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Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Statewide Survey · February 2022

PPIC Statewide Survey: Californians and Their Government

Mark Baldassare, Dean Bonner, Rachel Lawler, and Deja Thomas

Supported with funding from the Arjay and Frances F. Miller Foundation and the James Irvine Foundation

Key Findings

This year began with the omicron surge, which is causing disruption, uncertainty, and stress for many Californians. Although encouraging signs of an economic recovery are present, rising prices are a worrisome trend for consumers. Governor Newsom and the state legislature are working with a large surplus of revenues for state spending, while President Biden and the US Congress are unable to pass major legislation as partisan divisions loom large following the one-year anniversary of the Capitol insurrection.

These are the key findings of a statewide survey on state and national issues conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California from January 16 to 25, 2022:

  • figure - COVID-19 remains top issueCOVID-19, homelessness, and jobs, the economy, and inflation top the list when we asked Californians to name the most important issues for the governor and legislature to work on in 2022. Majorities continue to approve of the way that Governor Newsom and President Biden are handling COVID-19, although partisans are deeply divided in their assessments.
  • Half of Californians think the state is headed in the right direction—similar to a year ago. A majority believe that the governor and legislature will be able to work together and accomplish a lot this year. Solid majorities favor the governor’s budget plan and COVID spending package.
  • Two in three say the worst is behind us in the coronavirus outbreak—a significant decline since last May. About four in ten are concerned about getting the coronavirus and requiring hospitalization—a significant increase since last May. In the midst of the omicron surge, there continue to be demographic, political, and regional disparities in COVID vaccinations.
  • figure - Nearly six in ten approve of Newsom and Biden's handling of the coronavirus outbreakAbout half of Californians say that the state is in a recession—a significant decline from a year ago. Forty-seven percent of all adults—compared to 28 percent of lower-income residents—say they are in excellent or good shape financially. One in five Californians—compared to one in three lower-income residents—say that recent price increases have caused severe financial hardship.
  • A majority of Californians approve of President Biden’s performance in office—similar to approval ratings for Governor Newsom. One in three approve of the US Congress, while approval ratings are much higher for the California Legislature.
  • About four in ten say that the nation is headed in the right direction. A similar share say that they expect good economic times in the US during the next 12 months.
  • Fifty-three percent are at least somewhat satisfied with the way that US democracy is working—with partisans divided. Californians are divided about the prospects of Americans coming together and resolving their political differences, and 40 percent say political violence in the US will increase in the next few years.

State of the State

Californians most often name COVID-19 (19%) as the most important issue for the governor and legislature to work on in 2022. Additionally, more than one in ten Californians name homelessness (13%) or jobs, the economy, and inflation (12%) as most important. Fewer mention crime, gangs, and drugs (7%), or housing costs and availability (7%). Across partisan groups, Democrats are most likely to mention COVID-19; Republicans are most likely to mention jobs, the economy, and inflation, or crime, gangs, and drugs; and independents are equally as likely to mention COVID-19 or homelessness. Half of Californians say the state is headed in the right direction, with Democrats far more likely than Republicans and independents to say this. Half or more in Los Angeles, Orange/San Diego, and the San Francisco Bay Area say things are going in the right direction, compared to about four in ten in the Central Valley and Inland Empire. Among racial/ethnic groups, majorities of Latinos (61%), African Americans (55%), and Asian Americans (54%) say this, compared to 41 percent of whites. The overall share saying things are going in the right direction remains similar to last January.

A majority of Californians (58% adults, 54% likely voters) are optimistic that Governor Newsom and the state legislature will be able to work together and accomplish a lot over the next year. A similar share (62% adults, 57% likely voters) said this in January 2021. Today, Democrats are far more optimistic about this than are independents and Republicans. Half or more across age, gender, income, and racial/ethnic groups hold this optimistic view. More than half across regions are optimistic that Newsom and the state legislature can work together, with the exception of 49 percent of residents in the Central Valley. After hearing a summary of Governor Newsom’s budget proposal, which includes $213.1 billion in General Fund spending, a solid majority of Californians (63%) and likely voters (60%) are in favor. Strong majorities of Californians (73%) and likely voters (69%) are in favor of Governor Newsom’s $2.7 billion COVID-19 Emergency Response Package.

