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Press Release · September 26, 2002

Tuned In But Turned Off: Californians Waiting For News They Can Use In Governor’s Race

Voters Divided on Timing of Bond Issues; More Californians Today Perceive Gap Between Rich and Poor

But the regional economic picture is not entirely grim: Fewer Californians today compared to one month ago believe their region is in a recession (48% to 54%) and a majority (53%) expect good economic conditions in their part of the state in the coming year. While more Californians expect bad rather than good economic conditions to prevail statewide in the next twelve months (46% to 43%), the number that predicts bad times is down 5 points since August. And while they may not be better off today than they were four years ago, residents are more likely today (44%) than in September 1998 (40%) to think that they and their family will be better off a year from now.

While many Californians are optimistic about their future economic prospects, the perception that some residents have been left behind has increased. Today, 61 percent say that the state is divided into “haves” and “have-nots,” compared to 56 percent in January 1999. Sixty percent of Californians say they are among the “haves,” while 32 percent – including a majority of those with a household income of less than $40,000 – say they are “have-nots.” Despite this income divide, a majority of state residents (52%) believe that people in California have an equal opportunity to succeed, while 43 percent say the government should do more to ensure equal opportunity.

More key findings

  • Overall approval ratings: Bush, Davis, Legislature – Pages 9, 10, 12
    President Bush: 64 percent of residents approve and 32 percent disapprove, unchanged since August.
    Governor Davis: 49 percent approve and 44 percent disapprove, down from August (51% to 42%).
    State Legislature: 45 percent approve and 36 percent disapprove, down from January (49% to 35%).
  • State budget: Legislature No, Supermajority Yes – Page 11
    A majority of Californians (54%) disapprove of the legislature’s handling of the state budget. Most (73%) say it is a good thing that a two-thirds vote of the legislature is needed to pass a state budget. And 53 percent say they would oppose an initiative to do away with the supermajority requirement.
  • Support for President Bush on Iraq – Page 12
    Fifty-five percent of Californians approve of the way President Bush is dealing with Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Nationally, 65 percent of Americans approve of his handling of the crisis.
  • Corporate corruption widespread – Page 24
    Sixty-one percent of residents think that the current cases of wrongdoing among chief executives of major businesses represent a widespread problem rather than a problem of a few corrupt individuals (32%).

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. PPIC will conduct large-scale public opinion surveys on a regular basis leading up to the November 2002 election. Findings of the current survey are based on a telephone survey of 2,019 California adult residents interviewed from September 12 to September 21, 2002. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for the 1,588 registered voters is +/- 2.5% and for the 1,005 likely voters is +/- 3%. For more information on survey methodology, see page 19.

Dr. 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 state and federal legislation nor does it endorse or support any political parties or candidates for public office.

SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 26, 2002 – Although residents remain far more engaged in the current governor’s race than they were four years ago, they express dissatisfaction with nearly every aspect of the campaign, from the lack of focus on issues to the unhelpfulness of the paid advertising, according to a new survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Voters are more tuned in to the current race than they were during the last gubernatorial campaign: 80 percent today say they are closely following news about the gubernatorial candidates, compared to 54 percent in September 1998. Voters today are also more likely to have seen political advertising by the candidates for governor: 72 percent say they have seen commercials by Democratic Governor Gray Davis (55%) and his Republican challenger Bill Simon (17%). In September 1998, only 38 percent had seen candidates’ commercials.

Still, California voters are finding little to like in the governor’s race: 55 percent express dissatisfaction with the choice of candidates for governor and 69 percent say the television advertisements they have seen have been unhelpful in deciding which candidate to support. While the majority (50%) say they are more interested in learning about where the candidates stand on the issues than about their character (18%), experience (11%), intelligence (7%), or party platform (6%), most voters (64%) also say they are dissatisfied with the amount of attention that the candidates are spending on the issues voters care about. Slightly more than half of likely voters (55%) – including majorities of Democrats (57%), Republicans (52%), and independent voters (60%) – say they are less enthusiastic than usual about voting. Among the older, more educated, higher income, and longer-term residents who turn out to vote with the greatest regularity, that lack of enthusiasm is even more pronounced.

