Californians give Gov. Jerry Brown a record-high job approval rating and his budget proposal strong bipartisan support, according to a statewide survey released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California, with funding from the James Irvine Foundation.
As this gubernatorial election year begins, 58 percent of adults and 60 percent of likely voters approve of the way the governor is handling his job, up from December (47 percent adults, 49 percent likely voters approved). Today, his rating is 76 percent among Democrats and 57 percent among independents, while 36 percent of Republicans approve. More than half of women (55 percent) and men (61 percent) and majorities across age, education, and income groups approve of Brown’s job performance.
The state Legislature’s approval rating is a near-record 42 percent among adults and is at 33 percent among likely voters. Both ratings are similar to December. Asked to rate the job performance of their own state legislators, 48 percent of adults and 45 percent of likely voters approve.
Thanks to an improving economy and Proposition 30 tax revenues, Brown is projecting budget surpluses for the next several years. His budget for 2014-15 calls for more spending on K-12 and higher education, and modest increases in health and human services, prisons and courts. It also includes $11 billion to pay down state debt and puts $1.6 billion in the state’s rainy day fund.
When read a brief description of the proposal, 77 percent of adults and 75 percent of likely voters favor it (18 percent adults, 20 percent likely voters oppose). PPIC has gauged support for Brown’s budget proposals each January since he took office, and this year’s plan has the highest levels of support. Majorities across parties (90 percent Democrats, 75 percent independents, 66 percent Republicans) favor it, as do majorities across regions and demographic groups.
The governor’s proposal to change the rainy day fund also has the support of most Californians (69 percent adults, 64 percent likely voters) when they are read a brief description. Brown is calling for a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would include basing deposits on capital gains revenues, creating a reserve for public schools, and setting limits on how funds can be withdrawn during a recession. The survey finds that majorities across parties, regions, and demographic groups support the plan.
“The idea of having a rainy day fund is highly popular in the context of a drought emergency and budget surplus this year,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “It’s noteworthy that many Californians continue to worry about the state’s fiscal and economic recovery.”
As the new legislative session begins, Californians are most likely (26 percent) to name jobs and the economy as the issue facing the state that is most important for the governor and legislature to work on this year, followed by education (13 percent) and the state budget (10 percent). These same three issues were cited as most important last year and in 2011, the year Brown began his term. Other top issues in the current survey: immigration (9 percent), water and drought (7 percent), and health care reform (6 percent). The share of Californians who mention water and drought is a record high, with Central Valley residents the most likely to consider it the most important issue (18 percent).
“The public has a long to-do list for the governor and legislature to work on this year,” Baldassare said. “Californians have added drought, immigration, and health care reform to the perennial issues of the economy, education, and the budget.”
Optimism That State Leaders Can Be Productive This Year
Most Californians (57 percent) say the governor and legislature will be able to work together and accomplish a lot this year. Likely voters are slightly less optimistic, with 51 percent holding this view.
Residents are more positive about the state’s budget situation than they have been since May 2007, before the recession. Half (50 percent) consider it a big problem (40 percent somewhat of a problem). Likely voters are slightly more likely to see it as a big problem (56 percent big problem, 36 percent somewhat of a problem). Just 7 percent of residents and 6 percent of likely voters say it is not a problem. More Californians would prefer to use the state’s projected budget surplus to pay down debt and build up the reserve (54 percent) than to restore some of the funding for social service programs that was cut in recent years (42 percent).
When asked to consider increasing spending on the four major budget areas, residents are most likely to favor doing so for K-12 education (81 percent), followed by higher education (75 percent) and health and human services (66 percent). A large majority (72 percent) oppose increasing spending on prisons and corrections (23 percent favor).
Past surveys have shown that Californians consistently prioritize spending for public schools over other areas. Just as consistently, surveys have found that majorities are not aware that K-12 education gets the largest amount of state funding. When asked to identify the largest area of state spending, just 17 percent of adults and 21 percent of likely voters correctly choose K-12. They are more likely to select prisons and corrections (38 percent adults, 37 percent likely voters) than any other major budget area. Asked about the state’s single largest revenue source, just 26 percent of adults and 31 percent of likely voters correctly choose the personal income tax. Similar shares choose the sales tax (30 percent adults, 30 percent likely voters). Just 6 percent of Californians can identify both the top spending and top revenue areas.