Table: Californians most often name COVID-19 as the top issue facing the state

COVID-19 Pandemic

As the US continues to grapple with the omicron variant and high case numbers nationwide, two in three Californians (67%) say that, when it comes to where the country stands in the coronavirus outbreak, the worst is behind us. About a quarter (26%) say the worst is yet to come. In May 2021, the share saying the worst is behind us peaked at 86 percent—a share that has since decreased by 19 percentage points. Across partisan groups, three in four Republicans—compared to two in three Democrats and independents—say the worst is behind us. Majorities across regions and across age, education, gender, income, and race/ethnicity groups are optimistic that the worst is behind us.

While an overwhelming majority of Californians say they have been vaccinated, more than one in ten say that they will definitely not (12%) or probably not (2%) receive the coronavirus vaccine. Among adults who have received the vaccine, 61 percent say they have also received a booster or additional dose after being fully vaccinated. There continue to be demographic, political, and regional disparities in COVID vaccinations. When asked whether the omicron variant makes them more likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine, most unvaccinated adults (86%) expressed that it does not make them more likely to get vaccinated (11% say it makes them more likely to be vaccinated).

With high vaccine rates reported across the state, 57 percent of Californians are not too (26%) or not at all (31%) concerned that they will get the coronavirus and require hospitalization, compared to fewer who are very (16%) or somewhat concerned (26%). The share of Californians expressing concern declined steadily from September 2020 through May 2021—but it has increased 14 percentage points since last May. Some groups are more likely than others to be very concerned. Across racial/ethnic groups, Latinos (21%), Asian Americans (19%), and African Americans (17%) are somewhat more likely than whites (11%) to say they are very concerned. The share saying they are very concerned declines as education and income levels increase.

Table: Most Californians say they have already received the coronavirus vaccine

Economic Conditions

About half of Californians think that California is in an economic recession, with more saying it is a serious or moderate recession rather than a mild recession. About six in ten Californians in the Central Valley, Inland Empire, and Orange/San Diego—compared to fewer than half elsewhere—think the state is in a recession. Republicans are far more likely than Democrats and independents to hold this view. In recent months, about half of Californians have said the state was in a recession, while earlier in the pandemic the share saying this was much higher.

Fewer than half of Californians rate their financial situation as excellent or good—just as they have each time we’ve asked this question during the pandemic. There are stark differences across demographic groups. Notably, four in ten or fewer African Americans and Latinos say their finances are in excellent or good shape, compared to majorities of Asian Americans and whites. There are also sharp differences across income and education groups; Californians with lower income levels and less formal education are less likely to rate their personal finances positively.

About six in ten Californians say that recent price increases have caused their household severe (20%) or moderate (41%) financial hardship. This hardship is more common among women than men, Latinos than other racial/ethnic groups, and in the Central Valley and Inland Empire than elsewhere in the state. Republicans are more likely than Democrats or independents to say price increases have caused hardship. There are also sharp differences across income groups, with lower-income residents much more likely than higher-income residents to say price increases have caused severe hardship.

Table: Recent price increases have caused financial hardship for most Californians

Approval of Elected Officials

Four months after Gavin Newsom beat back an attempt to recall him from office, 56 percent of Californians approve of his job performance as governor. Approval of Governor Newsom has remained above 50 percent since January 2020. Eight in ten Democrats and 45 percent of independents approve of Newsom, while more than eight in ten Republicans disapprove. Approval is higher in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area than elsewhere and much higher among African Americans and Latinos than Asian Americans and whites. Notably, women continue to be more likely than men to approve of the governor. Fewer than half of Californians (47%) approve of the state legislature, a share that has remained in this range for the past two years.

As President Biden enters his second year in office, 53 percent of Californians approve of the job he is doing as president—much lower than a year ago and similar to approval of Governor Newsom today. Democrats remain far more likely than Republicans or independents to approve of President Biden. While more than six in ten Latinos and African Americans approve of President Biden, about half of Asian Americans and whites do so. Women are somewhat more likely than men, and residents in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles are somewhat more likely than those elsewhere, to approve of the president. Approval of Congress remains low, with a 32 percent approval rating. Notably, across parties, regions, and demographic groups, approval only rises above half among Latinos.

