SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 26, 2006 — Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s approval ratings have turned upward following the release of his 2006-07 budget – and there is widespread support for his ambitious proposal to rebuild the state’s deteriorating infrastructure, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Still, Californians make it clear that their confidence in Schwarzenegger’s leadership is far from restored.
A positive sign for the governor is that a solid majority (60%) of residents say they are satisfied with the budget plan he released on January 10th. This is a much more favorable response than last year, when only 38 percent were satisfied and over half (55%) were dissatisfied. Even better for the governor, support for this year’s plan cuts across party lines, with majorities of Republicans (72%), independents (62%), and Democrats (51%) voicing approval.
But there’s a twist. Although Californians support the governor’s budget proposal, only 18 percent prefer his approach when it comes to making tough choices about the budget; 39 percent prefer the Democrats’ approach, and 23 percent prefer the Republicans’. Even among Republicans, a majority (53%) prefer that Republican lawmakers make the decisions rather than the governor (29%), and Democrats, not surprisingly, heavily favor Democratic lawmakers (70%) over the governor (10%).
“This is a striking example of just how cynical Californians have become toward government leadership – when they simultaneously like what a leader is saying but doubt that he can carry it out,” says PPIC statewide survey director Mark Baldassare. “These past few years of budget and political crises have fatigued voters and worn down their faith in elected officials.”
Policy Bull’s-Eye? Infrastructure Plan, Minimum Wage Hike Hit the Mark
A large majority (68%) of residents also support the central proposal of the governor’s State of the State address – spending $222 billion over 10 years to rebuild the state’s infrastructure without raising taxes. And this proposal has even greater bipartisan support than his budget plan (Republicans 72%, independents 71%, Democrats 64%). A second proposal presented in the address – to increase the state minimum wage from $6.75 to $7.75 by July 2007 – is also overwhelmingly embraced by residents (81%) and by large majorities across political parties (Democrats 91%, independents 81%, Republicans 66%).
How important are these successes and what do they mean politically? “The favorable response to the infrastructure plan, even at this stage, is an auspicious sign,” says Baldassare. “The question is whether the governor has, or will have, the political clout to see this grand ambition through.”
The Ratings Game: Governor’s Glass Is Half… Full?
Is the governor beginning to reconnect with residents and voters? Upticks in his job approval rating suggest he may be: Among all Californians, his overall rating climbed 7 points from October (33% to 40%), and his overall disapproval rating declined (58% to 52%). Among likely voters, approval also jumped by 7 points (38% to 45%) and disapproval dropped (57% to 48%). Not surprisingly, strong partisan divisions surface, with far fewer Democrats (20%) than Republicans (72%) or independents (40%) feeling favorable toward the governor.
The improvement in his rating is modest, however, considering that the governor’s overall approval stood at 60 percent one year ago. Perhaps even more important, when asked how he is doing on specific issues, residents give him low marks. In fact, the only issue for which he receives a rating equal to or higher than his overall rating is crime and punishment (54% approval). His approval ratings on K-12 education (30%), state budget and taxes (35%), transportation and traffic congestion (38%), and jobs and the economy (39%) are lower.
However, although the governor’s overall approval rating is much lower today than it was earlier in his term, he still does better than the legislature: Only 29 percent of all Californians and 25 percent of likely voters approve of the job the legislature is doing. Moreover, nearly half (48%) of state residents do not believe the governor and legislature will be able to work together and accomplish a lot in the coming year (43% say they will).
Once Bitten, Twice Shy: Unexpected Revenue Surplus Leaves Residents Cold
Despite a slightly better view of the governor, Californians general outlook has soured. Today, 56 percent of residents say the state is going in the wrong direction, compared to 41 percent a year ago. A striking example of residents’ pessimism? The state’s recent revenue windfall has created the rosiest budget picture since 2001, yet has only mildly lightened Californians’ budgetary angst: 61 percent still say the budget situation is a big problem, compared to 70 percent one year ago. Perhaps even more telling, nearly three-fourths (72%) do not believe the budget situation has improved at all in the past two years, despite the recent revenue surge.
