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Press Release · August 30, 2006

Survey On Californians And The Future: Oh, We Of Little Faith! Californians In Funk Over Future, Lukewarm To Big Bond Bucks

Trust in Government Remains at Historic Low; Schwarzenegger Maintains Lead in Race for Governor

SAN FRANCISCO, California, August 30, 2006 — Californians are overwhelmed by the future, but underwhelmed by the plan to deal with it, according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. State residents question the wisdom of throwing dollars at growth, as well as government’s ability to provide leadership, leaving the outcome for California’s historic infrastructure bond package up in the air.

Between now and 2025, the state’s population is expected to grow from 37 million to 47 million. Few Californians are aware of the dimensions of the population growth facing the state: Only 17 percent place the state’s current population in the 30 to 39 million range and a mere 9 percent put the population at 40 to 49 million in twenty years. How do they feel about this population increase when they hear about it? Fifty-six percent say it will be a bad thing for them and their families; only 14 percent think it will be a good thing. And nearly half (46%) think the state will be a worse place to live in 2025 than it is today; only 24 percent say it will be a better place.

Adding to the gloom about the future is a profound lack of faith in government: Four in 10 residents (38%) have little or no confidence in the state government’s ability to plan for California’s future growth. But how would state residents choose to manage this growth? Here, they are in general agreement, preferring mostly to manage existing systems more efficiently rather than undertake costly new projects: 70 percent of state residents prefer to focus on making more efficient use of freeways and highways and expanding mass transit rather than building new freeways; 56 percent say their region should focus on using existing public education facilities more efficiently instead of building more public schools and universities; and 54 percent want to use the current water supply more efficiently rather than building new water storage systems.

Against this backdrop, voters are being asked to vote on a package of growth-related bond measures. Although each of the four infrastructure measures that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and state legislature put on the ballot are supported by at least 50 percent of likely voters, that support is far from overwhelming:

  • Proposition 1B ($19.9 billion transportation bond): 50 percent yes, 38 percent no
  • Proposition 1C ($2.85 billion affordable housing bond): 57 percent yes, 32 percent no
  • Proposition 1D ($10.4 billion education facilities bond): 51 percent yes, 39 percent no
  • Proposition 1E ($4.1 billion water and flood control bond): 56 percent yes, 35 percent no

A fifth measure – Proposition 84 – would provide about $5.4 billion in state bonds for water, flood control, natural resources, parks, and conservation projects. Voters are currently split over this initiative (40% yes, 45% no). While likely voters generally like the idea of using state bonds to pay for infrastructure projects, support is lower today than it was four years ago (59% today from 69% in September 2002). The sheer size of the package may also be a reason for the tepid response: 59 percent of likely voters say the $43 billion price tag for the five bond measures on the ballot is too much.

“There is really a disconnect between Californians’ preferences and the choices they are being presented with,” says PPIC survey director Mark Baldassare. “The conversation took place without them, but they’ll have the last word.”

State Leaders Dinged for Poor Planning; Schwarzenegger Remains Frontrunner in Governor’s Race

Dissatisfaction with the government response to future challenges is reflected in Californians’ approval ratings for the governor and state legislature: Residents are more likely today than they were two years ago to say they disapprove of the way the state legislature (54% today from 47% in August 2004) and governor (46% today from 30% in 2004) are handling plans and policies for the state’s future. The state legislature fares poorly overall, with majorities of adults (53%) and likely voters (61%) unhappy with its performance. But Governor Schwarzenegger’s star has risen in recent months: Residents are now as likely to approve as they are to disapprove (44% to 46%) of the job he is doing, an 8-point improvement since May. The governor’s approval rating among likely voters is also up by eight points, with 50 percent approving and 42 percent disapproving of his performance in office.

Republican Governor Schwarzenegger leads his Democratic challenger, State Treasurer Phil Angelides, by a 13-point margin among likely voters (45% to 32%). Voter preferences have changed little since one month ago (43% to 30%). Possible explanations for Schwarzenegger’s lead? While 82 percent of Republicans favor Schwarzenegger, only 58 percent of Democrats choose Angelides. Independents are choosing Schwarzenegger over Angelides by a wide margin (42% to 23%). Schwarzenegger’s lead in Republican-leaning areas is commanding – 30 points in the Central Valley and 23 points in the Southern California counties outside of Los Angeles. Angelides’ performance in key Democratic enclaves is less convincing: He leads by 10 points in the San Francisco Bay Area, while Schwarzenegger actually enjoys a slight lead in Los Angeles (41% to 36%). And finally, Democrats (42%) are much less likely than Republicans (58%) to be satisfied with their gubernatorial choices.

