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Press Release · May 19, 2010

Stunning Drop in Whitman’s Support Transforms GOP Race for Governor

Fiorina, Campbell in Dead Heat While DeVore’s Support Doubles

SAN FRANCISCO, May 19, 2010—Support for Meg Whitman has plummeted 23 points since March, and she is now in a far closer race with Steve Poizner to become the Republican nominee for governor. These are among the results of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) with support from The James Irvine Foundation.

Less than a month before the June primary, Whitman leads Poizner 38 percent to 29 percent among Californians likely to vote in the Republican primary. A third of likely voters (31%) are undecided. In January, Whitman led Poizner by 30 points (41% Whitman, 11% Poizner, 44% undecided) and in March, by 50 points (61% Whitman, 11% Poizner, 25% undecided).

Whitman’s support has dropped at least 17 points across all demographic groups, with the sharpest declines among those who are not college graduates (29 points) and those whose annual household incomes are at least $80,000 (28 points). Support for Poizner has increased sharply across demographic groups, but a plurality in each group would still vote for Whitman.

The Republican senate primary race is also close, with Carly Fiorina (25%) and Tom Campbell (23%) deadlocked, as they were in March (24% Fiorina, 23% Campbell), and support doubling for Chuck DeVore (16% today, 8% March) among GOP likely voters. Thirty-six percent are undecided. Fiorina and Campbell have similar levels of support among men (29% Fiorina, 25% Campbell, 17% Devore), with 29 percent undecided. Support for the two candidates is also similar among women (21% Fiorina, 20% Campbell, 14% DeVore), but 44 percent of women are still undecided.

“This election is very much in flux,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “Voters are alienated. Republicans are struggling to figure out what to do about it and what their party stands for. The Democrats—with their candidates unchallenged—aren’t going through this soul searching.”

60 Percent Favor Proposition 14

In contrast to the closely contested candidate races, there is strong majority support for one ballot issue: primary reform. Proposition 14 would change the primary process so that the top two vote-getters—regardless of party—would advance to the general election. Among likely voters, 60 percent support Proposition 14, 27 percent oppose it, and 13 percent are undecided. Support is up 4 points from March.

Likely voters were asked whether it is important to them that voters be able to choose any candidate, regardless of party. A large majority (81%) say it is very important (51%) or somewhat important (30%). A solid majority of likely voters also think either major changes (36%) or minor ones (35%) should be made to the primary system, with 23 percent saying the system is fine as it is.

November Matchups: Brown Edges Ahead of Whitman, Still Leads Poizner

Looking ahead to a potential matchup in the general election, Democrat Jerry Brown has a slim lead over Republican Whitman among likely voters (42% to 37%), with 21 percent undecided. Whitman led Brown by a similar margin in March (44% Whitman, 39% Brown), while Brown was ahead in January (41% Brown, 36% Whitman). Strong majorities of Democrats support Brown (70%) and Republicans support Whitman (69%), with independents split (38% Brown, 34% Whitman, 28% undecided).

Brown leads in a matchup with Poizner (45% to 32%), with 23 percent undecided. Brown led by similar margins the last three times PPIC asked this question. Brown has strong support among Democrats (74%) and Poizner has strong support among Republicans (65%). Independents prefer Brown (40% to 27%), although a third (33%) are undecided.

Boxer Regains Lead in Matchups with Fiorina, Campbell

Incumbent Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer leads each of the potential Republican senate nominees in hypothetical matchups. She is ahead of Campbell 46 percent to 40 percent. Both Boxer and Campbell maintain strong partisan support: 77 percent of Democratic likely voters prefer Boxer and 79 percent of Republicans support Campbell. But independents’ preferences have shifted (January: 42% Boxer, 37% Campbell; March: 32% Boxer, 48% Campbell). Today they prefer Boxer by 13 points (48% to 35%).

Boxer leads Fiorina 48 percent to 39 percent. Partisans continue to strongly prefer their party’s candidate (82% of Democrats support Boxer, 78% of Republicans support Fiorina), while independents have shifted back into Boxer’s corner (44% Boxer, 33% Fiorina); they preferred Fiorina in March (January: 48% Boxer, 40% Fiorina; March: 35% Boxer, 41% Fiorina).

In results that have been similar since January, Boxer leads DeVore (50% to 39%) in a November matchup and has the support of just under half of independents (48%).

How do likely voters feel about the way Boxer is handling her job? Half (50%) approve, similar to January. Democrats (77%) and independents (53%) approve, while Republicans overwhelmingly disapprove (79%). Boxer’s approval rating is similar to that of Senator Dianne Feinstein (53%), who is not up for re-election.

