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Press Release · March 25, 2009

Special Election Ballot Propositions Face Tough Road

None Musters Majority Support Except Measure Limiting Legislative Pay Hikes — State Leaders Get Record Low Ratings, but Support Grows for Those in Washington

SAN FRANCISCO, California, March 25, 2009—California’s likely voters are divided on five of six propositions related to the state’s budget crisis that will appear on the May special election ballot, according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Levels of support for Propositions 1A through 1E vary widely, but none has the approval of a majority of likely voters. However, in a signal of the mood of the electorate this year, an overwhelming 81 percent favor Proposition 1F, which would limit salary increases for state elected officials when the state faces a budget deficit.

Eight weeks before the special election—called as part of the 2009–2010 budget agreement between the governor and legislature—those Californians most likely to go to the polls are feeling grim about the state of their state: The vast majority (77%) say it is headed in the wrong direction and see its fiscal situation as a big problem (85%). They give record low ratings to the legislature (11%) and to their own legislators (29%). Their approval rating for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (33%) has dropped to a new low among likely voters. For the first time, a majority of Republican likely voters (54%) disapprove of the job performance of the Republican governor.

The results are striking when compared to rising approval ratings for Congress and California’s senators and to a strongly positive view of President Obama—despite a challenging economic climate.

“Californians are clear that the budget situation is serious, but most disapprove of the leadership in Sacramento—the people who are providing the solutions,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president, CEO, and survey director. “These leaders have their work cut out for them if they want to persuade voters that the ballot measures are necessary to address the problem.”

When read the full text of the ballot measures, likely voters express these preferences:

  • Proposition 1A: About four in 10 support the measure (39% yes, 46% no, 15% undecided) to change the budget process by increasing the state “rainy day” fund. Less than half say the measure would be very (7%) or somewhat (38%) effective in helping California avoid future state budget deficits.
  • Proposition 1B: They are divided (44% yes, 41% no, 15% undecided) on the initiative that would require future supplemental payments to local school districts and community colleges to address recent budget cuts. There is a sharp partisan split on this measure, with Democrats far more likely to favor it (59%) and Republicans far more likely to be opposed (60%). Independent voters are more likely to vote for it (46% yes, 38% no). There are regional differences, with just over half of likely voters in the San Francisco Bay Area (52%) supporting the measure and about four in 10 doing so in other areas (41% Los Angeles; 40% in Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties; 39% Central Valley).
  • Proposition 1C: Half oppose (37% yes, 50% no, 11% undecided) the measure to modernize the lottery and allow for $5 billion in borrowing from future lottery profits to help balance next year’s state budget. Less than half support the initiative across party lines (45% Democrats, 37% independents, 29% Republicans) and regions (42% Los Angeles; 40% Bay Area; 33% Central Valley; 32% Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties).
  • Proposition 1D: Nearly half support (48% yes, 36% no, 16% undecided) the proposition to temporarily transfer funds from early childhood education to help balance the state budget. Likely voters are split along partisan lines, with nearly twice as many Democrats as Republicans in favor (60% Democrats, 48% independents, 34% Republicans). Regionally, support is highest (52%) in the Bay Area (48% Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties; 47% Central Valley; 45% Los Angeles).
  • Proposition 1E: Nearly half favor (47% yes, 37% no, 16% undecided) the measure to transfer money from mental health services to the general fund to help balance the state budget. Democrats (54%) and independents (46%) are more likely than Republicans (39%) to vote yes. Regionally, support for the measure is highest (51%) in Los Angeles (49% Central Valley; 45% San Francisco Bay Area, and Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties).
  • Proposition 1F: An overwhelming majority (81% yes, 13% no, 6% undecided) support the initiative that would block pay increases to state elected officials in years of budget deficit. Across partisan, regional, and racial/ethnic lines, large majorities back the measure. Asked how effective the proposition would be in averting future budget deficits, two in three say it would be very (28%) or somewhat (39%) effective.

All of the ballot measures have majority support among one group of California’s likely voters: Latinos (52% Prop. 1A, 60% Prop. 1B, 58% Prop. 1C, 70% Prop. 1D, 66% Prop. 1E, 68% Prop. 1F).

