California voters angry, irritated, pessimistic says new survey

March 24, 2010 9:00pm

•  Legislature’s approval almost non-existent

•  ‘Creating an unusual amount of political turbulence this election year’

California voters likely to go to the polls this year give record-low marks to officials in Sacramento and Washington, and most are unhappy with way the two-party system is working -- a combustible combination in a campaign season, says a new survey by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

For the first time in PPIC survey history, the state legislature's approval rating among likely voters has sunk to single digits – just 9 percent.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's record-low approval rating of 25 percent hovers near Gov. Gray Davis' lowest level before recall (21 percent in June 2003), says the survey.

Likely voters give their own state legislators a 27 percent rating, close to the record-low 25 percent last December.
Congress gets an approval rating of 14 percent -- a 15-point drop since January (29 percent) -- from likely voters in the survey, which was taken during the heated debate about health care reform.

Asked to rate the performance of their own representative in the U.S. House, likely voters are more favorable: 44 percent approve. But this is a record low.

President Obama fares better, but his approval rating has also dipped to a new low of 52 percent. With jobs and the economy on their minds, just 36 percent say President Obama's economic policies have made the economy better, 31 percent say they've had no effect so far, and 28 percent say they've made conditions worse. In this survey, taken just before the jobs bill passed, 66 percent of likely voters say that Congress and the Obama administration are not doing enough to create jobs.

“Pessimism about the economy, disdain for the major parties, and low approval ratings for elected officials are creating an unusual amount of political turbulence this election year," says Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. "The candidates cannot take any voters for granted -- regardless of their party identification and past loyalties -- because Californians want answers to problems that won't go away."

Who’s ahead to be the next governor

Margaret Cushing "Meg" Whitman has bolstered her lead over Stephen Leo "Steve" Poizner by 20 points since January among likely voters in the Republican primary. Today, 61 percent favor her, compared to 11 percent for Mr. Poizner, whose level of support is unchanged from January (Ms. Whitman 41 percent, Mr. Poizner 11 percent). Far fewer are undecided (25 percent today, 44 percent January). Ms. Whitman, who has advertised much more heavily on radio and TV than Mr. Poizner, has seen an increase in support among women (34 percent January, 61 percent today). Republican primary voters include the 12 percent of independent voters who say they will choose a Republican ballot.

In a potential November matchup, Ms. Whitman leads Democratic candidate Edmund Gerald "Jerry" Brown, Jr., 44 percent to 39 percent, with 17 percent undecided. In January, Mr. Brown held a similar lead (41 percent Mr. Brown, 36 percent Ms. Whitman, 23 percent undecided) over Ms. Whitman. Although Mr. Brown led among independents in January (36 percent to 28 percent), Ms. Whitman now holds the plurality of support (37 percent Mr. Brown, 43 percent Ms. Whitman). One in five independents (20 percent) and Democrats (18 percent) are undecided, compared to 13 percent of Republicans.

Mr. Brown officially entered the race a week before PPIC began the March survey.
Mr. Brown holds a 15-point lead in a potential matchup with Mr. Poizner (46 percent Mr. Brown, 31 percent Mr. Poizner, 23 percent undecided), similar to January (44 percent Mr. Brown, 29 percent Mr. Poizner, 27 percent undecided). Mr. Brown has a 13-point lead among independents (41 percent Mr. Brown, 28 percent Mr. Poizner, 31 percent undecided).

Senate race could be close

The Republican primary race for U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer's seat has tightened since January, when Thomas J. "Tom" Campbell led both Carleton S. "Carly" Fiorina and Charles S. "Chuck" DeVore among Republican likely voters (27 percent Mr. Campbell, 16 percent Ms. Fiorina, 8 percent Mr. DeVore).

Today, Mr. Campbell and Ms. Fiorina are in a close race (24 percent Ms. Fiorina, 23 percent Mr. Campbell), and Mr. DeVore's level of support is unchanged (8 percent). In this campaign -- which has seen little advertising -- the largest percentage of likely voters (44 percent) is undecided, similar to January (48 percent).

In hypothetical November matchups, Ms. Boxer is deadlocked with Mr. Campbell (43 percent to 44 percent), with 13 percent undecided. A plurality of independents support Mr. Campbell (48 percent Mr. Campbell, 32 percent Ms. Boxer, 20 percent undecided). Since January, support for Ms. Boxer has dropped 10 points among independents, and Mr. Campbell's support has increased 11 points.

Half of women support Ms. Boxer (50 percent vs. 38 percent Mr. Campbell) and half of men favor Mr. Campbell (51 percent vs. 36 percent Ms. Boxer).
Ms. Boxer is in a similarly tight race with Ms. Fiorina (44 percent to 43 percent), with 13 percent undecided. Among independents, Ms. Fiorina leads Ms. Boxer (41 percent Ms. Fiorina, 35 percent Ms. Boxer, 24 percent undecided).

Women favor Ms. Boxer by 14 points (51 percent Ms. Boxer, 37 percent Ms. Fiorina) and men favor Ms. Fiorina by 13 points (49 percent Ms. Fiorina, 36 percent Ms. Boxer).
In a potential race with Mr. DeVore, Ms. Boxer has a slight lead (46 percent Ms. Boxer, 40 percent Mr. DeVore, 14 percent undecided). Ms. Boxer holds a sizable lead over Mr. DeVore among women (53 percent to 34 percent) and younger voters (52 percent to 30 percent), while Mr. DeVore leads among men (47 percent to 39 percent).

Voters want to change the primary system

Asked about another of their June ballot choices, a majority of likely voters (56 percent) say they will vote yes on Proposition 14, the measure to change the primary election process, while 27 percent would vote no and 17 percent are undecided.

This constitutional amendment would allow voters to choose a candidate regardless of political party, with the top two vote-getters proceeding to the general election even if both are from the same party.

Half of all Californians favor same-sex marriage

Among all Californians, residents are more likely to favor (50 percent) than oppose (45 percent) same-sex marriage for the first time in the PPIC Statewide Surveys. Support among all adults has never surpassed 45 percent since the question was first asked in January 2000.

There are clear partisan divisions: majorities of Democrats (64 percent) and independents (55 percent) are in favor, and most Republicans (67 percent) are opposed.

There is much more consensus on the issue of gays and lesbians in the military. In the wake of President Obama's announcement that he would like to repeal the federal "don't ask, don't tell" policy passed in 1993, 75 percent of Californians say that gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly in the military.

Immigration reform needed now, says survey

A strong majority of Californians (69 percent) say U.S. immigration policy is in need of major changes, and voters across party lines concur.

Most (70 percent) say illegal immigrants who have been living and working in the United States for at least two years should be allowed to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status, while 25 percent believe those immigrants should be deported back to their native countries, a similar finding to the six other times the question has been asked.

A majority of adults (54 percent) believe that immigrants are a benefit to California because of their hard work and job skills, while 39 percent feel immigrants are a burden because they use public services.

In the 13 times PPIC has asked the question, more Californians have said immigrants are a benefit than a burden. But party line divisions are stark on this question: 64 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of independents view immigrants as a benefit, and 68 percent of Republicans view them as a burden.


The PPIC Statewide Survey 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 March 9–16,. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents' preferences. The sampling error is ±2 percent for all adults, ±2.5 percent for the 1,574 registered voters, ±3 percent for the 1,102 likely voters, and ±5 percent for the 410 Republican primary likely voters who were asked questions about the senate and governor's races. It is ±4 for the 628 likely voters interviewed about Proposition 14 starting on March 12.

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