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Press Release · October 12, 1998

Washington Uproar Having Little Impact On Voter Attitudes About Clinton, Election, Issues

Californians Support Initiative Process, But See Room for Improvement

About the Survey

The purpose of the PPIC Statewide Survey is to develop an in-depth profile of the social, economic, and political forces at work in California elections and in shaping the state’s public policies. Surveys are intended to provide the public and policymakers with relevant information on the following: Californians’ overall impressions of key policy issues and of quality of life, differences in social and political attitudes among demographic groups and across different regions of the state, the characteristics of groups that are shaping the state’s elections and policy debates, and the political attitudes underlying “voter distrust” of government and low voter turnout. A total of five surveys will be conducted and released during the 1998 election cycle. The first three surveys were conducted in April, May, and September of this year.

Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,005 California adult residents interviewed from October 1 to October 6, 1998. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2%. The sampling error for the 1,574 voters is +/- 2.5% and for the 793 likely voters is +/- 3.5%.

Dr. Mark Baldassare is a senior fellow at PPIC. He is founder and director of the Orange County Annual Survey at UC Irvine. For over two decades, he has conducted surveys for major news organizations, including the Orange County Edition of the Los Angeles Times, the Orange County Register, KCAL-TV, KRON-TV, and the San Francisco Chronicle.

PPIC is a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to independent, nonpartisan research on economic, social, and political issues that affect the lives of Californians. The Institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.

SAN FRANCISCO, California, October 12, 1998 – With the general election a mere three weeks away, predictions about the electoral effects of the impeachment crisis are not being borne out by public opinion, according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California. In fact, the latest PPIC Statewide Survey reveals an electorate whose opinions about the President, candidates for statewide office, and substantive policy issues have remained remarkably stable, but also one that feels profoundly disconnected from the current priorities and concerns of politicians, pundits, and the press.

“While political insiders and media authorities have predicted declines in the President’s popularity and in the public’s interest in voting, it hasn’t come to pass at this point,” said survey director Mark Baldassare. “The results of our survey offer an important reality check as we head into to the home stretch of this election cycle. Californians remain upbeat. They want to talk about schools, not scandal. And while the crisis won’t drive voters to the polls, it won’t keep them away either.”

The mood of the state is more positive than it has been all year, with sixty-two percent of Californians believing the state is headed in the right direction. President Clinton’s job approval ratings remain high and steady. Six in 10 Californians say he is doing an excellent or good job, compared with 58% in May and September. When asked if the scandal and investigation would have an impact on their inclination to vote in November, seven in 10 voters said it would not. Only one percent said they would be less inclined to vote, while 29% would be more inclined. Sixty-seven percent also said that the scandal would not make them more likely to support candidates from a particular party.

The Gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races also remain unchanged. Democrat Gray Davis continues to lead Republican Dan Lungren in the race for Governor by an eight-point margin among likely voters (49% to 41%). The September survey showed Davis with a nine-point lead. While Davis maintains a strong advantage in the Bay Area (58% to 33%) and the Los Angeles metro area (53% to 37%), Lungren holds a substantial lead in the Central Valley (57% to 36%). Among Latinos, Davis enjoys a three-to-one edge over Lungren (67% to 22%).

The U.S. Senate contest between Democrat Barbara Boxer and Republican challenger Matt Fong is still too close to call. Among likely voters, Boxer receives 47 percent and Fong 44 percent. Boxer leads Fong in the Los Angeles metro area (52% to 39%), the Bay Area (53% to 41%), and among Latinos (68% to 22%). Fong continues to receive strong support in the Central Valley (56% to 33%).

Disconnect Between People, Politics

As voter attitudes about the upcoming election remain focused and stable despite a constant barrage of public confessions, congressional bickering, and release of graphic testimony, another trend also lingers: Californians feel isolated and disengaged from their government and believe they lack influence over people in elected office.

Fifty-four percent of Californians say that public officials don’t care what they think, while 40 percent disagree. Only 15 percent believe that government pays a good deal of attention to what the people think when making decisions. Fifty-four percent say government takes their views into consideration some of the time and 30 percent say it doesn’t pay much attention. This attitude extends to the perception of elections as well: While 44 percent say elections make government pay attention to what the people think, 37 percent do not agree.

Perhaps because of this sense of powerlessness, Californians shy away from involvement in politics. Eighty-three percent say they are not involved in any political activities related to parties, candidates, or election campaigns. Only two percent describe themselves as very involved, while 15 percent say they are somewhat involved. While a substantial number of Californians say they are very or somewhat involved in some type of charity or volunteer work, large majorities also say they are not involved in working on neighborhood problems, or local, state, or national issues.

Education Still Prime Concern

Education remains a top issue for Californians. When asked which one issue they would most like to hear candidates for statewide office discuss between now and the election, nearly one in three Californians said schools, trailed by crime (8%), the economy (6%), and taxes (6%). Likely voters continue to say that candidates’ stands on the issues are the most important qualification they consider when deciding how to vote for statewide offices.

Proposition 1A, the $9.2 billion school bond measure placed on the November ballot by the State Legislature, still enjoys strong support. Two-in-three likely voters say they favor the measure, which will finance new construction and repairs to older buildings for the state’s K-12 public schools, community colleges, and public universities. Interestingly, Proposition 8, a broad education initiative that establishes permanent class size reductions, among other reforms, does not have majority support among likely voters. Forty-three percent currently support the initiative, while 38 percent are opposed.

Initiative Process Seen as Important but Flawed

Californians appear to have a love-hate relationship with the state’s initiative process. While they recognize its policymaking value, they also readily admit to its shortcomings. Seventy-three percent of Californians say initiatives bring up important public policy issues that have not been adequately addressed by the Governor and State Legislature. However, nearly four in five residents also agree that the ballot wording for initiatives is often confusing and that initiatives usually reflect the concerns of organized special interests, not average Californians.

Californians are also strongly in favor of an initiative reform proposal by the California Constitution Revision Commission. Sixty-three percent favor allowing the legislature to hold hearings on a proposed initiative and to adopt technical or clarifying changes before placing the initiative on the ballot. However, residents are leery of another Commission proposal that would permit the legislature to alter measures after they have been approved by the voters. Forty-nine percent oppose allowing the legislature, with gubernatorial approval, to amend initiatives after they have been in effect for six years, while 44 percent support such a reform.