Field Poll Shows Huge Drop in Schwarzenegger Rating With California Voters8 min read

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• Californians Feel State Headed in Wrong Direction by 68% to 23%
• Legislature as a Whole Disapproved by Large Margin

The California Field Poll has released results from their latest survey that show Arnold Schwarzenegger taking a precipitous tumble in his approval ratings from California registered voters. Schwarzenegger had approval ratings of 60% to 41% just six months ago. Today’s figures show that only 31% now approve of his performance as governor while 48% disapprove of it. This represents a swing from a positive net 19% to a negative net rating of 17%–a swing of 37 points within this short time period.

The state legislature as a whole has an approval rating of 30% to 57% disapproval, which is at a level it has generally be in for at least the last four years.

First the numbers from Field. Then an analysis of what they mean and how they square with other polling including the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Schwarzenegger

During his four plus years as governor, Schwarzenegger has generally had more approval than disapproval in poll taken by Field. Aside from today’s poll numbers and a one year period from June of 2005 to May of 2006 when he veered to the right with a special election and a series of ballot measures that was resoundingly defeated by the voters, he has had approval numbers that have fluctuated from a high of 65% to 49%, greater than those disapproving. Today’s numbers put him in the range of where the voters were in 2005 and early 2006.

The only groups that Schwarzenegger has approval from beyond the margin of error are Republicans, by a 51% to 40% margin, moderate conservatives by 51% to 43%, and perhaps a what is described as a small sample of non Bay Area Northern California voters.

He is strongly disapproved of by Democrats (32% to 56%) and is within the margin of error with non-partisan/others (44% to 46%). He is overwhelmingly disapproved of by strongly liberal voters.

One can make too much of some of the subgroupings in this poll because their sizes are small and the margins of error are greater. Two categories, though, struck me as significant.

There is a gender gap with men approving his performance, within the margin of error by 47% to 44% while female voters disapproved of it by 36% to 52%. This is well outside of the margins of error for subsamples. And Schwarzenegger fares best with younger voters—those age 18 to 29, although the sample size is small and his 47% to 44% approval rating is statistically tied with this small sample. Nevertheless, it is better than he does with any other age group.

State Legislature Takes a Hit

It’s been over a year since in the March of 2007 poll the legislature had a one month positive approval rating from California voters and then by a statistically insignificant 42% to 40%. Today’s survey shows the legislature’s overall job rating has dropped to 30% approval and 57% disapproval, down from the 39% to 42% ratings last December and the 38% to 40% ratings in October of last year.

This latest overall rating of the legislature is within the range it has been in–the 20’s and 30’s in approval for the last four years. In January of 2004, it received its lowest marks of 19% approval and 67% disapproval. In fact, going back to 1983, the California state legislature has had positive yearly approval ratings in only 5 of the years reported and has had negative ratings for 13 years. Negative ratings have been assessed on the legislature as a whole in 19 of the last 20 twenty snapshots taken by Field going back to April of 2003.

The legislature does its best with independent voters—the “nonpartisan/others,” who approve of it by 43% to 40%–although this is a small sample and is statistically a tie. It fares worst with registered Republicans (19% approval and 75% disapproval), but also gets negative ratings from Democrats (30% to 52%).

Direction of the State of California

This has plummeted to 23% saying we are on the right track and 68% saying we are on the wrong track. To get a full understanding of this question, here is what voters were asked: “Thinking about things here in this state, do you think things in California are generally going in the right direction or do you feel things are seriously off on the wrong track?” So this is not a mere quibble with where we are headed and two-thirds of California’s registered voters think we are “seriously” on the wrong track. Field’s numbers here are in accord with the PPIC survey results also obtained in May.

Looking at the crosstabs from the Sacramento Bee of today’s Field poll, there is an interesting gender gap that is statistically significant. Women are far more disapproving than men. By a margin of 24% to 58% women disapprove of the legislature as a whole. Men are more balmy, at 36% approval and 55% disapproval. Younger voters, in these crosstabs are also more positively disposed towards the legislature, although well within the margin of error for their subgroup.

