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Press Release · January 15, 2004

Where The Rubber Meets The Road: Will Governor’s Popularity Translate Into Political Capital?

$15 Billion Economic Recovery Bond Falls Short of Majority Support; Dean Leads Presidential Challengers; Jones Ahead in Senate Primary Race

SAN FRANCISCO, California, January 15, 2004 — Will Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s high popularity be enough to make voters rally around a critical piece of his budget recovery strategy? Currently, Proposition 57 – the $15 billion bond proposal on the March 2nd primary ballot – does not have much support: Just over one-third (35%) of likely voters say they would vote yes on the measure, 44 percent would vote no, and 21 percent are undecided, according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) and The James Irvine Foundation.

Despite Schwarzenegger’s robust approval ratings – 64 percent of likely voters approve of the way he is doing his job overall, and 58 percent approve of his handling of the budget and taxes – at this early stage, a majority (52%) say the governor’s endorsement makes no difference in how they feel about the recovery bond. “Popularity does not necessarily translate into influence,” says PPIC Statewide Survey Director Mark Baldassare. “Voters have to like the message not just the messenger. Given the bitter residue of this past year’s financial fiasco, they are understandably wary about incurring more debt.”

A second measure on the March ballot (Proposition 58) would require the state to pass a balanced budget, address fiscal emergencies, and establish a budget reserve. Voters clearly like this message, with the yes vote leading the no vote by 57 to 22 percent. However, as the bill is written, these fiscal reforms can take effect only if the recovery bond measure passes.

Talk Matters: Reaction to State of the State and Budget Plan

The public’s upbeat view of Schwarzenegger is echoed in the positive reaction to two key events – his state of the state speech and the rollout of his budget proposal. Over half (53%) of likely voters say they were favorably impressed by the plans and policies set forth in the governor’s first state of the state address, while 18 percent had an unfavorable impression. Voters are also far more satisfied (63%) than dissatisfied (28%) by the budget plan laid out on January 9th. A significant number of likely voters (44%) believe tax increases should have been included in the budget plan, although a majority (51%) do not. However, 67 percent are at least somewhat concerned about the effects of proposed spending cuts.

Schwarzenegger’s high approval ratings changed little following the two events – from 61 percent before the state of the state, to 57 percent after the speech, to 58 percent after the budget announcement. (Similar breakdowns for most survey questions are available.)

State Golden Again? Public Mood Improving But Fiscal Environment Spells Trouble for School Bond, State Legislature

Whether or not it’s prompted by enthusiasm for the governor or economic recovery, California’s mood is improving. Prior to the recall election, far more residents said the state was headed in the wrong direction than in the right direction (67% to 24%). Four months later? More Californians now believe the state is on the right track (43%) than not (41%), although optimism remains lower than it was two years ago. Republicans are most sanguine, with six in ten approving of the direction the state is headed. Fiscal expectations are also on the rise: 51 percent of likely voters anticipate good financial times in the coming year, including 67 percent of Republicans, 52 percent of independents, and 39 percent of Democrats.

But improved attitudes are not translating into a great willingness to spend, even on an issue near and dear to voters’ hearts – education. There is slim majority support for a March ballot proposal to provide funding for education facilities through a $12.3 billion bond (Proposition 55): Just half (50%) of likely voters back it, 38 percent are opposed, and 12 percent are undecided. “Until voters are more comfortable with the state’s finances, even education measures will face greater scrutiny,” says Baldassare. Support for the school bond diverges along party lines with Democrats (62% yes, 25% no) and independents (54% yes, 35% no) supporting it, and Republicans (35% yes, 54% no) opposing it.

Proposition 56, which would lower the majority required for the state legislature to pass a budget and budget-related bills from two-thirds to 55 percent, does not have majority support among likely voters (41% yes, 35% no, 24% undecided). In fact, three-fourths (73%) believe a two-thirds constitutional requirement for the legislature to pass a state budget is a good idea. “The legislature has some work to do to improve its standing with Californians, who are suspicious about giving lawmakers more leeway,” says Baldassare. Indeed, 50 percent disapprove of the job the legislature is doing generally and 58 percent disapprove of how it handles the state’s financial affairs. This distrust extends to state government as a whole: 58 percent of voters think the state government wastes a lot of taxpayers’ money.

