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Press Release · September 23, 2004

They Could Care Less: Californians More Concerned Than Americans Generally About Presidential Vote

Voters See Stark Differences Between Parties, Candidates; Term Limits Still Hot, Proposal For Part-Time Legislature Not

SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 23, 2004 — California’s highly partisan voters can agree on one thing: It really matters who wins the presidential election. Despite finding themselves in the minority in recent national polls, state voters see more at stake in the outcome of the election than do voters nationally, according to a new survey released by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Seven in 10 Californians (71%) – and 80 percent of likely state voters – say it really does matter who wins the presidential race when it comes to making progress on the important issues facing the country, compared to 63 percent of Americans who hold this view. Democrats (78%) and Republicans (77%) are equally likely to say the outcome of the election is important, while independents (31%) are slightly more inclined to believe that things will be the same regardless of who is elected. Whites (78%) are far more likely than Latinos (61%) to say it matters who wins on November 2nd. Widespread concern about the outcome of the election is driving high levels of interest in the campaign: Most voters (89%) say they are following presidential election news closely.

Why the strong feelings? California voters see big differences in the platforms of the nation’s major political parties: 83 percent believe there are important differences between Democrats and Republicans, including majorities of Democratic (86%), Republican (84%), and independent (77%) likely voters. Overall, voters view Democrats rather than Republicans as more likely to represent the concerns of people like them (58% to 32%) and to bring about the kind of changes the country needs (52% to 37%), while they are divided about which party will do a good job managing the federal government (44% to 43%).

Despite the belief that the major parties offer starkly different choices, a significant number of state voters would still like to see the two-party system get an overhaul. While 48 percent of likely voters say the Democratic and Republican parties do an adequate job of representing the American people, an equal number (46%) think they do such a poor job that a third major party is needed. A majority of all independents (62%) believe a third party is required. “California’s independent voters are clearly looking for a more permanent home, and this should create some trepidation among the Democrats and Republicans who currently bank on their votes,” says PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare. “But what’s most surprising is the substantial numbers of Democrats (43%) and Republicans (37%) who believe a third party is needed. Is it the major parties or just the current crop of candidates that these voters find so lacking?”

Voters Prefer Kerry on Economy, Bush on Homeland Security

Currently, the Democratic ticket of Senators John Kerry and John Edwards holds a 12-point lead over the ticket of Republican President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney (51% to 39%), down from a 16-point spread in August (54% to 38%). Kerry leads Bush among independent voters (54% to 29%) and Latinos (63% to 30%), while the two are locked in a statistical dead heat among white likely voters (47% to 44%). Evangelical Christians favor Bush over Kerry (60% to 30%), while Kerry leads among likely voters with other religious preferences (59% to 32%).

Asked which issue they would most like to hear the candidates address during their debates this fall, likely voters name the economy, jobs, and unemployment (30%), followed by the war in Iraq (19%), health care (12%), and terrorism and national security (8%). California voters currently prefer Kerry to Bush on jobs and the economy (54% to 37%) and health care (57% to 32%). Voters narrowly support Kerry over Bush on Iraq (48% to 44%) and choose Bush over Kerry on homeland security (48% to 43%).

Support for Open Primary; Health Insurance Referendum Lags Despite Health Care Worries

Proposition 62 – the ballot measure designed to change the state’s partisan primary system to an open primary format – receives support from 49 percent of likely voters, while 33 percent oppose the initiative. Forty-six percent of voters believe Prop. 62 will result in candidates who more effectively represent their districts than do candidates today, while 31 percent disagree. Also up for a vote in November is Proposition 60, placed on the ballot by the legislature as a counter to the open primary initiative and intended to maintain the current partisan primary system. At present, more voters are undecided about this proposition than support or oppose it (42% undecided, 34% support, 24% oppose). Interestingly, a majority of voters (54%) say that the current system of partisan primaries generally produces candidates who effectively represent their districts.

Proposition 72 – a referendum on legislation passed last year requiring all large and medium employers in the state to provide health insurance for their employees – remains short of the majority needed to approve the law (45% to 34%) and virtually unchanged since August. Most voters (65%) say Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s opposition to the referendum will not sway their vote either way.

