SAN FRANCISCO, California, May 25, 2006 — Californians’ growing economic angst and chronic doubts about the quality and probity of state government are bringing less, not more, clarity to the final weeks of the primary campaign, according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. The upshot? Far higher levels of undecided voters than in previous years.
The context: Rising gas prices, a declining stock market, and inflation worries have taken their toll on consumer confidence: 52 percent of state residents say they expect bad times financially in the coming year, up from 43 percent in March. A majority of Californians (57%) think the state is headed in the wrong direction – and their assessment of state elected leaders is equally glum. State residents are far more likely to disapprove than to approve of the job performance of the governor (52% disapprove, 36% approve) and state legislature (54% disapprove, 26% approve).
The consequences: With the Democratic gubernatorial primary just two weeks away, one third of Democratic primary likely voters (33%) are still undecided. By comparison, in the weeks before the 2002 and 1998 gubernatorial primaries, about one in four voters were still undecided. Further, in hypothetical match-ups between Democratic challengers and the incumbent governor, about one in four voters are undecided or name others, compared to one in six voters in 2002.
“California voters seem very indecisive at the moment,” says PPIC survey director Mark Baldassare. “But it’s not because they are uninformed; they are simply uncertain about the type of leadership they want for the state.” In fact, more likely voters say they are very closely or fairly closely following news about candidates for governor today than a month ago (68% today to 60% in April). And most Democratic primary likely voters (79%) say they have seen advertisements for State Treasurer Phil Angelides (26%), State Controller Steve Westly (28%), or both (25%).
Women the Deciders in Democratic Primary
Angelides and Westly are locked in a statistical dead heat among Democratic primary likely voters (35% to 32%). Angelides has made the largest gains in the past month – up from 20 percent in April compared to Westly’s 26 percent. Still, the situation is highly volatile because large number of Democratic primary voters (33%) are undecided or would choose someone else. Who are these undecided voters? Women. They are more likely than men (37% to 28%) to say they are undecided. “Since women -outnumber men in the Democratic electorate, undecided women will be pivotal in determining the winner in this primary election,” says Baldassare. Currently, men favor Angelides by a wide margin (43% Angelides vs. 29% Westly) and women favor Westly by a narrower margin (35% Westly vs. 28% Angelides).
But regardless of who wins the June Democratic primary, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger appears to be headed for a close race come fall. The race is a toss-up in hypothetical contests between Schwarzenegger and Angelides (38% each) and Schwarzenegger and Westly (36% each). The governor’s comparative advantage over Angelides and Westly – namely, his name ID – is also his weakness: Most voters know him, but they are as likely to have an unfavorable view of him (47%) as a favorable one (45%). Angelides and Westly have the reverse problem: They have far lower unfavorable ratings than Schwarzenegger (26% Angelides, 19% Westly) but they are also unknown to much of the electorate (45% Angelides, 50% Westly). “Independent voters – who know little about these Democratic candidates today but who will cast the swing votes in November – are getting their first exposure to them through more frequent and more negative paid advertising in the run up to the primary,” says Baldassare.
Schwarzenegger’s Budget Popular, His Approach Not
The state budget is already a big issue in the gubernatorial race. How do residents feel about the current state of fiscal affairs? A majority of Californians (57%) say they are satisfied with the governor’s revised budget plan, which he released on May 12. This plan has much higher support than his last year’s budget proposal (57% today compared to 44% in May 2005). Strong majorities back the governor’s plans for using some unexpected new state revenues to increase spending on K-12 education (77%), reduce state debt and reserve cash (76%), and fund levee repairs (67%).
But there’s a twist. Although Californians support the governor’s proposal, only 19 percent prefer his approach to making tough choices about the budget, while 35 percent prefer the approach of Democrats in the state legislature, and 20 percent prefer the approach of legislative Republicans. A majority of Californians (52%) – and nearly half of likely voters (47%) – still disapprove of Schwarzenegger’s handling of the state budget and taxes. “Californians appear to be wary of the feast or famine budget situation they’ve seen in recent years,” says Baldassare. In fact, a majority (58%) believe the state’s fiscal situation remains a big problem. And, although one in four residents (26%) say it has improved in the past two years, two in three say it has stayed the same (34%) or gotten worse (32%).