Legalize Marijuana? Californians Are Divided

Voters will also make the choice in November of whether to legalize marijuana and allow it to be regulated and taxed. They are divided about legalization, with 49 percent of likely voters in favor of this change in the law and 48 percent opposed. Results among all adults were similar: 48 percent favor legalization, and 49 percent are opposed. There are stark differences across political and demographic groups:

  • Majorities of Democrats (56%) and independents (55%) favor legalization. Thirty-four percent of Republicans are in favor.
  • Most San Francisco Bay Area residents (56%) are in favor. Residents in other regions are either divided or opposed.
  • Most Latinos (62%) oppose legalization. A majority of whites (56%) are in favor.
  • Men (54%) are more likely to be in favor. Less than half (42%) of women favor legalization.
  • Support for legalization decreases with age. 56 percent of adults aged 18–34 are in favor compared to 42 percent aged 55 and older.

When asked about use of marijuana for medical purposes—an issue in cities where there have been disputes about dispensaries—76 percent say it should be allowed, with strong majorities of Democrats (82%), independents (80%), and Republicans (68%) holding this view.

The Budget: Residents Agree It’s a Problem, Disagree About Solution

With the state facing a $19 billion budget deficit, a record-high 81 percent of Californians say the state budget situation is a big problem. But they are divided-—as they were in March-—on how to fill the budget gap: 42 percent prefer doing so through a mix of spending cuts and tax increases, while 39 percent would rely mainly on spending cuts. Far fewer would fill the gap mostly through tax increases (7%) or feel it is fine to borrow money and run a deficit (6%).

Residents are also divided over Schwarzenegger’s May budget revision for the next fiscal year, which proposes big cuts in health and human services, as well as cutting spending for prisons and state employee compensation. The governor says his plan will maintain spending levels for K–12 education and increase funding for higher education. The plan includes no new taxes. After reading a brief description of the plan to 829 survey respondents, PPIC finds that 46 percent of Californians are satisfied with the plan and 43 percent are dissatisfied. Most Californians are concerned (40% very concerned, 40% somewhat concerned) about the impact of spending cuts in the governor’s plan. Yet they are divided (46% yes, 49% no) about whether tax increases should be included.

Of the four main spending categories of the state budget, Californians are the most willing to consider a tax increase to spare K–12 education from budget cuts (69%), while just over half would pay higher taxes to maintain current funding levels for higher education (54%) or for health and human services (54%). A large majority (79%) opposes paying higher taxes to spare prisons and corrections from budget cuts.

Californians would consider some other ways to raise revenues: 67 percent favor raising the top rate of the state income tax paid by the wealthiest Californians and 58 percent would favor raising state taxes paid by California corporations. Residents are much less likely to support extending the state sales tax to services that are not currently taxed (35%) or increasing the vehicle license fee (28%).

Half Favor Lowering Threshold for Budget Passage to Simple Majority

A number of reforms are being proposed to improve state government. One of the most discussed is lowering the supermajority vote requirement to pass a state budget to a simple majority. Half (51%) of Californians say it would a good idea to lower the threshold for budget passage and keep the supermajority requirement for passing state taxes. Less than half (47%) favor lowering the two-thirds vote requirement to a simple majority for both the state budget and state taxes.

More key findings

  • Governor’s job approval rating sinks to new record, federal officials fare better—pages 8, 9
    Schwarzenegger’s rating drops (23%), the legislature’s (16%) is near its lowest point—and a record-high 73 percent say the two will be unable to work together and accomplish a lot this year.
  • Rains don’t diminish importance of water bond—page 14
    Months of above-average rainfall have not changed overall perceptions of the state’s water situation: Forty-two percent say the water supply in their part of the state is a big problem. Most say passage of an $11.1 billion water bond is very (42%) or somewhat (28%) important.
  • Reform ideas get strong support—page 22
    Strong majorities support the idea of requiring the legislature to practice pay-as-you-go budgeting (78%), develop a two-year spending plan (77%), and forfeit pay and per-day allowance when the state budget is late (75%).


The PPIC Statewide Survey has provided policymakers, the media, and the general public with objective, advocacy-free information on the perceptions, opinions, and public policy preferences of California residents since 1998. This survey is part of a series that examines the social, economic, and political trends that influence public policy preferences and ballot choices. It is supported with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,003 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from May 9–16, 2010. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish according to respondents’ preferences. The sampling error is ±2 percent for all adults, ±2.5 percent for the 1,598 registered voters, ±3 percent for the 1,168 likely voters. It is ±5 for the 411 Republican primary likely voters interviewed about Republican primary candidates and ±3.5 percent for the 829 adults interviewed after the governor released his budget proposal May 14. 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. As a private operating foundation, 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.