PPIC Poll: Californians Gloomy on Future–From Economy to State and Federal Government9 min read


After a brief respite in January when attitudes were rosy with a housing market stronger than it is today–and in the afterglow of a productive 2006 California legislative session and the resurgence of Democrats taking over the House of Representatives and the Senate–the mood of the California electorate has soured. This, according to an extensive survey by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) of 2003 California adult residents. This very large sampling between September 4 and 11has a margin of error of 2% as to Californians and 3% as to likely voters and the results are fairly emphatic:

Let’s first look at the numbers and then try to understand why Californians have these opinions:

Here are the numbers on California as a state:

• A strong majority of Californians (59%) expect bad economic times in the coming year—a 10-point increase since June (49%) and a 20-point increase since January (39%)

• Half of Californians (50%) today believe the state is generally headed in the wrong direction—a 13-point jump since January (37%).

• Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has had positive ratings from a majority of residents since January, is now seeing a more lukewarm response: Half (50%) approve of how he’s handling his job—an 8-point drop since January. Approval of how he is handling the state budget has also dropped (40% approve today, 47% approved in January). His numbers with likely voters, has however, remained high.

• Only 34 percent of all Californians and 29 percent of likely voters approve of how the legislature is handling its job, a decline among both since January and after the 2006 session when it was high by recent standards–approval by all adults 40% and likely voters 37%). Approval of how state legislators as a whole are handling the budget is even lower, with 25 percent of residents and 23 percent of likely voters giving them positive marks.

• Perhaps more telling is how folks rate their own individual legislators. This number that has been a bit more stable—but has now dropped from 47 percent in March to 41 percent among all adults, and from 46 percent to 39 percent among likely voters.

• A large majority of both Californians (69%) and likely voters (75%) say they trust the government to do what is right only some or none of the time. Even worse, only 29 percent trust the government to do what is right most or all of the time, close to the lowest proportion registered by PPIC’s Statewide Survey since October 2003 (27%), when the recall election of then Governor Gray Davis was under way. Likely voters are even more suspicious, with only 25 percent saying they trust the government most or all of the time.

• 69 percent of Californians and 73 percent of likely voters feel state government is run by a few big interest groups and not for the greater good. This includes strong majorities across all political parties (Democrats 73%, Republicans 70%, and independents 70%).

• More than half of all Californians and likely voters (53% each) say the state wastes a lot of taxpayer money.

Here are the numbers on how Californians feel about the federal government:

• 75% of Californians and 81 percent of likely voters say they trust the federal government to do what’s right only some or none of the time

• 71% of Californians and 77% of likely voters say the federal government is run by a few big interest groups and not for the benefit of all people. This view is shared by strong majorities of Democrats (79%), independents (78%), and Republicans (65%).

• President Bush’s support level is at it’s lowest ever in the PPIC poll at 27% of Californians, down from 29% in the last survey. 69% of Californians and likely voters disapprove of the way President Bush is handling his job. A huge majority (88%) of Democrats and a very strong majority of independents (74%) disapprove of Bush’s job performance, while a majority of Republicans (58%) approve.

• Senator Dianne Feinstein’s approval among likely voters is down seven points since March and stands at 52% with 32% disapproving. This mirrors the 7-point drop in support for Senator Barbara Boxer among likely voters (53% in March to 46% today) with 34% disapproving.

• Californians by 57% to 33% and likely voters by 66% to 28% disapprove of Congress as a whole and the level of disapproval has risen significantly across political parties since January–
• 53% to 69% with Republicans; 49% to 64% independents; and 40% to 53% amongst Democrats.

• But Californians and voters are split on the way Nancy Pelosi is handling her job as Speaker of the House. Californians approve by 45% to 36%, but likely voters are split with 44% approving and 45% disapproving. Pelosi has her highest approval level–56% in the San Francisco Bay Area.

• When asked about their own representative in the U.S. House, voters are approving. Bu 50% to 30% all Californians approve and an even wider margin 54% to 32% of likely voters approve of their house representative.

• The numbers on Iraq are just poisonous. Only 24% of Californians and 26% of likely voters say things are going at least somewhat well in Iraq.