Even though many Californians have serious concerns about the state fisc, many would still like to see increased spending in some major budget categories – K-12 education (68%), health and human services (60%), and public colleges and universities (57%). The exception? State residents would prefer to spend less money (32%) rather than more (24%) on prisons. Overall, 55 percent of Californians favor a state government with higher taxes and more services. But are they willing to support reforms that would make it easier to raise taxes and pass budgets? No. More state residents say it would be a bad idea to lower either the supermajority vote requirement for local special taxes (52% bad idea, 38% good idea) or the two-thirds vote requirement for state budgets (46% bad idea, 42% good idea).
Support Builds for Infrastructure Measures
Seven in 10 Californians (70%) support the governor’s plan to invest $222 billion over the next 10 years on infrastructure projects. A majority (58%) want to increase spending on infrastructure, and believe education facilities (50%) should be the top priority when it comes to allocating additional state funding, followed by surface transportation projects (24%), and flood protection (15%).
In November, Californians will go to the polls to vote on four infrastructure bond measures – totaling about $37 billion – that the legislature placed on the ballot with the governor’s support. But does support for increased infrastructure spending hold when the rubber hits the road? Currently, the $10 billion bond for school and university construction and renovation has the strongest support among likely voters (68%). More than six in 10 likely voters also say they would vote yes on a $20 billion bond measure for surface transportation projects (65%) and a $4 billion bond for flood protection projects (62%). Voters are divided, however, on a $3 billion bond for affordable housing (49% yes, 47% no). Interestingly, although Californians are generally enthusiastic about this bond package, they give the state legislature little credit for it: 51 percent of state residents – and 57 percent of likely voters – say they disapprove of the way the state legislature is handling the issues of transportation and infrastructure.
June Ballot Measures Are Partisan Affairs
Proposition 81 – the $600 million state bond measure that would fund the construction and renovation of public libraries in California – is currently supported by 51 percent of likely voters, with 41 percent opposed. Democrats support the measure by a wide margin (65% yes, 26% no), while Republicans are opposed (38% yes, 53% no) and independents are torn (45% yes, 47% no). Three in four voters (75%) say expanding access to public libraries is at least somewhat important.
Proposition 82 – which would fund voluntary preschool education for all four-year-olds in California through a tax on high-income state residents – is currently supported by 50 percent of likely voters, with 43 percent opposed. Support for this measure has changed little since April (51% yes, 40% no). Even though most likely voters (82%) agree that attending preschool is at least somewhat important to later school success, Democrats (63%) are more likely than Republicans (36%) to back the measure. Half of likely voters (52%) like the idea of tying a specific tax to a specific service, while 34 percent think earmarking is a bad idea.
More Key Findings
- Independent Voters Just Say No to Partisan Ballots — Page 1
Although primary rules allow independent voters to select a party ballot instead of a nonpartisan one, few independents today say they plan to select a Democratic (21%) or Republican (8%) ballot.
- Immigration Remains Top Concern — Page 4
Likely voters rank immigration (24%) as the top issue they want candidates for governor to discuss, followed by education and schools (23%). Republicans (32%) and independents (29%) are more likely than Democrats (15%) to name immigration as their top issue.
- Redistricting Reform Still Hot… — Page 16
Despite the defeat of Proposition 77 on last year’s ballot, many voters (64%) still say the redistricting process needs change. Six in 10 (62%) would prefer to have an independent commission of citizens, rather than the governor and legislature, in charge of the redistricting process.
- … Term Limits Reform Not — Page 17
Two in three likely voters (67%) say term limits are a good thing, and an equal number oppose changing the system to let state legislators serve up to 14 years in either the senate or assembly.
- Lukewarm Support for Public Funding of Campaigns — Page 18
A strong majority of likely voters (64%) say campaign contributions have a bad effect on policymaking in Sacramento. Half (51%) would pay for a system of public funding for state and legislative campaigns.
About the Survey
This survey on the California state budget – made possible with funding from The James Irvine Foundation – is a special edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey. This is the seventh 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 2,000 California adult residents interviewed between May 14 and May 21, 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 the 986 likely voters it is +/- 3% and for the 435 Democratic primary likely voters it is +/- 5%. For more information on methodology, see page 19.
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.