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Press Release · September 21, 2011

Worries About Jobs, Economy Hit Record High

Most Say Obama’s Economic Policies Have Not Helped—But Trust Him Over Republicans In Congress

SAN FRANCISCO, September 21, 2011—In record numbers, Californians say jobs and the economy are the most important problems they face, and half are concerned that someone in their family will lose a job in the next year, according to a survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from The James Irvine Foundation.

The share of Californians (67%) who see jobs and the economy as the most important issue surpasses the previous high (63%) in February 2009. Half of residents are very concerned (30%) or somewhat concerned (19%) that someone in their family will experience a job loss. Reflecting these perceptions, 67 percent of California residents say Congress and the president are not doing enough to help create jobs.

Californians give President Barack Obama a record-low 51 percent approval rating. But they are more likely to trust him to make the right decisions about the economy than they are to trust the Republicans in Congress, and 53 percent are satisfied with his proposed American Jobs Act (37% dissatisfied).

Economic concerns also dominate when Californians are asked about the state of their state. Nearly all think California is in a recession (50% serious recession, 32% moderate recession, 7% mild recession). Nearly all (95%) think the state budget situation is a problem (68% big problem, 27% somewhat of a problem). Most (62%) say the state and local tax systems are in need of major changes. Most (67%) say their local government services—such as those provided by city and county governments and public schools—have been affected a lot by state budget cuts.

“Most Californians—regardless of political party—say things are going in the wrong direction in the state and the nation,” says Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of PPIC. “Most don’t see evidence that the president’s attempts to stimulate the economy have had a positive impact—although when asked to choose, they side with him over the Republicans in Congress.

“And for most Californians, the impact of the state’s budget problems have hit home. In every region of the state, majorities say that state budget cuts have affected their local government services a lot.”

Reduce Deficit or Spend to Aid Recovery?

Californians agree that the federal budget deficit is a problem (68% very serious, 24% somewhat serious). But asked to choose which is a higher priority—reducing the deficit or spending to help the economy recovery—a majority (56%) choose spending to help the economy (39% reducing the deficit). However, likely voters are evenly divided (48% spending, 48% reducing the deficit).

When it comes to the president’s economic policies, the largest share of Californians—40 percent—say there has been no impact. Twenty-six percent say his policies have made conditions better and 29 percent say they have made conditions worse. Still, 50 percent say they trust Obama more to make the right decisions about the nation’s economy while just 31 percent put more trust in the Republicans in Congress. Opinion is sharply divided along party lines (77% Democrats trust Obama, 69% Republicans trust Republicans in Congress), with more independents saying they trust the president (45% vs. 31%).

Half (52%) of adults approve of the law raising the federal debt ceiling and making major cuts in spending (38% disapprove). Likely voters are more closely divided (49% approve, 43% disapprove).

As a bipartisan congressional committee prepared to consider significant reductions in the federal deficit, the PPIC survey asked about two ideas that may be included in the committee proposal. The first idea—raising taxes on businesses and higher-income Americans—garners the support of 67 percent of Californians and 62 percent of likely voters. But opinion is divided on the second idea: making major changes in the Social Security and Medicare systems (46% all adults and likely voters are in favor, 51% all adults and 50% likely voters are opposed).

Nearly Half Approve of Feinstein, Boxer

President Obama’s job approval rating among Californians has eroded steadily from 70 percent since he took office to 51 percent today (43% disapprove). For the first time, more likely voters say they disapprove (50%) than approve (47%). There is overwhelming approval among Democrats (76%) and disapproval among Republicans (81%). For the first time, more independents disapprove (50%) than approve (45%).

Congress gets low marks from Californians. A solid majority (64%) disapprove of the job Congress is doing, similar to findings last September before the 2010 midterm elections (66% disapprove). Today, likely voters are more disapproving (79%) than all adults. Across party lines, Californians disapprove of Congress’ job performance (76% independents, 75% Democrats, 73% Republicans). Californians feel more positive when asked about their own representative in Congress: 48 percent approve and 37 percent disapprove. Among likely voters, 49 percent approve and 41 percent disapprove.

Nearly half of Californians approve of the job performance of their two senators. Senator Dianne Feinstein, who faces re-election next year, has a job approval rating among all Californians of 46 percent (37% disapprove) and among likely voters of 48 percent (44% disapprove). About half of Californians and likely voters (49% for each) approve of the job Senator Barbara Boxer is doing (38% adults, 44% likely voters disapprove). Views of both senators are sharply divided along partisan lines.

