SAN FRANCISCO, March 23, 2011—Public support for a June special election on Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to extend temporary tax and fee increases has declined since he proposed it in January, according to a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with support from The James Irvine Foundation. While two-thirds of all adults (67%) and likely voters (66%) said in January that a special election was a good idea, 54 percent of all adults and half of likely voters (51%) say so today.
Californians’ support for a special election has dropped across parties since January, when majorities favored the idea (73% Democrats, 64% independents, 55% Republicans). Today, 64 percent of Democrats, 57 percent of independents, and just 34 percent of Republicans say it is a good idea.
Support has also declined since January for the package that voters would be considering—a five-year extension of temporary increases in income and sales taxes and the vehicle license fee to avoid additional budget cuts. Today, less than half (46% all adults and likely voters) favor the governor’s proposal, a decline of 7 points among all adults and 8 points among likely voters.
“While many Californians still favor the approach the governor proposed in January, his plan to seek a budget solution through a June ballot has become a more difficult task to achieve,” says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “Even if the budget measure finds its way onto the ballot, state elected officials’ low approval ratings could limit their ability to persuade voters to go along with a budget plan.”
Brown’s approval rating has dropped 7 points since early January among all Californians (41% to 34%) and 6 points among likely voters (47% to 41%). Californians are more likely to approve (34%) than disapprove (24%) of the way Brown is doing his job, but 42 percent remain unsure of his job performance. Along party lines, 47 percent of Democrats, 42 percent of independents and 25 percent of Republicans approve of the governor’s job performance, but many in each group are unsure.
The California Legislature has much a lower approval rating (24% all adults, 16% likely voters), similar to early January (26% all adults, 18% likely voters). Asked how their own individual state legislators are doing, 36 percent of all adults and 34 percent of likely voters approve.
How To Fill the Budget Gap? Californians Split
As California’s leaders grapple with a $26 billion budget deficit, most residents (68% all adults, 83% likely voters) say the state budget situation is a big problem. But they are divided about how they would deal with it: 38 percent of Californians say a mix of spending cuts and tax increases is needed, 37 percent prefer mostly spending cuts, 9 percent prefer mostly tax increases, and 7 percent say it is OK to borrow money and run a budget deficit. Likely voters are also divided (41% a mix of cuts and taxes, 40% mostly spending cuts, 11% mostly tax increases, 3% OK to borrow and run a budget deficit).
When asked specifically about Brown’s proposal to close the state’s deficit—about half through spending cuts and about half through voter-approved tax extensions—Californians are slightly more likely to favor his idea (48% all adults, 49% likely voters) than oppose it (41% all adults, 42% likely voters).
Most Support Public Employee Pension Reforms
As many states deal with budget deficits, public employee pensions have become the focus of intense debate. Californians are increasingly likely to say that the amount of money spent on public employee pensions is a big problem. Nearly half of Californians (47%) and a majority of likely voters (56%) say the amount of money state and local governments spend on public employee pension or retirement systems is a big problem. In January 2005, just 31 percent of all adults and 32 percent of likely voters gave this response. In January 2010, 41 percent of all adults and 44 percent of likely voters did so.
Most Californians (53%) and likely voters (57%) say state government should reduce the pension plans of government employees as it looks for ways to balance the budget. In addition, strong majorities (71% all adults, 74% likely voters) favor changing the pension system for new public employees from defined benefits to a defined contribution system similar to a 401(k) plan. This view is shared by Californians across parties (80% Republicans, 72% independents, 70% Democrats), as well as regions and demographic groups. Even among current public employees, this idea has majority support (56%).
Local Government Viewed More Favorably Than State, Federal
Brown’s budget plan proposes giving local governments responsibility for some services now provided by the state. What are Californians’ perceptions of different levels of government? At least half have an unfavorable opinion of the federal (52%) and state (55%) governments, but a majority (54%) view their local government favorably. At the same time they want to retain their power over local governments’ ability to raise revenues: majorities (57% all adults, 59% likely voters) favor the provision of Proposition 13 that requires a two-thirds vote at the ballot box to pass any local special taxes. Asked about the overall impact of Proposition 13, majorities (56% all adults, 58% likely voters) say the measure has mostly been a good thing for California. Their views are mixed on the effect of the property tax limitations imposed by Proposition 13. A plurality of adults (32%) say these limits have had no effect on local government services, while fewer say the impact has been good (24%) or bad (25%). Likely voters’ views are also mixed (30% no effect, 25% good effect, 30% bad effect).
