prioritize the four largest areas of state spending, a majority of adults (53%) say K–12 education should have the highest priority. Fewer choose higher education (20%), health and human services (18%), or prisons and corrections (6%). Majorities of independents (61%), Democrats (53%), and Republicans (52%) say that K–12 education should be the highest priority.
Support for Paying Down Debt—and for Extending Proposition 30
With a budget surplus projected for the next several years, the survey asked how Californians would prefer to use the extra money. Majorities of adults (52%) and likely voters (59%) say they prefer to pay down debt and build up the reserve rather than use the money to restore some funding for social service programs (44% adults, 38% likely voters).
The improving economy has boosted state revenues and helped put the state budget on much more stable footing than in recent years—a change noticed by Californians. For the first time since May 2007, less than half of residents—46 percent—characterize the state budget situation as a big problem.
The budget situation has also improved in part because of Proposition 30 tax revenues, which fund schools and guarantee public safety realignment funding. Governor Brown has repeatedly stressed that these income and sales tax increases—set to expire in 2018—are temporary, but there is discussion in Sacramento of extending them. Half of Californians (50%) and likely voters (52%) favor extending the tax increases. There is a strong partisan divide on this question: 66 percent of Democrats are in favor, 63 percent of Republicans are opposed, and independents are divided (49% favor, 45% oppose).
“Budget worries are finally subsiding in California,” Baldassare said. “Still, most Californians want their state budget to focus on paying down debt instead of restoring social service funding, and voters are willing to extend the Proposition 30 tax increases.”
The survey also asked about potential changes to Proposition 13 that are being discussed. One is to create a “split roll” in which commercial property is taxed according to current market value but Proposition 13 limitations remain in place for residential property. A slim majority (54%) favor a split roll tax. Support is at its lowest point since PPIC began asking the question in January 2012 (60%). Proposition 13 also requires a two-thirds majority at the ballot box for new local special taxes. Should the vote threshold be lowered to 55 percent? Californians are divided on the question, with 46 percent in favor and 47 percent opposed. When Californians are asked their general views of Proposition 13, a record-high 61 percent say it has been mostly a good thing for the state.
When it comes to making tough choices about the state budget, Californians prefer the approach of the Democrats—either Brown (29%) or Democrats in the legislature (30%)—while 26 percent favor the approach of legislative Republicans. Californians agree on one aspect of fiscal decisionmaking: 78 percent prefer that state voters make some of the decisions about spending and taxes at the ballot box. Far fewer (19%) would rather have the governor and legislature make all of these decisions.
At the same time, few Californians are able to identify where the money in the state budget comes from and where it goes. Asked to choose which of the state’s major revenue sources brings in the most money, just 33 percent of adults and 37 percent of likely voters correctly select the personal income tax. When asked which of the top budget areas accounts for the largest amount of spending, only 15 percent of adults and 19 percent of likely voters accurately name K–12 education. Just 5 percent of adults and 8 percent of likely voters answer both questions correctly.
Optimism About California Is Higher as Year Begins
Californians are starting the year in a more optimistic mood than they have been in years. Most (57%) say things in the state are going in the right direction—up from 50 percent in December and from 38 percent in January 2011. More residents expect good economic times in the next year (58%) than in December (52%) or January 2011 (36%). Most (59%) say the governor and legislature will be able to work together and accomplish a lot in the next year. What do Californians think is the most important issue for the governor and legislature to work on this year? Jobs and the economy are mentioned most frequently (19%), followed by education and schools (15%), immigration (11%), water and drought (9%), and the state budget (6%).
Obama’s Approval Rating Rises to 60 Percent, Boxer’s to 53 Percent
President Obama’s job approval rating has rebounded to 60 percent among Californians—the highest it has been since July 2013 (61%). His rating among likely voters is 50 percent. In the wake of Senator Barbara Boxer’s decision not to seek reelection, her job approval rating is 53 percent among adults and 51 percent among likely voters. This is higher than in September 2014 (41% adults, 45% likely voters). Senator Dianne Feinstein has a job approval rating of 54 percent among both all adults and likely voters. In September 2014 it was 47 percent among all adults and 55 percent among likely voters.
The newly elected Congress fares less well. But Congress’ approval rating today—38 percent among California adults and 24 percent among likely voters—is higher than it was in October (24% adults, 16% likely voters). Most adults (56%) and half of likely voters (51%) approve of the job their own congressional representative is doing. However, when asked if the president and Congress will be able to work together and accomplish a lot in the next year, just 35 percent of adults and 18 percent of likely voters say yes. How do Californians view divided government at the federal level? While about a quarter (26%) say it’s better if the president’s party controls Congress and a quarter (24%) say it’s better if one party controls Congress and one controls the White House, 42 percent say it doesn’t matter too much either way.
The survey also asked about four issues currently being debated at the state and federal levels:
- Crime, police, and race relations. Most Californians say that violence and street crime are either a big problem (24%) or somewhat of a problem (34%) in their local communities. Asked to rate their local police, a solid majority (63%) say the police are doing either an excellent job (24%) or a good job (39%) in controlling crime in their communities. Across racial/ethnic groups, most whites (74%), Latinos (57%), and Asians (56%) give their local police positive marks, while only 36 percent of blacks do so. In the aftermath of several incidents involving the police and minority communities, most Californians (55%) say that blacks and other minorities do not receive equal treatment in the criminal justice system and 39 percent say they do. Blacks (85%) are far more likely than Latinos (57%), whites (50%), and Asians (47%) to say that minorities do not receive equal treatment.
- Water policy. A majority of Californians (59%) say the supply of water is a big problem in their region, down from the record-high 68 percent who held this view in October 2014. Today, residents from the Central Valley (68%) and Orange/San Diego Counties (64%) are the most likely to say the water supply is a big problem in their part of the state. Most residents (59%) continue to say the state and local governments are not doing enough to respond to the current drought.
- Health care reform. Californians have been consistently divided about the 2010 health care reform law. But today the share of residents who have a generally favorable opinion of the law is at a record-high 51 percent (41% generally unfavorable). Most Californians say the state’s online insurance marketplace, Covered California, is working very well (16%) or fairly well (42%), while about a third say it is not working too well (18%) or not at all well (14%). Younger Californians (69% age 18 to 34) are the most likely to say Covered California is working well (53% age 35 to 54, 54% age 55 and older).
- Immigration reform. Californians are much more likely to say that immigrants are a benefit to California because of their hard work and job skills (63%) than to say that immigrants are a burden to the state because they use public services (32%). A solid majority (69%) support President Obama’s executive action to shield as many as 4 million immigrants from deportation, while 30 percent are opposed.
ABOUT THE SURVEY
The PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,705 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from January 11–20, 2015. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.
The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.6 percent for all adults, ±3.9 percent for the 1,377 registered voters, and ±4.6 percent for the 1,011 likely voters. For more information on methodology, see page 25.
Mark Baldassare is 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.
PPIC is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. 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.