PPIC Logo Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Press Release · September 29, 2005

Special Survey On Californians And The Initiative Process, The Bottom: Are We There Yet? Natural Disasters, Gas Prices Fuel Angst, Distrust

Special Election, Ballot Propositions Fail to Resonate with Voters, Support for Initiative Process, But Many See Room for Improvement

SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 29, 2005 — Hurricane Katrina and the surging gas prices associated with its aftermath have only aggravated Californians’ pessimism about economic conditions and the competence of government, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. In light of these broader concerns, the state’s looming special election is failing to galvanize voter interest or support.

Californians today are feeling equally gloomy about the direction of the nation (34% right direction, 62% wrong direction) and the direction of the state (31% right direction, 60% wrong direction). Economic worries are driving much of this pessimism: Majorities expect bad economic conditions in the nation (63%) and the state (58%) in the next 12 months. Since the beginning of this year, the percentage of residents who expect good economic times in California has declined by a stunning 15 points (from 47% in January to 32% today). The last time state residents expressed such a lack of confidence in the economy? November 2001 – during the first year of a significant recession.

The post-Katrina spike in gas prices has contributed to the decline in consumer confidence: The overwhelming majority of Californians (83%) believe that the price of gasoline will hurt the state’s economy in the next six months – and 51 percent think it will hurt a great deal. These sentiments recall findings from a 2001 survey early in the electricity crisis when 82 percent of residents said that energy prices would take a toll on the California economy. In terms of their own pocketbooks, more than half (57%) of all residents today say that the run-up in gas prices has caused them financial hardship. The effects are noticed most by Latinos (76%) and least by whites (45%) and are felt more strongly in the Central Valley and Los Angeles (61% each) than in other regions of the state. The mention of gasoline prices as the state’s top issue rose sharply from last month (3% to 9%), with jobs and the economy (18%) and education (15%) still leading the pack.

The lingering effects of Hurricane Katrina are also evident in Californians’ anxiety about the national economy. Seventy percent of state residents are either very concerned (30%) or somewhat concerned (40%) that Katrina will cause a nationwide recession. But the effects are not limited to economic issues: The government’s response to Katrina has also affected Californians’ confidence in government to handle other disasters. Half of state residents say they have less confidence now than before Katrina that the government can handle a major terrorist attack (51%) or a major California earthquake (54%).

Lackluster Response to Special Election, Ballot Measures

With their focus on economic concerns and government response to crises, Californians show little interest in the upcoming special election. “Voters see little on the ballot that connects to their current concerns,” says PPIC survey director Mark Baldassare. “It’s a major reason for the lackluster response to the election generally and to the specific measures on the ballot.” A majority of likely voters (53%) say the special election is a bad idea, with only 40 percent calling it a good idea. On this question, there is a sharp partisan divide: While majorities of Democrats (73%) and independents (56%) dislike the idea of the special election, most Republicans support it (63%).

Another telling sign of disinterest in the special election? When asked to name the ballot measure that interested them the most, voters’ top response was don’t know (38%) or none (12%). Reflecting this disinterest, none of the measures actively supported by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger currently enjoys majority support:

  • Teacher tenure (Proposition 74) – Likely voters’ support for this measure – which would increase probationary periods for public school teachers – has declined by six points since August (from 49% to 43%). One reason for the lack of majority support for this initiative? Voters seem more concerned about teacher retention than poor teacher performance: Half of voters (52%) say keeping good teachers is a big problem, while in August, 36 percent said poor teacher performance was a big problem.
  • Spending and funding limits (Proposition 76) – Similar to findings in August, the measure to limit state spending and change school funding requirements still trails by a large margin (63% oppose, 26% support). Voters today are conflicted when asked about strict limits on state spending: 49 percent say it is a good idea and 43 percent a bad idea. In a May survey, likely voters were more supportive of spending limits (62% good idea, 30% bad idea). What changed? Democratic and independent voters have become less supportive of the idea.
  • Redistricting (Proposition 77) – More voters continue to oppose (50%) than support (33%) the proposal to have a panel of retired judges rather than lawmakers draw legislative districts. However, 17 percent remain undecided. Despite the lack of majority support for this measure, most voters agree that it is a bad idea for the state legislature and the governor to make decisions about redistricting. In a rare meeting of the minds, Democrats (72%) and Republicans (57%) share this view.

