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Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Statewide Survey · September 2021

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, the James Irvine Foundation, and the PPIC Donor Circle

Key Findings

Californians have had an eventful summer. Since the state’s COVID restrictions were lifted on June 15, Californians have experienced an improving job market, the return of drought and serious wildfires, and a COVID surge as schools and colleges are reopening for the fall semester. Through all of this, Californians have mixed reviews about the state of the state. In the days after receiving mail ballots for the recall election, support from likely voters to remove Governor Newsom still falls short of a majority.

These are among the key findings of a statewide survey on state and national issues that was conducted from August 20 to August 29 by the Public Policy Institute of California.

  • figure - A majority of likely voters say they will vote no on removing NewsomAmong California likely voters, 39 percent would vote yes to remove Newsom, with Republicans far more likely to vote yes. About half of likely voters (49%) say they either have not decided or would not vote for any of the replacement candidates on the recall ballot.
  • Seven in ten California likely voters say that the outcome of the recall election is very important to them, including solid majorities across partisan groups. When thinking about the September 14 recall election, 47 percent say they are more enthusiastic about voting than usual.
  • figure - COVID-19 named top issueCalifornians name COVID as the top issue facing the state today. Forty-seven percent say things in California are generally going in the right direction, with partisans deeply divided; 49 percent say that California is in an economic recession, and this view declines with rising income.
  • Fifty-three percent of Californians approve of the way that Governor Newsom is handling his job overall, and 50 percent approve of the California Legislature. Fifty-eight percent approve of the way that President Biden is handling his job, and 41 percent approve of the US Congress.
  • Forty-six percent of Californians say things in the United States are going in the right direction. Forty-four percent think the US will have good times financially in the next 12 months.
  • Sixty-one percent of Californians favor requiring proof of COVID vaccination for large outdoor gatherings or certain indoor spaces. More than three in four Californians—including strong majorities across regions—think the state government is doing an excellent or good job distributing COVID vaccines.

Recall Ballot Items

If the recall election—scheduled for September 14, 2021—were held today, 39 percent of California likely voters say they would vote yes to remove Governor Newsom from office, while 58 percent say they would vote no on removing Newsom. There is partisan disagreement, with most Democratic likely voters (90%) and about half of independent likely voters (49%) saying they would vote no on removing Newsom, while most Republican likely voters (82%) say they would vote yes to remove him.

About half of likely voters express a preference for a replacement candidate. Republican Larry Elder (26%) is in the lead, while fewer than one in ten say they prefer either Kevin Faulconer (5%), John Cox (3%), Kevin Kiley (3%), or Caitlyn Jenner (1%). Fourteen percent name other candidates. (Only candidates with both significant media attention and sufficient resources for statewide campaigning were included in our survey question; five candidates met this criteria.) One in four voters say they favor no one or wouldn’t vote (25%), and a similar share say they are still unsure (24%). Two in three Democrats say they favor no one or wouldn’t vote (37%) or remain unsure (30%). Republicans prefer Elder (57%), and independents somewhat favor Elder (23%), though a similar share say they prefer no one or wouldn’t vote (21%). Two in three who say they would vote no on removing Newsom say they prefer no one or wouldn’t vote (40%) or remain unsure (26%) regarding a replacement. Forty-four percent are satisfied with the replacement candidate choices, with Democrats and Republicans deeply divided.

Table: More than four in ten likely voters are satisfied with the replacement candidates

Recall Election Context

Seventy percent of likely voters say the outcome of the vote on the recall election is very important to them; an additional 21 percent say it is somewhat important. Solid majorities of Democrats (75%), Republicans (67%), and independents (62%) say the outcome is very important. Solid majorities of Californians across racial/ethnic groups (66% Latinos, 73% whites, 63% other racial/ethnic groups), other demographic groups, and regions agree that the outcome of the recall election is very important.

In what is sure to be a consequential recall election, 47 percent of likely voters are more enthusiastic than usual about voting. Republicans (54%) and independents (53%) are more likely than Democrats (40%) to say they are more enthusiastic than usual. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, California has decided to employ an extensive vote-by-mail system for the recall. With voters set to receive a mail ballot, how much confidence do California’s likely voters have in their voting system? Fifty-six percent have a great deal (37%) or quite a lot of confidence (19%). Democrats (58%) are far more likely than Republicans (13%) or independents (30%) to have a great deal of confidence. More likely voters had confidence in California elections last September (56% today, 60% last September).