Despite the lack of support for Proposition 72, health care remains a very real concern for most Californians. Three in four state residents (77%) – and 71 percent of likely voters – say they are at least somewhat concerned about being able to afford necessary health care. A slim majority of Californians (53%) say they would be willing to pay more – either through higher health insurance premiums or higher taxes – to increase the number of Americans who have health insurance. There is also a strong preference for a system of universal, government-administered health care (60%) as opposed to the current system in which most people get their health insurance from private employers (35%).

Reform-Minded? Californians Like Some Legislative, Election Reforms but Reject Others

Support for Governor Schwarzenegger remains strong, with 61 percent of Californians approving of the way he has handled his job. Ratings for the state legislature are far lower (40% approve, 46% disapprove). One reason for the difference? Nearly half of state residents (46%) say the governor does an excellent or good job working for their best interests, while only 22 percent say the same about the legislature. But despite their hard feelings towards many in government, residents and voters remain choosy – and full of surprises – when it comes to the types of legislative and election reforms they support:

  • Term Limits: Legislative term limits remain popular, with 61 percent of Californians and 65 percent of likely voters calling them a good thing. However, Californians may be open to some changes: Nearly four in 10 voters (36%) think that expanding the time legislators could serve in office would make them more effective representatives. Twenty-eight percent of voters say such an extension would make legislators less effective and 31 percent see no difference.
  • Part-Time Legislature: A majority of Californians (53%) and likely voters (54%) say it would be a bad idea to change the status of the California Legislature from full-time to part-time.
  • Smaller Legislative Districts: State residents are slightly more likely to believe that having a greater number of state legislators serving smaller districts would not result in better representation for their part of the state (49% to 43%). Likely voters also share this view (52% to 40%).
  • Redistricting: Californians are divided about shifting the power to redraw legislative and congressional district lines from the state legislature to a new independent state commission (39% favor, 40% oppose). Voters are more inclined to support such a proposal (44% favor, 38% oppose).
  • Publicly Financed Campaigns: Majorities of state residents (57%) and likely voters (54%) are unwilling to spend even a few dollars a year to support public funding for state and legislative campaigns.
  • Initiative Process: Californians prefer that initiatives on the state ballot (37%) – rather than the legislature (31%) or governor (23%) – have the greatest influence over public policy in the state. However, strong majorities of state residents (68%) and likely voters (67%) also believe that the process is in need of at least minor changes.

More Key Findings

  • Boxer maintains lead in Senate race — Page 3
    Among likely voters, incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer has an 18-point lead over Republican challenger Bill Jones (54% to 36%). Fifty-nine percent of voters consider Boxer very liberal (30%) or somewhat liberal (29%), while 36 percent call Jones very conservative (11%) or somewhat conservative (25%) and 48 percent say they don’t know enough about him to say.
  • Approval ratings for President Bush remain low — Page 13
    Fifty-four percent of Californians disapprove and 43 percent approve of how President Bush is handling his job overall, similar to his August ratings (56% disapprove, 40% approve). Approval ratings for the president on the issue of jobs and the economy are also low – with 56 percent saying they disapprove – and are relatively unchanged since one year ago (52% disapprove, 42% approve).
  • Residents don’t like nation’s direction, but see better economic times ahead — Page 14
    A majority of Californians (54%) believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction, while 42 percent think it is going in the right direction. However, they are somewhat more optimistic about the nation’s economic future: 47 percent of state residents expect good times during the next year and 41 percent anticipate bad times ahead. These general trends have changed little from one year ago.
  • More Californians today say regulation of business is necessary — Page 15
    More Californians today (54%) than four years ago (46%) say that government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest. Forty-two percent think government regulation of business does more harm than good, compared to 49 percent in 2000.
  • Slight increase in support for new gun laws — Page 15
    A majority of residents (52%) believe that better enforcement of existing guns laws – rather than new laws or restrictions (39%) – is more likely to decrease gun violence. Support for new gun laws is higher among Latinos than whites (53% to 34%). Overall attitudes have changed slightly since 2000, when 56 percent of state residents advocated better enforcement and 34 percent supported new laws.

About the Survey

The purpose of the PPIC Statewide Survey is to develop an in-depth profile of the social, economic, and political forces affecting California elections and public policy preferences. Findings of this survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,003 California adult residents interviewed between September 12 and September 19, 2004. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for subgroups is larger. For more information, 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

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.