Californians Want National Focus on Job Creation
Nationally, economic policy and the federal deficit are the focus of debate. As President Obama and Congress wrestle over the budget, a main point of contention is whether the government should spend to help the economy recover or focus on reducing the deficit. About half of Californians (48%) say that if they were setting priorities, the focus would be on spending to help the economy recover, and 44 percent say it would be on reducing the federal deficit. Likely voters feel differently: 36 percent would spend to help the economy and 58 percent say reducing the deficit is a higher priority.
Californians do agree on one question: 62 percent of all adults and 64 percent of likely voters think Congress and the Obama administration are not doing enough to help create jobs.
Nearly all Californians say the federal deficit is a very serious problem (63%) or somewhat serious one (28%). When asked about three major areas of spending in the national budget, Californians hold differing views on which should be spared from significant cuts as Congress attempts to reduce the deficit:
- Medicare: 75 percent want to protect Medicare, the federal health program for the elderly. Across parties, demographic groups, and regions, adults want to spare the program from significant cuts.
- Medicaid: 67 percent want to protect Medicaid, the federal health program for the poor. Partisan differences emerge on this question, with 77 percent of Democrats, 62 percent of independents wanting to spare the program and half of Republicans saying it is more important to reduce the deficit (51%) than protect Medicaid from significant cuts (41%).
- Defense spending: 51 percent of adults say it is more important to reduce the deficit than prevent cuts in this area, while 40 percent say sparing the program from big cuts is a priority. Independents (57%) and Democrats (54%) prefer to reduce the deficit than protect defense spending. Republicans are more divided (46% reduce deficit, 49% prevent defense cuts).
Who is doing a better job on efforts to agree on a federal budget? About half of Californians (48%) say the president and the Democrats in Congress; far fewer (25%) say the Republicans in Congress.
Two months after Republicans gained control of the House of Representatives and with rancorous budget negotiations under way, a majority of Californians (56%) and likely voters (52%) approve of the president’s job performance (38% all adults, 44% likely voters disapprove). A different story emerges for Congress. Most Californians (58%) and likely voters (69%) disapprove of its job performance and there is bipartisan agreement on this view: 61 percent of Democrats, 66 percent of Republicans, and 68 percent of independents disapprove. Californians have more positive views of their own member of the House of Representatives. Half (50% all adults, 50% likely voters) approve; 32 percent of all adults and 37 percent of likely voters disapprove.
Asked about California’s senators, 45 percent of adults and likely voters approve of Senator Barbara Boxer’s job performance. About half of all adults (48%) and likely voters (51%) approve of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s job performance.
MORE KEY FINDINGSEconomy, jobs top concern—pages 7, 8
The economy and jobs is named as the most important issue facing the state—as it has since March 2008—by 53 percent of all adults. Far fewer mention the state budget (14%) or education and schools (10%). Gas prices are now mentioned by 4 percent. While most Californians say the state is headed in the wrong direction (59%), they are more optimistic than they were a year ago, when 76 percent expressed this view.
Solid majorities of Californians (61%) and likely voters (70%) say current legislative term limits are a good thing. Still, 68 percent of all adults and likely voters favor the general idea of an initiative proposing to restructure term limits that has qualified for the ballot.
Most Californians (65%) say illegal immigrants who have lived and worked in the United States for at least two years should have a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status, while 30 percent say they should be deported. A majority (68%) also favor a law that would allow illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children to gain legal resident status if they join the military or attend college.
Questioned before the U.S. and its allies launched air strikes on Libya, most Californians (64%) say the U.S. does not have a responsibility to actively promote democracy around the world.
ABOUT THE SURVEY
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 2,000 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from March 8–15, 2011. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish according to respondents’ preferences. The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±2.8 percent for all adults, ±3.7 percent for the 1,328 registered voters, and ±4.2 percent for the 935 likely voters. 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.