What Does This All Mean? Analysis

Governor Schwarzenegger’s ratings in particular, and the legislature to a significant degree, are correlated to voters’ views about the overall direction of the state and the state’s budget problems as well.

The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) took a survey of a massive set of Californians (over 2000) at about the same time as the Field Poll. The PPIC numbers based on registered voters match up with Field’s and explain today’s findings.

From our previous article on the PPIC poll, we reported that: 76% of California likely voters consider the state budget situation in California to be a “big problem” and only 35% are satisfied with Governor Schwarzenegger’s budget plan. When it comes to making both the tough choices that need to be made on taxes and spending, 36% favor the approach of Democrats in the legislature, followed by 22% for the Governor, and only 19% for legislative Republicans. 47%, the largest segment wants the California budget gap deal with through a mix of spending cuts and tax increases.

We also reported that when asked who’s approach they prefer to make the “tough choices involved in the state budget, both in deciding how much Californians should pay in taxes and how to fund state programs,” PPIC found that Democratic legislators come out on top with 36%, then the Governor at 22%, followed by Republican legislators at 19%. This is fairly consistent with poll numbers from January.

And we reported that PPIC found that only 35% of likely voters favor Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget and 57% disapprove of it. Disapproval is overwhelming by Democrats (66% to 22%) and is also the choice of Independents (52% to 41%), but it garners support from 51% of Republicans. Still, there is dissatisfaction, even amongst Republicans at a level of 39%. This represents a dramatic drop for the Governor’s budget: He had 68% satisfaction for his budget in January of last year and 62% for his budget a year ago. This is the lowest level the Governor has ever had on the budget, eclipsing the 38% level in January of 2005.

Everyone takes credit when the California economy is doing well—at least for most of us. Governor Schwarzenegger in particular took credit for “fixing” the California economy shortly after he took office. Now, he is getting blamed for the budget in particular and the direction of the state by the voters. The same thing happened to Gray Davis when he had ballooning budget deficits—and to former Governors such as Pete Wilson when he was governor during a severe recession in the early 1990’s.

In analyzing the legislature’s ratings—many can—and will—try to paint this as a rejection of Democrats who are the majority in the state house. However, PPIC’s findings show a preference for the Democrat’s approach on the state budget. Poll after poll shows that Republicans as a party in this state are disfavored. While California voters may disapprove of the legislature as a whole, other polls show they approve of their own legislators by a higher margin.

Voters do not favor legislative bodies—which are often divided. This is true here in California and in voters opinions of Congress. Especially with the two-thirds’ vote requirement, there is often gridlock in getting important action taken by the California legislature. A small minority in either house can often block legislation. The U.S. Senate also has its filibuster rules where a minority can block action by the majority.

Voters also like strong figures—executives such as governors and attorney generals who can soar to higher ratings than the legislature or Congress as a whole can usually never attain. But they can also turn on executives and their ratings can tumble.

When it comes to the legislature, the problem seen by the voters is often with someone else’s choice. That is why Republicans as a whole have much higher negative ratings of the state legislature. They are in the minority—losing registration, and losing elections and don’t like the majority Democrats. Democrats and independents are also dissatisfied, but by a much lower margin—and have as their dissatisfaction the bodies as a whole and their inability to solve problems in a process that is inherently messy. Hence the famous quote of Bismark: “Those who like the law or sausage should watch neither being made.”

The true test of this analysis will lie in how the voters vote at the polls–who they choose today as their party’s nominees–and who they vote for in November. Most of those votes in November will be for Democrats—from the top of the ticket to the bottom—if any of these numerous polls are a guide.

The Governor’s numbers are far more serious—but he can rebound as well—if the California economy does better and the budget is not a total mess. Gray Davis got blamed for the mess in 2003. What goes around, comes around.

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