Tolerable Taxation? Increases to Protect K-12 and Local Government Palatable to Voters

Californians express a willingness to accept tax increases to deal with the state’s financial crisis and protect valued programs. A majority of voters (53%) prefer to deal with the state’s multi-billion dollar gap between spending and revenue by using a mix of tax increases and spending cuts. Thirty percent prefer mostly spending cuts, while only 5 percent prefer to borrow money. There is a partisan divide over the preferred approach, with solid majorities of Democrats (63%) and independents (65%) supporting a mix of cuts and tax increases and a plurality of Republicans (47%) preferring mostly cuts in spending.

K-12 education continues to be a top priority for voters in California: Nearly two-thirds (64%) would be willing to pay higher taxes just to maintain current K-12 funding levels (77% Democrats, 70% independents, 50% Republicans). Support for K-12 outstrips other programs: 58 percent of voters are most concerned about protecting K-12; far fewer say their greatest concern is health and human services (21%), higher education (12%), or youth and adult corrections (6%).

Although Californian’s top priority is K-12 funding, majorities of voters are also willing to pay higher taxes to maintain funding for local government (57%) and health and human services (50%). Majorities of Democrats (62% and 66%) and independents (59% and 51%) say they would pay more taxes to support programs in these areas. Republicans are split over paying more for local government services (46% yes, 50% no), but a large majority (65%) is unwilling to pay more for health and human services.

What types of tax increases do Californians find most palatable? Sin taxes – higher prices for cigarettes and alcoholic beverages – are the favorite: 76 percent of likely voters approve of increasing taxes on these items. Seventy-one percent also favor raising the income tax for the wealthiest Californians (in June 2003, only 45 percent supported a proposal to change the top rate of the state income tax). Today, Republicans are split on the issue (48% favor vs. 50% oppose), while Democrats (84% vs.13%) and independents (73% vs. 24%) register overwhelming support. Proposals to increase the state sales tax and vehicle license fee do not get majority support among voters of any party.

Field of Boxer Challengers Wide Open; Dean on Top in California

The Republican race to challenge incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer in next November’s election is up for grabs: 73 percent of voters who are registered as Republicans are undecided about which GOP candidate to support on the March 2nd primary ballot. Currently, Bill Jones (17%) leads Howard Kaloogian (5%), Toni Casey (3%), and Rosario Marin (2%). If the November 2004 election were held today, California voters would select Boxer by a 7-point margin (47% to 40%). Not surprisingly, Democrats and Republicans stand in almost perfect opposition: Democrats support Boxer over the Republican nominee 81 to 7 percent, while Republicans support the GOP candidate over Boxer 83 to 7 percent.

Among likely voters, Howard Dean (31%) commands a solid lead over Wesley Clark (14%), Joe Lieberman (8%), John Kerry (6%), and Dick Gephardt (5%) in the Democratic presidential primary. Californians are evenly divided between President George W. Bush and the Democratic nominee, with 45 percent of likely voters supporting the Democrat and 45 percent preferring President Bush. The president retains positive approval ratings in the state: A majority (53%) of likely voters approve of the way he is doing his job, although fewer (47%) support his handling of the federal budget and taxes.

More Key Findings

  • Power To The People — Page 18
    Nearly two-thirds (62%) of voters say going to the ballot box is the best way to reform the budget process, while less than one-third (31%) say the governor and legislature should pass new laws.
  • Commercial Limitations: Prop. 13 Under Fire? — Page 17
    A strong majority (60%) of likely voters think it is a good idea to tax commercial property according to current market value, something that is now strictly limited by Proposition 13.
  • Spanning Generations — Page 15
    Over half of likely voters (52%) are very concerned about passing state debt on to future generations, but residents age 45 and older (51%) are more concerned than 18 to 44 year olds (38%).

About the Survey

The California State Budget and Fiscal System Survey – a collaborative effort of the Public Policy Institute of California and The James Irvine Foundation – is a special edition of the PPIC Statewide Survey. This is the second in a series intended to raise public awareness, inform decisionmakers, and stimulate public discussions about the current budget and the underlying state and local finance systems. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,002 California adult residents interviewed between January 3 and January 11, 2004. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish. The sampling error for the total sample is +/- 2% and for the 912 likely voters is +/- 3%. For more information on methodology, see page 21.

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 most 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.