Governor’s Approval Rating Changes Little—Many Still Undecided

After a legislative session in which Governor Jerry Brown saw his tax package blocked by the legislature, 41 percent of Californians and 45 percent of likely voters approve of the governor’s job performance. Nearly a third of adults (31%) and 20 percent of likely voters are still unsure how to rate him. The governor’s approval rating among all adults has been similar the last three times PPIC asked the question (40% April, 42% May, 42% July). The legislature’s job approval rating continues to lag behind the governor’s, with 26 percent approving and 56 percent disapproving. Likely voters are more negative: 17 percent approve and 71 percent disapprove. The legislature’s approval rating has been similar all year but has rebounded somewhat among all adults from a low of 14 percent in November 2010. Californians’ opinions of their own state legislator remain low: 35 percent of adults and 31 percent of likely voters approve.

Most Support Shifting Some Programs from State to Local Governments

Governor Brown proposed in January that the responsibility for operating certain state programs be shifted from the state to counties. In the PPIC survey taken shortly after the governor’s speech, 71 percent of Californians favored the idea of shifting some tax dollars and fees to local governments to pay for the shift. Today, support for this fiscal reform has dropped, but it is still favored by 61 percent of residents. How confident are Californians that local governments can take on this new responsibility? Most are very confident (10%) or somewhat confident (49%). They are less confident about realignment of the corrections system. Realignment faces its first big test in October, when responsibility for lower-risk felons and parolees shifts from state prisons to counties. Eight percent are very confident and 40 percent are somewhat confident in their local governments’ ability to handle these new tasks.

Steadfast in Support for Initiatives But Open to Reform

The PPIC survey asked about other reforms that are being discussed, as well:

  • Reforming the initiative process: Californians are generally satisfied (12% very satisfied, 50% somewhat satisfied) with the initiative process. But nearly 90 percent say special interests control it a lot (54%) or some (34%). Asked about possible reforms, an overwhelming majority (73%) support a requirement that initiatives to create new programs or reduce taxes identify a specific funding source. A strong majority (68%) favor a system of review and revision of proposed initiatives to try to avoid legal issues and drafting errors. There is bipartisan support for both reform ideas.
  • Modifying term limits: Most Californians (62%) support reducing the maximum time a person may serve in the state legislature from 14 years to 12 years and to allow all 12 years of service in the assembly, the senate, or in a combination of both. A proposal similar to this has qualified for the June 2012 ballot.
  • Lowering the vote requirement to pass state taxes: A year after Californians voted to lower the legislature’s threshold for passing a state budget from two-thirds to a simple majority, they are divided on doing the same for passage of the state budget and state taxes (45% good idea, 44% bad idea). Likely voters are also divided (49% good idea, 43% bad idea).
  • Changing the legislature to a part-time body: Most adults (58%) say this is a bad idea, while 31 percent of adults say it is a good one.
  • Shifting to a one-house legislature: Californians are divided on whether it is a good idea to change the legislature’s makeup from 40 state senators and 80 assembly members to a single body of 120 legislators representing smaller districts: 43 percent say this is a good idea, 38 percent say it is a bad idea, and 19 percent are unsure.


More Key Findings

  • Shift in favor of same-sex marriage persists—pages 14, 15
    Today, 53 percent of adults favor legalizing same-sex marriage, with 42 percent opposed. On other contentious social issues, Californians favor life imprisonment with no possibility of parole (54%) to the death penalty (39%) as a punishment for first-degree murder; most (69%) say the government should not interfere with a woman’s access to abortion, while just 28 percent say the government should pass more laws restricting it; and residents are divided on the legalization of marijuana, with 46 percent in favor and 51 percent opposed.
  • More unfavorable toward Tea Party—page 23
    Today, 52 percent view the Tea Party movement unfavorably, compared to 44 percent in October 2010. More Democrats (72%) have a favorable impression of their own party than do Republicans (59%) of theirs.



The PPIC Statewide Survey has provided policymakers, the media, and the general public with objective, advocacy-free information on the perceptions, opinions, and public policy preferences of California residents since 1998. This survey is part of a series that examines the social, economic, and political trends that influence public policy preferences and ballot choices. It is supported with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 2,002 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from September 6–13, 2011. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish according to respondents’ preferences. The sampling error, taking design effects from weighting into consideration, is ±3.6 percent for all adults, ±3.8 percent for the 1,305 registered voters, and ±4.2 percent for the 958 likely voters. For more information on methodology, see page 25.

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.

PPIC is dedicated to informing and improving public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett. As a private operating foundation, 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.