Table: A majority of California likely voters have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the state's election system

State of the State

When asked to name the most important issue facing people in California today, Californians most often name COVID-19. Additionally, about one in ten Californians name jobs and the economy or homelessness, while fewer mention housing costs and availability or problems with elected officials. Across partisan groups, Republicans are most likely to mention problems with elected officials and the economy, while Democrats are most likely to mention COVID-19. Nearly half of Californians think that the state is headed in the right direction, with Democrats far more likely than independents and Republicans to say this. Just over half of those in the San Francisco Bay Area say things are going in the right direction, compared to fewer than half elsewhere. Six in ten Asian Americans think things in California are generally going in the right direction, compared to about half of Latinos and four in ten African Americans and whites. The mood today is decidedly better than when Governor Davis was facing a recall in 2003 (24% right direction in September 2003).

About half of Californians believe that California is in an economic recession, with more saying it is a serious or moderate recession rather than a mild recession. The share saying the state is in a recession decreases with rising household income. Republicans are far more likely than Democrats and much more likely than independents to hold this view. In May, 53 percent said the state was in a recession.

Table: Californians are most likely to mention COVID-19 as the most important issue facing the state

Approval Ratings

Fifty-three percent of adults and likely voters approve of Gavin Newsom’s job performance as governor, similar to levels throughout 2021 so far. Three in four Democrats approve of Governor Newsom, while more than eight in ten Republicans disapprove. Women are much more likely than men to approve, and residents in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area are much more likely than those elsewhere to approve of his performance. Half of Californians approve of the state legislature.

President Biden has the approval of about six in ten Californians, including at least half across regions. Far more Democrats than independents and Republicans approve of President Biden. While about half or more across demographic groups approve of President Biden, women are much more likely than men to approve, and people of color are much more likely than whites to approve. In contrast, fewer than half of Californians across parties and regions approving of Congress’s job performance. Six in ten Latinos approve of Congress, compared to fewer than half among other racial/ethnic groups.

About six in ten or more Californians and likely voters approve of the way that Governor Newsom and President Biden are handling the COVID-19 crisis, which is most often named as the state’s top issue.

Table: Majorities approve of Governor Newsom and President Biden

State of the Nation

Fifty percent of adults and 56 percent of likely voters think things in the US are going in the wrong direction (right direction: 46% adults, 39% likely voters). In May, fewer adults (43%) and likely voters (52%) held this negative perception. Today, solid majorities of Republicans and independents hold this view, while most Democrats think the country is going in the right direction. Majorities of residents in the Inland Empire, the Central Valley, and Orange/San Diego think the country is going in the wrong direction, compared to 48 percent in Los Angeles and 42 percent in the San Francisco Bay Area. A majority of whites and African Americans believe the US is going in the wrong direction, while most Latinos and Asian Americans think it is going in the right direction.

Californians are divided (44% good times, 47% bad times) on whether the US will experience good financial times in the next 12 months. In May, the economic outlook for the nation was more upbeat (55% good times, 39% bad times). Today, Democrats are far more likely to think there will be good times than are Republicans and independents. Regionally, half in Los Angeles say there will be good times, while most in the Inland Empire and Central Valley think there will be bad times; San Francisco Bay Area and Orange/San Diego residents are split on the question. Across racial/ethnic groups, majorities of Latinos expect good financial times, most whites and African Americans say there will be bad times, and Asian Americans are divided. Fewer than half across age, education, gender, and homeownership groups believe the US will have good economic times ahead.

Table: Californians are divided on the economic outlook for the US in the next 12 months

COVID-19 Pandemic

More than three in four California adults report already having gotten the COVID-19 vaccine, and another 7 percent say they definitely or probably will get it. Solid majorities across regions as well as partisan and demographic groups have already gotten the vaccine, but uptake is lower among Republicans, Inland Empire residents, and African Americans.

About eight in ten adults believe the state government has done an excellent or good job of distributing COVID-19 vaccines to people in California. Most across partisan groups think the state has done at least a good job, but Democrats and independents are much more likely than Republicans to hold this view. Majorities across regions and all demographic groups say the state has done an excellent or good job distributing COVID-19 vaccines. Sixty-one percent of adults and 62 percent of likely voters favor requiring proof of the COVID-19 vaccination to be able to enter large outdoor gatherings or certain indoor spaces. Eight in ten Democrats and half of independents are in favor, compared to three in ten Republicans. Majorities across regions, with the exception of the Inland Empire (45%), are in favor. Majorities across age, education, gender, income, and racial/ethnic groups favor proof of vaccination.

Table: Most Californians favor requiring proof of the COVID-19 vaccination to be able to enter certain spaces
Regional Map
Methodology
Questions and Responses
Authors and Acknowledgments
PPIC Statewide Advisory Committee
PPIC Board of Directors

Topics

COVID-19 Economy Health & Safety Net Political Landscape Statewide Survey