Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Press Release · March 27, 2019

Worries about Housing Affordability at Record High


SAN FRANCISCO, March 27, 2019—A record-high share of Californians say the affordability of housing is a big problem in their region, and a majority support Governor Gavin Newsom’s spending plan to increase housing production. These are among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

When asked how much of a problem housing affordability is in their part of the state, about two-thirds of California adults (68%) say that it is a big problem. In addition, 47 percent of adults say that housing costs are making them seriously consider leaving the part of the state where they currently reside. Most who are seriously considering moving say they would leave the state rather than relocate in California.

“Housing affordability is considered a problem in every major region today, and this is causing many Californians to think seriously about moving out of the state,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO.

The share of Californians saying that housing affordability is a big problem varies by region, with majorities holding this view in the San Francisco Bay Area (80%), Los Angeles (74%), Orange/San Diego (71%), and the Central Valley (56%). About half of Californians in the Inland Empire (49%) say that housing affordability is a big problem there.

In his state budget plan, Newsom proposes $1.8 billion in one-time spending to increase housing production, including an expansion of state tax credits to develop low- and moderate-income housing. After hearing a short description of the governor’s proposal, solid majorities of Californians (72% adults, 65% likely voters) favor it. An overwhelming majority of renters (82%) approve of the governor’s proposed spending to promote housing production, well above the 62% of homeowners who hold this view.

Most Favor Spending on Wildfires, Earned Income Tax Credit

This survey gauges Californians’ views on specific challenges facing the state and on proposals in Newsom’s spending plan to address these challenges.

Following a year that saw the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in the state’s history, a strong majority of adults say that the threat of wildfires is either a big problem (40%) or somewhat of a problem (30%) in their part of California. The governor proposes $415 million in one-time spending for wildfire preparedness, response and recovery, and forest management. After hearing a brief description of this proposal, overwhelming majorities are in favor (81% adults, 81% likely voters).

On the issues of income inequality and poverty, a strong majority of adults (67%) say the gap between the rich and the poor is widening in their part of the state, while half (51%) say poverty is a big problem in their part of the state. The governor’s budget plan allocates $1 billion to the state’s earned income tax credit (EITC) to expand eligibility and payments for low-income workers, and solid majorities of Californians (73% adults, 65% likely voters) are in favor.

“Californians are giving a green light to the governor’s specific plans to spend the budget surplus, with exceptionally high support going to his response to wildfires,” Baldassare said.

Currently, a record-low share of California adults say the amount that state and local governments spend on public pensions is a big problem (29%) or somewhat of a problem (34%). The governor’s budget proposal to allocate $5.3 billion in additional one-time spending to address unfunded pension liabilities is favored by less than half of Californians (47% adults, 43% of likely voters).

Slim Majorities Support Scaling Back High-Speed Rail, Delta Tunnels

In his first State of the State address, Governor Newsom announced plans to significantly scale back two major infrastructure projects that had been advanced by former governor Jerry Brown: a high-speed rail system connecting Northern and Southern California, and twin tunnels in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta that would move water from north to south. Just over half of adults (53%) and under half of likely voters (45%) think Newsom’s proposal to truncate the high-speed rail is a good idea. His plan to build one Delta tunnel rather than two has similar levels of support, with 52 percent of adults and 47 percent of likely voters saying it is a good idea.

“Slim majorities support the governor’s recent proposals to scale back two of the state’s controversial infrastructure projects—high-speed rail and the Delta tunnels,” Baldassare said.

Views on Newsom’s high-speed rail and Delta tunnel plans vary across regions of the state. Residents of the Central Valley, which is the focus of the new high-speed rail plan, are divided on it (46% good idea, 43% bad idea). Elsewhere, support for Newsom’s high-speed rail plan is higher in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area (58% each) than in Orange/San Diego (50%) and the Inland Empire (43%). Support for the governor’s proposal to build a single Delta tunnel is highest in the San Francisco Bay Area (56% saying it is a good idea) and the Inland Empire (55%), followed by the Central Valley (51%), Los Angeles (49%), and Orange/San Diego (44%).

Majorities Favor Life Imprisonment over the Death Penalty

In the wake of Newsom’s decision to place a moratorium on the death penalty in California, our survey tracks if residents’ views have shifted over time. When Californians are asked whether the penalty for first-degree murder should be death or life imprisonment with absolutely no possibility of parole, a record-high 62 percent of adults (58% of likely voters) choose life imprisonment. Just 31 percent of adults (38% of likely voters) favor the death penalty. By contrast, California adults were evenly split in 2000 (47% life imprisonment, 49% death penalty).