Support for Split Roll, State Spending Limit, Pension Reform
The survey asked about a number of fiscal reform ideas.
» State spending limit. Most (60 percent adults, 62 percent likely voters) favor strictly limiting the amount of money that state spending could increase every year.
» Changes to Proposition 13. Adults are divided about lowering the vote threshold to pass local special taxes from two-thirds to 55 percent (48 percent favor, 45 percent oppose). Among likely voters, 45 percent are in favor and 51 percent are opposed. There is more support for the idea of a split roll, which would tax commercial properties according to current market value (58 percent adults, 59 percent likely voters favor).
» State pension system. Overwhelming majorities (82 percent adults, 85 percent likely voters) say the amount of money spent on public employee pension or retirement systems is at least somewhat of a problem for state and local government budgets. One idea to deal with the situation is to change the pension system for new employees from defined benefits to a defined contribution system similar to a 401(k) plan. Asked about this idea, 71 percent of adults and 73 percent of likely voters support it, with strong majorities across parties in favor.
Steep Drop in Job Approval for Obama, Congress From a Year Ago
Most Californians (60 percent) believe President Barack Obama and Congress will be unable to work together and accomplish a lot this year. This is a striking contrast to January 2009 — when 81 percent said the new president and Congress would be able to work together — and to Californians’ optimism about cooperation among their state leaders.
Obama’s job approval among California residents — 53 percent — is near its record low of 51 percent in December. Among likely voters, his job approval is at a new low of 46 percent. Approval of Congress among California adults is 26 percent, up from 18 percent in December. It is lower among likely voters — 15 percent.
Half of Californians (51 percent) approve of their own representative in the U.S. House, (37 percent disapprove). Likely voters are more divided (48 percent approve, 42 percent disapprove). Slim majorities of adults approve of the job their U.S. senators are doing: 52 percent approve of Sen. Dianne Feinstein (49 percent likely voters approve) and 53 percent approve of Sen. Barbara Boxer (48 percent likely voters approve).
During PPIC’s interviewing period, Congress approved a $1.1 billion spending bill to fund the government. Now, Congress faces a February deadline to address the debt limit. How do Californians rate the way federal leaders are handling these issues? They are divided when asked about the president: 45 percent approve and 48 percent disapprove. In contrast, 56 percent of California adults approved of the way Obama handled these issues in January 2013, after the fiscal cliff was averted. Today, likely voters are more negative, with 56 percent disapproving of Obama’s handling of the deficit and debt ceiling. Republicans in Congress fare worse on this question among Californians: just 23 percent of adults and 16 percent of likely voters approve of the way congressional Republicans are handling these issues.
Most Without Health Insurance Say They Plan to Buy It
Californians remain divided about the Affordable Care Act (44 percent generally favorable, 46 percent generally unfavorable). While the law’s implementation has been a success in California compared with other states, fewer than half of adults say Covered California, the online exchange, works well (12 percent very well, 34 percent fairly well, 23 percent not too well, 16 percent not at all well, 15 percent don’t know). Adults without insurance are more likely to say it is not working well (50 percent) than those with insurance (36 percent).
Among racial/ethnic groups, blacks (62 percent) are more likely than Latinos (52 percent), Asians (45 percent) and whites (39 percent) to say it is working well. Among adults with health insurance, 6 percent say they bought it themselves. Of these, 25 percent report buying it through the exchange. Among the uninsured, 72 percent say they plan to get health insurance this year in accordance with the law, 18 percent say they will not and 9 percent are unsure.
Amid renewed talk of immigration reform, overwhelming majorities of adults (83 percent) and likely voters (82 percent) favor a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who wait a certain period of time, pay fines and back taxes, pass criminal background checks and learn English. There is strong majority support for this proposal across parties (89 percent Democrats, 84 percent independents, 74 percent Republicans).
California leaders have recently acted to allow these immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses and practice as attorneys. How do residents feel about their state government making its own policies — separate from the federal government — to address the needs of immigrants here illegally? Most adults (58 percent) and a slim majority of likely voters (53 percent) are in favor of the idea.
More Key Findings
» Few paying close attention to gubernatorial candidates — Only 7 percent of likely voters say they are very closely following news about the candidates. Given a choice between Brown and Republican Tim Donnelly 53 percent of likely voters would favor Brown and 17 percent would vote for Donnelly, with 28 percent unsure.