Infrastructure Spending Priorities Clear; Strong Early Showing for Bond Measures
Skepticism about the benefit of the state’s revenue surplus aside, Californians often have different ideas about how the additional funding should be spent. Of the five types of public works programs outlined in Governor Schwarzenegger’s infrastructure plan, more residents believe education facilities (48%) should be the top priority over transportation projects (25%), water systems (17%), jails and prisons (3%), or courts (2%). These views are consistent with general spending priorities: Majorities of Californians think the state should spend more on K-12 education (71%) and roads and infrastructure (58%), while about one-quarter (24%) want more spent on corrections and prisons.
When it comes to transportation – a major component of the governor’s plan – there is no consensus about the most important type of project: 38 percent of residents say freeways and highways, 29 percent say transit systems, and 24 percent say local streets and roads. Many of the differences are regional. For example, residents of the San Francisco Bay Area (33%) are less likely than residents in the Central Valley (41%) or Southern California (47%) to rate freeways as the top priority.
Nevertheless, two infrastructure bonds proposed for next November’s statewide ballot are enjoying widespread support. Fifty-seven percent of likely voters support the governor’s $25 billion bond proposal to pay for school facilities and other infrastructure projects without new taxes. Even more (68%) support a $10 billion bond by Senate Pro Tem Don Perata, also for infrastructure projects and including no new taxes. With surplus revenues available, and bond proposals doing well, Californians have choices about how they’d like the state to pay for large-scale infrastructure projects – but there is no consensus about which method is best: Likely voters are divided between using surplus funds only (29%), issuing state bonds (23%), increasing user fees (20%), and increasing taxes (15%).
Tax Cigarettes… and the Rich
While most tax increases remain unpopular with residents, Californians favor raising cigarette taxes (71%) and taxes on high-income individuals (65%). Predictably, two citizen’s initiatives that seek to raise these taxes and are headed for 2006 ballots, are enjoying strong early support. One would raise taxes on personal income above $400,000 annually to pay for universal preschool and is supported by 63 percent of likely voters. The other would increase taxes on a single pack of cigarettes by $2.60 to pay for children’s health insurance and other health programs and is supported by 64 percent of likely voters. “It’s never been very difficult to increase taxes for certain groups, such as smokers,” says Baldassare. “But sources of revenue based on small segments of the population will inevitably dry up. The difficult question is how to pay for the state’s growing population and infrastructure needs using sustainable, fiscally sound methods.”
More Key Findings
- Bush and Iraq score low— Pages 13 and 14
Large majorities (65%) of Californians disapprove of President Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq. Further, most say the effort is not going well (62%) and that it was not worth it to go to war (62%).
- Immigration Policy: Leave border patrolling to government — Page 16
Far more residents want law enforcement, rather than citizen volunteers, to patrol U.S. borders (64% to 32%). Among Latinos, numbers are overwhelmingly in favor of law enforcement (84% to 12%).
- Poverty paradox — Page 17
While majorities of Californians say poverty is a big problem (57%), and that it is government’s responsibility to take care of people who can’t take care of themselves (68%), only 39 percent believe the nation spends too little on assisting the poor. A majority (55%) say we spend the right amount or too much.
- Avian Flu: Confidence in Feds mixed; personal anxiety low — Page 18
Residents are divided about whether or not the federal government can handle an outbreak of the avian flu (47% can, 49% cannot). But most (72%) are not worried about the disease affecting them.
About the Survey
This survey on the California state budget – made possible by funding from The James Irvine Foundation – is a special edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey. This is the sixth survey in a series intended to raise public awareness, inform decisionmakers, and stimulate public discussions about issues related to the California state budget and underlying fiscal system. Findings of this survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,003 California adult residents interviewed between January 11th and January 18th, 2006. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for subgroups is larger. 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 www.ppic.org.
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.