Two months into Newsom’s administration, 45 percent of both adults and likely voters approve of how he is handling his job, while 29 percent of adults and 20 percent of likely voters say they have not heard enough or don’t have an opinion. The governor’s approval rating was similar in January (44% adults, 43% likely voters). Today, there is a sharp partisan divide in approval of the governor (65% Democrats, 35% independents, 20% Republicans). The California Legislature’s approval rating is similar to the governor’s, with 46 percent of adults and 42 percent of likely voters approving. This is close to the legislature’s approval rating in January (49% adults, 46% likely voters).

Overwhelming Majorities Oppose President’s Emergency Declaration

With views breaking along party lines, an overwhelming share of Californians (77% of adults, 70% of likely voters) oppose President Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to build a wall along the border with Mexico. Support for the president’s declaration is much higher among Republicans than Democrats and independents.

At a time when California and the Trump administration are engaged in legal disputes over immigration policy, a majority of Californians (61% adults, 54% likely voters) favor the state and local governments taking action, separate from the federal government, to protect the rights of undocumented immigrants in California. Nearly half of California adults (48%) disagree with the federal crackdown on undocumented immigrants, while slightly fewer (41%) say it is a good thing for the country.

Just 29 percent of adults and 34 percent of likely voters approve of how President Trump is handling his job, similar to views in January and a year ago. An overwhelming majority of Republicans (75%) approve of the president, compared to 27 percent of independents and 7 percent of Democrats.

“President Trump’s calling a national emergency to build a border wall is highly unpopular, yet his partisan-driven approval rating is virtually unchanged in two years,” Baldassare said.

About Half Approve of Feinstein, Harris

With the end of the partial government shutdown and Democrats in control of the US House of Representatives, California adults give Congress its highest approval rating (36%) since March 2017; today, 29 percent of likely voters approve of the way Congress is doing its job. When asked about their own representative in the House, more than half of Californians (52% percent adults, 51% likely voters) approve of their House representative’s job performance.

Californians’ approval ratings of their two US senators are similar. Just under half of adults (47%) and likely voters (48%) approve of how Senator Dianne Feinstein is handling her job. Senator Kamala Harris’s rating is 45 percent among adults and 48 percent among likely voters. For both senators, current approval ratings are similar to those of a year ago.

“While Californians are generally disapproving of the US Congress, about half say they approve of their two US senators and their own US House representative,” Baldassare said.

When Californians are asked if they think Senator Harris should run for US president in 2020, 40 percent of adults and 38 percent of likely voters say she should, with Democrats (54%) far more likely to hold this view than independents (35%) or Republicans (17%).

Majorities Disapprove of Federal Tax Overhaul

With tax day just around the corner, most Californians (60% adults, 58% likely voters) disapprove of the federal tax overhaul that took effect in 2018. Asked about state and local taxes, solid majorities of Californians (60% adults, 63% likely voters) say that they pay more than they should. This view is held by majorities across income groups.

“As the April 15 tax deadline looms, many Californians are complaining about the state and local tax system and the impacts of recent changes in federal tax laws,” Baldassare said.

Most Approve of Affordable Care Act and Further Medi-Cal Expansion

Nine years since passage of federal health care reform—the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—56% of California adults have a favorable view of the law, well above the 45 percent who supported it in May 2018. A record-high (60%) say that Covered California, the online health insurance marketplace created under the ACA, is working very well (18%) or somewhat well (42%).

Governor Newsom’s budget plan proposes to allocate $196 million to expand Medi-Cal coverage to low-income young adults (ages 19 through 25), regardless of immigration status. A solid majority of Californians (64%) favor this proposal.

About the Survey

The Californians and Their Government series is supported with funding from the James Irvine Foundation and the PPIC Donor Circle.

Findings in this report are based on a survey of 1,706 California adult residents, including 1,195 interviewed on cell phones and 511 interviewed on landline telephones. Interviews took place from March 10–19, 2019. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.

The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.4 percent for all adults, ±4.1% for the 1,139 adults asked question 32a (regarding the penalty for first-degree murder) from March 13 to 19, ±3.7 percent for the 1,415 registered voters, and ±4.3 percent for the 1,112 likely voters. For more information on methodology, see page 22.

Mark Baldassare is president and CEO of 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.

The Public Policy Institute of California is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. We are a public charity. We do not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor do we endorse, support, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Research publications reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of our funders or of the staff, officers, advisory councils, or board of directors of the Public Policy Institute of California.

Public Policy Institute of California