• Only 25 percent of all Californians believe the surge has made the situation better, 70% disagree–27 percent believe it has made things worse and 43 percent don’t think it has had any effect. 32% of likely voters feel it has made matters better while 64% disagree.

• 68% of Californians and 61% of likely voters want the United States to set a timetable to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq in 2008. There is a huge partisan divide: Republicans oppose a timetable (63%) and Democrats and independents support one (86% and 64%, respectively).

• 24% of Californians and 27% of likely voters approve of the way Bush is handling the war in Iraq while 72% of Californians and 68% of likely voters disapprove of his management of the war.

What’s Going on Here?

It is easy to surmise that the extreme low levels of trust in the federal government–from generic questions of whether it can be trusted to do the right thing and whether it is wasting money to President Bush and Congress as an institution–are largely based on the war in Iraq.

Bush’s numbers on Iraq and other responses on the war indicate it is at a historic level of negativity. Many Democrats are upset that the Congress, even though in Democratic hands, has been unable or unwilling to end the war. So, if you look at the numbers, Democrats are the most approving of Congress as an institution at a level of 38% approval and 53% disapproval. Republicans are even more disapproving by a 68% to 24% margin as are independents 64% to 26%.

However, as to one’s own Representative in the House, there is a 20 point margin of approval or disapproval. And this is in all regions of the state.

And statewide and in all regions except “other Southern California” where she is tied, Nancy Pelosi is approved more than disapproved–not just in the San Francisco Area, her home and generally the most liberal area in the state at 56% to 34%, but even in the Central Valley by 44% to 405%.

It’s also easy to speculate in an informed fashion that the legislature as a whole is unpopular because of the protracted budget impasse and because of a failure to reform health care and have as generally productive a 2007 session as was the case in 2006 when major minimum wage, global warming, and other legislation was passed and the Democratic leaders of the legislature toured the state with Governor Schwarzenegger in support of massive infrastructure bonds.

One can compare the state legislature’s ratings to those in 2005
–the year of the special election–and the first year of the last session when only 25% of Californians and 23% of likely voters said they approved of the legislature, 6 and 9 points below where they are now. If the legislature is able to pass a health reform bill that the Governor will sign, and able to deal with water in the special session and have a productive year of accomplishment in 2008 (like 2006) then their generic rating should go up.

What I find particularly interesting here is the intersection of attitudes on the state and federal level. Are there malcontents–or wise cynics–out there who are disillusioned with government at all levels and who tar the state and federal governments and electeds at both levels with the same broad brush?

Well, there are some interesting, and sometimes conflicting results in this mashup.

The attitude towards Congress as a whole is significantly more negative–with only 33% approving and 57% disapproving compared with 34% and 51% for the legislature. That’s 6 points more disapproving. The breakdown is with Democrats and Republicans more disapproving of the Congress, but with independents tarring and feathering Congress with disapproval at a much greater level (64%) than they do the state legislature (52%).

On the other hand, Californians (50% to 30%) and likely voters (54% to 32%) approve of their own member of Congress and this is in all regions of the state. The picture is decidedly more negative when they are asked about their own state legislators. Californians are basically split on their own state legislators, supporting them 41% to 40%, and when it comes to likely voters 45% say they disapprove compared with 39% support. Those most happy with their own legislator are in the San Francisco Bay Area (47 to 32%) and those most unhappy are in the Central Valley (46% disapprove and 37% approve).

So, voters seemingly like their Member of Congress but not Congress as a whole, and while they disapprove of the state legislature to a lesser degree than Congress, they say they are not approving of their own legislators that they send to Sacramento.

There also appears to be more of a feeling that on cannot trust the federal government to do the right thing than there is as to state government. 23% say that they can trust the feds just about always or most of the time to do the right thing and the figure is 29% for the state government. And the response is more negative as to the federal government being pretty much run by a few big interests as opposed to the state government–although they both lose. Curiously, Republicans are more negative on the state being controlled by a few big interests than the federal government, but both Democrats and independents are more negative as to the feds.

And finally, there is a stronger feeling by 12 points that the federal government wastes a lot of the money paid in taxes (65%) as compared to those who say that about the state (53%). Is this due to Iraq causing the Democrats to feel Washington wastes more money?

Californians are not happy campers at the moment.


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