Fewer Following Election News, But Voters Show Little Sign of Ballot Fatigue

Voters are less likely to be following news of the election now (55%) than they were seven weeks before the last special election in November 2005 (69%), or in the weeks before the November 2008 presidential election (91%).

But this relative lack of attention does not signal apathy: Most likely voters say they are very happy (19%) or somewhat happy (40%) about going to the polls in May—the 14th statewide election this decade.

A number of reforms have been proposed to address the state’s governing challenges, from a constitutional convention to deal with structural issues to changes in the primary election system. Likely voters support some of these ideas. A majority (59%) say that it would be a good idea to change the state’s primary elections so that the two top vote-getters—regardless of party—advance to the general election, and about one in three (31%) say it’s a bad idea. This change in the state’s primaries is not on the special election ballot but will be on a future one, thanks to the budget agreement approved in February.

On the issue of constitutional reform, a majority of likely voters (64%) say that minor (40%) or major (24%) changes are needed in the state constitution.

However, support has slipped 10 points since January for one reform: easing the requirement that two-thirds of the legislature must approve a budget. California is only one of three states that require this supermajority approval, and the legislature’s inability to pass a budget on time has prompted calls to lower the threshold to 55 percent. In January, for the first time, a majority of likely voters (53%) said lowering the threshold was a good idea. Today, 43 percent of likely voters think it is a good idea, and 49 percent think it is a bad one.

Obama Retains Strong Appeal as Support Grows for Congress, Senators

Two months into his term, President Obama has the approval of a strong majority of Californians (71% vs. 20% disapprove), nearly identical to the approval rating he received in February (70% vs. 16% disapprove). Californians are more likely to approve of Obama’s job performance than are adults nationwide, according to a recent CBS News poll (62% approve, 24% disapprove).

Congress’ ratings continue to improve (43% approve, 47% disapprove). While this level of approval falls short of a majority, it has increased 20 points since October 2008. It also marks a new high since the PPIC Statewide Survey first began tracking approval ratings for Congress in October 2005.

Compared to a year ago, Californians’ approval ratings have also increased for Senators Dianne Feinstein (56% today, 44% 2008) and Barbara Boxer (52% today, 41% 2008), and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (49% today, 43% 2008). Residents are also more likely to approve of their own congressional representatives (55% today, 47% 2008).

When it comes to federal plans to address the financial crisis, Californians have a mixed response. They are highly supportive (65% support, 29% oppose) of the $800 billion package of tax cuts, construction projects, and aid to states and individuals to stimulate the economy. They strongly favor (69% support, 26% oppose) the federal government providing refinancing assistance to homeowners to help avoid foreclosure. But they are divided (46% approve, 46% disapprove) over whether the government should give money to banks and other financial institutions to fix the nation’s economy.


  • Record percentages see economy as top issue—page 16
    For the second month in a row, record percentages of Californians name the economy when asked an open-ended question about the state’s biggest issue (58% today, 63% February). Only in July 2001 has another issue—electricity prices and deregulation—received similar attention (56%).
  • Californians worry about their own housing, jobs—page 17
    Six in 10 Californians are very (39%) or somewhat (23%) concerned about having enough money to pay their rent or mortgage. Californians are also very (34%) or somewhat (17%) concerned that they or a family member will lose a job in the next year. Ten percent volunteer that they have personally experienced a job loss.
  • State remains strongly divided about same-sex marriage—page 21
    Neither the November election nor legal challenges have changed the polarized views Californians hold on same-sex marriage: 49 percent are opposed, 44 percent are in favor.


This survey is the 35th in the Californians and Their Government series and is supported with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. It seeks to examine the social, economic, and political trends that influence public policy preferences and ballot choices. This is the 96th PPIC Statewide Survey in a series that has generated a database that includes the responses of more than 204,000 Californians. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,004 California adult residents interviewed from March 10–17, 2009, in English or Spanish. The sampling error for all adults is ±2%. For the 987 likely voters, is ±3%. 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 a private, nonprofit organization 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.