“We have an electorate that is unhappy with the race so far, and independent voters are the most unhappy of all,” says survey director Mark Baldassare. “If either of the candidates is looking for salvation from the swing vote, they may be sorely disappointed.” Indeed, 73 percent of independent voters say they are not satisfied with the candidates’ attention to the issues that matter most to them.

Among likely voters, Davis leads Simon by 8 points (40% to 32%), with no third-party candidate receiving more than 5 percent of the vote. The race has changed little since August, when Davis led Simon 41 percent to 30 percent. Davis still receives strong support from Latinos, women, and independent voters. However, the gender gap is smaller than it was one month ago: Women support Davis over Simon by 11 points (42% to 31%) compared to 19 points in August. Davis currently leads Simon in the San Francisco Bay Area (45% to 22%) and Los Angeles (49% to 27%), the two candidates are virtually tied in the other Southern California counties (35% to 38%), and Simon is beating Davis in the Central Valley (45% to 30%). At this point in the 1998 gubernatorial race, Davis was leading Republican opponent Dan Lungren by 9 points (47% to 38%).

As in August, likely voters continue to prefer Davis over Simon on education (53% to 29%), the state budget and taxes (43% to 38%), and maintaining high ethical standards in government (45% to 31%). They are split over which candidate would do a better job on the economy, preferring Simon slightly (42% to 40%), and select Simon over Davis on electricity and energy policy (44% to 38%).

What do voters know about bonds and when do they support them?

Voters will decide the fate of $18 billion in state bonds this November. But while they appear generally supportive of issuing bonds to finance big ticket projects, voters are divided about using them in a time of budget deficits and most admit to knowing little about how bonds are paid for. Overall, 69 percent of likely voters say it is a good idea for the state government to issue bonds to pay for infrastructure projects, including majorities of Democrats (77%), Republicans (59%), and independents (67%). However, when asked about the use of state bonds in the current budget climate, only 44 percent say it is a good time to issue bonds and 46 percent say it is a bad time. In this case, Republicans (57%) and independents (50%) oppose issuing bonds, while Democrats (53%) remain supportive.

Despite these strong opinions, only 13 percent of likely voters say they know a lot about how state bonds are paid for, while about half (47%) say they know something and 40 percent know either very little or nothing at all. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they have at least some knowledge about how state bonds are financed (65% to 55%).

Proposition 47 – a bond measure that would provide funding for kindergarten through university public education facilities – is currently supported by 59 percent of likely voters, with 32 percent opposed. The measure is favored by majorities of Democrats (72%) and independents (62%), while Republicans oppose it by a narrow margin (46% to 42%). Voters are split in their support for Proposition 50, which would provide funding for water and wetlands projects. Forty-four percent of likely voters say they would vote yes on the measure and 40 percent no. Support for the measure has fallen since June, when 59 percent of voters supported the measure (question wording did not match the ballot label). Democrats favor the measure (54% to 26%), Republicans oppose it (54% to 31%), and independents are divided (44% to 43%).

Are residents better off today than they were four years ago?

Today, most Californians say they are very (25%) or somewhat (50%) satisfied with their personal financial situation, similar to findings from September 1998 (21% and 54%). However, a greater number of residents today (23%) also say they are worse off than they were one year ago, compared to September 1998 (12%). Indeed, one in four Californians today are either very (15%) or somewhat concerned (12%) that they or someone in their family will lose their job in the next year. Latinos and people with annual household incomes under $40,000 (20% each) are more likely to be very worried about the risk of job loss.

Residents today are also far less content with job and housing opportunities in their region. In April 1998, 26 percent of Californians said they were very satisfied with job opportunities in their part of the state, and 22 percent were very satisfied with the availability of affordable housing. Today, far fewer (16% each) are very satisfied with these key measures of quality of life. In fact, dissatisfaction with regional job opportunities has risen 11 points (from 25% to 36%) and dissatisfaction with housing affordability has increased by 21 points (from 35% to 56%). Unhappiness with job opportunities has risen most dramatically in the San Francisco Bay Area (from 11% to 44%), while dissatisfaction with housing affordability has grown most sharply among Los Angeles residents (from 34% to 59%).