Despite their varying levels of enthusiasm for the candidates, Democrats (65%), Republicans (63%), and likely voters generally (64%) are equally likely to say they are very or fairly closely following news about the election in November. However, this level of interest is low by historical standards. In August 2002 – prior to the last scheduled gubernatorial election – 74 percent of likely voters were closely following election news. As a barometer of voter interest, this comparison is worrisome: The 2002 governor’s election had the lowest general election turnout of registered voters in the state’s history.

Disillusioned with Government, Californians Want to be the Deciders

What’s fueling the lack of interest in the November election? Californians’ deep distrust of state government may have something to do with it. Only 31 percent of state residents – and 23 percent of likely voters – say they trust state government to do what is right just about always or most of the time. Strong majorities of state residents (63%) and likely voters (72%) say they trust government only some of the time. Faith in government has plummeted in recent years: In January 2002, 47 percent of Californians said they trust government to do what is right always or some of the time. In keeping with their negative views of state leadership, many residents believe the state wastes a lot of their tax dollars (58%) and is run by a few big interests (66%). One exception to this perception? Latinos are far more likely than are whites to trust state government just about always or most of the time (45% to 24%) and to believe that state government is run for the benefit of all the people (38% to 22%).

Given their lack of faith in government, it’s no wonder that Californians remain attached to the initiative process. Overwhelming majorities of state residents (71%) and likely voters (74%) say it is a good thing that voters can make laws and change public policies by passing initiatives. And six in 10 residents (59%) believe decisions made by voters through the initiative process are probably better than those made by the governor and state legislature.

Still, Californians are not blinded by their affection for the initiative process: While most residents (61%) describe themselves as somewhat satisfied with the way the process is working today, only a few (11%) express great satisfaction and a quarter (25%) say they are not satisfied. And they also see the influence of the process as limited: Residents say that the state legislature (41%) has more influence over public policy in the state today than does the governor or the initiative process (24% each). However, the initiative process is gaining ground: One year ago, only 19 percent of Californians named the initiative process as having the most influence over policy in the state, while 34 percent named the governor and 35 percent said the legislature.

More Key Findings

  • Immigration a key issue in 2006 Governor’s Race — Page 9
    Immigration (21%) and education (18%) continue to top the list of issues likely voters want to hear their gubernatorial candidates discuss in the coming months, followed distantly by jobs and the economy (9%), the state budget (8%), and the environment (6%). Democrats (23%) are more likely to cite education as their top issue, while Republicans (32%) name immigration. Latinos (32%) are more likely than whites (20%) to say they want to hear the candidates talk about immigration.
  • Economy, jobs the priority for California in 2025 — Pages 17, 18
    In planning for the population growth that will take place over the next two decades, Californians think improving the economy and jobs (34%) should be the most important priority, followed by providing roads, schools and water systems (23%), protecting the environment (15%), and creating a more equal society (10%). Affordable housing (32%) is seen as a higher priority for funding than are school facilities (25%), surface transportation (21%), or water systems and flood control (12%). Residents are not of one mind when it comes to which type of surface transportation should receive first priority for dollars as the state girds for new growth: 50 percent opt for transit oriented projects, including light rail (36%), and public bus systems (14%), while 40 percent choose road-oriented solutions, including freeways (25%), local streets and roads (9%), and carpool lanes (6%).
  • Mixed reviews for state’s economic prospects, direction — Page 28
    Residents are divided about California’s economic conditions: 43 percent expect good times in the next 12 months and 46 percent foresee bad times. Although hardly a cause for celebration, these findings are an improvement over those from one year ago (38% good times, 51% bad times). Californians today are in a more optimistic mood overall, with 42 percent saying the state is headed in the right direction compared to 34 percent last year. Still seems low? Consider the national mood: According to a recent AP poll, only 26 percent of Americans say the U.S. is on the right track.

About the Survey

This edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey – a survey on Californians and the future – is the first in a four-survey series made possible with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. This survey is intended to raise public awareness, inform decisionmakers, and stimulate public discussions about issues related to California’s future, trust in government, and the November election. Findings of this survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,001 California adult residents interviewed between August 16 and August 23, 2006. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2% and for the 989 likely voters is +/- 3%. For more information on methodology, see page 31.

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.

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.