Two competing ballot measures – both offering proposals for prescription drug discounts – also fail to capture the support of a majority of likely voters. Proposition 78 – sponsored by a coalition of pharmaceutical companies – is backed by 43 percent of voters, while 38 percent are opposed. Proposition 79 – sponsored by consumer advocates and unions – has the support of 34 percent of likely voters, with 40 percent opposed. There is confusion about the origins of both measures, with only 14 percent of voters able to correctly identify the sponsors of the initiatives in each case.

Initiative Process: Californians Ready for (a Little) Change

Although they are unhappy with the special election, Californians have not lost their devotion to initiatives. They still think that initiatives (39%) should have more influence than the legislature (32%) or governor (18%) over state policy. And most residents (74%) feel that initiatives raise important policy issues that elected officials have not adequately addressed. But despite their loyalty, 63 percent of Californians think the process needs either major (29%) or minor (34%) changes. Democrats (69%) and independents (64%) are more likely than Republicans (58%), and whites (64%) are somewhat more likely than Latinos (59%), to see a need for change. What do Californians dislike about the initiative process? Many residents believe that special interests have too much control (92%), find the ballot wording for initiatives complicated and confusing (77%), and think there are too many propositions on the state ballot (62%).

One reason for Californians’ steadfast support for the initiative process may be their less-than-flattering assessment of their elected leadership. Currently, 33 percent of Californians approve and 58 percent disapprove of the way Governor Schwarzenegger is handling his job as governor. His ratings today are similar to those of the state legislature (32% approve, 53% disapprove). Fewer Californians today than one year ago say the governor is doing an excellent or good job working for their best interests (from 46% to 28%). Likely voters are slightly more supportive of the governor than are Californians generally: 38 percent approve of his performance in office, while 55 percent disapprove. His ratings were virtually unchanged before and after he announced his reelection plans on September 16th.

Universal Health Care, Canadian Drugs Get Thumbs Up

By a wide margin, Californians prefer a universal health insurance system – in which everyone is covered under a government program – over the current system in which most health insurance is provided by employers or purchased privately. Only 34 percent prefer the current system, while 59 percent opt for a universal health care program. Six in 10 residents (63%) also favor guaranteeing health insurance coverage for all citizens, even if it means raising taxes, while only 33 percent oppose this option. Despite the broad support, there is a distinct partisan split: While Democrats (75%) and independents (69%) support guaranteed health insurance coverage for all citizens, most Republicans (57%) are opposed.

Although the issue of universal health insurance may divide political parties in California, two issues concerning prescription drug discounts reveal some rare unanimity. Eight in 10 Californians (81%) – including Democrats (86%), Republicans (80%), and independents (85%) – strongly favor changing the law to allow Americans to buy prescription drugs from pharmacies in Canada if they think they can get a lower price. State residents (80%) are equally supportive of allowing the federal government to negotiate with drug companies to get a lower price on prescription drugs for Medicare recipients.

More Key Findings

  • Approval Ratings for President Bush Unchanged — Page 13
    Similar to his rating in August, 39 percent of Californians say they approve of the way President Bush is doing his job, while 58 percent disapprove. The president receives similar ratings for his handling of the situation caused by Hurricane Katrina (39% approve, 56% disapprove) and for his leadership on the economy (35% approve, 62% disapprove).
  • Put This in Your Pipe… — Page 18
    Most Californians (71%) – including large majorities of Democrats (80%), Republicans (65%), and independents (73%) – support the legal use of medical marijuana if it is prescribed by a doctor.
  • Right to Die — Page 18
    A majority of state residents (55%) favor making it legal for doctors to give terminally ill patients the means to end their lives, while 38 percent are opposed. Most liberals (69%) favor such a law, while most conservatives (53%) oppose it.
  • Immigrants Still a Benefit — Page 24
    Californians continue to see immigrants as a benefit (56%) rather than a burden (36%) to the state. And 60 percent say that illegal immigrants should be permitted to apply for work permits that would authorize them to stay and work in the U.S.

About the Survey

This survey on the initiative process and special election – made possible with funding from The James Irvine Foundation – is a special edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey. This is the second in a series of surveys designed to provide information about Californians’ attitudes toward the state’s initiative process and this November’s special election. Findings of this survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,004 California adult residents interviewed between September 12 and September 19, 2005. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for the 1,013 likely voters is +/- 3%. For more information on methodology, see page 19.

Mark Baldassare is research director at 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. His recent book, A California State of Mind: The Conflicted Voter in a Changing World, is available at

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.