About six in ten Californians approve of the way that Governor Newsom and President Biden are handling the coronavirus outbreak, which was named as the state’s top issue.

Table: Majorities approve of Governor Newsom and President Biden

State of the Nation

Fifty-six percent of adults and 66 percent of likely voters think things in the US are going in the wrong direction (right direction: 38% adults, 30% likely voters). A year ago, fewer said things were going in the wrong direction (43% adults, 50% likely voters). Today, strong majorities of Republicans (89%) and independents (69%) hold this negative view, while Democrats are divided (47% right direction, 48% wrong direction). Majorities across regions think the country is going in the wrong direction, ranging from 51 percent in Los Angeles to 66 percent in the Inland Empire. Most African Americans, Asian Americans, and whites believe the US is going in the wrong direction, while 52 percent of Latinos think it is going in the right direction. Californians making more than $40,000 are more likely to feel things are going in the wrong direction, compared to those making less than $40,000.

Fifty-nine percent of adults and 72 percent of likely voters think President Biden and the US Congress will not be able to work together and accomplish a lot in the next year (will be able to work together and accomplish a lot: 36% adults, 24% likely voters). Last January, shortly after President Biden took office, far fewer adults (26%) and likely voters (32%) doubted the working relationship between the president and Congress. Today, majorities across political parties, regions, gender, and age groups believe the president and Congress will not be able to work together, and the share with this opinion increases sharply as income levels rise. Across racial/ethnic groups, solid majorities of Asian Americans and whites say President Biden and Congress will not be able to work together, while most Latinos say the opposite; African Americans are divided.

A majority of Californians (54%) believe the US will experience bad economic times in the next 12 months (38% good times). These negative views were similar last January (49%, 45% good times). Half or more across political parties, regions, and demographic groups expect bad times, with the exception of Democrats, Latinos, and those with at most a high school education, who are more divided in their views of the country’s financial outlook.

Table:

US Democracy

Fifty-three percent of Californians and about half of likely voters (48%) are very or somewhat satisfied with the way democracy is working in the United States. Democrats are much more likely to be at least somewhat satisfied than are Republicans or independents. Half or more across regions are very or somewhat satisfied. Majorities of African Americans, Asian Americans, and Latinos hold this view, compared to 44 percent of whites. The share of Californians who are very or somewhat satisifed with the way democracy is working declines as age, education, and income levels increase and is much higher among renters (59%) than homeowners (47%).

Californians are divided about whether Americans of different political views can come together and work out their differences (47% optimistic, 49% pessimistic). This division remains nearly unchanged from March 2021 (49% optimistic, 48% pessimistic). Today, majorities across political parties hold pessimistic views. Across racial/ethnic groups, a solid majority of whites and half of Asian Americans are pessimistic, while about six in ten African Americans and Latinos are optimistic. Regionally, half or more in the Inland Empire, Los Angeles, and the San Francisco Bay Area are pessimistic about Americans coming together, while a slim majority in the Central Valley are optimistic; Orange/San Diego residents are divided. The share of Californians holding pessimistic views increases sharply as education and income levels rise.

Slightly more than a year after the attack on the US Capitol, 40 percent of Californians and about half of likely voters (48%) think there will be an increase in political violence in the US in the next few years. Forty percent of Californians and 36 percent of likely voters think there will be the same amount of political violence as there is now. Few think there will be a decrease in political violence (14% adults, 12% likely voters). Similar shares across political parties and regions as well as gender and age groups say political violence will increase. Among racial/ethnic groups, Asian Americans and whites are much more likely than African Americans and Latinos to say violence will increase, and the shares with this view increase as education levels rise. Those making more than $40,000 are more likely to believe that political violence will grow, compared with those making less than $40,000.

Table: Four in ten Californians think political violence will increase in the next few years
Regional Map
Methodology
Questions and Responses
Authors and Acknowledgments
PPIC Statewide Advisory Committee
PPIC Board of Directors

Topics

2022 Election COVID-19 Criminal Justice Economy Health & Safety Net Political Landscape Statewide Survey Water, Land & Air