The perception that the state’s economy is dismal and that California is going off on the wrong track, is also fueling Davis’ unpopularity. Californians are angry about the record $38 billion shortfall in the budget and the economic woes of the state and that anger is directed at the governor. Davis gets very poor ratings for his handling his job overall, the state budget, the economy, energy and education. To add insult to injury, Californians also don’t think he has shown any leadership qualities.
Davis’ job rating has not changed since the Times Poll asked the question in March. Two thirds of those surveyed in the current poll disapprove of the way the governor is handling his job, (including nearly half of all respondents who strongly disapprove) while more than a fifth approve (including only 5% who strongly approve). Just 11% had no opinion. There is not one demographic group giving Davis a positive job rating. The governor’s constituency base is no different than how most Californians feel about Davis’ job performance – majorities each of Democrats (54%), self-identifying liberals (52%), moderates (66%), Democratic women (56%), Democratic men (51%), men (70%), women (64%), blacks (55%) and Latinos (63%) give the governor a negative rating. A full 72% of white respondents disapprove of Davis handling his job.
In a comparable time for former Governor Pete Wilson when the economy was perceived as doing badly by most Californians, his negative job approval ratings were similar to Davis’ but the negatives did not cross over into his Republican base. In a Times Poll conducted in October 1992, Wilson’s job approval among all Californians were 28% vs. 61%. But a majority of Republicans (51%) approved of his job performance.
More respondents are disapproving of the governor handling the state budget than with his overall job performance – 74% disapprove, while 17% approve and 9% are undecided. Again, no subgroup is pleased with Davis on this issue nor for that matter on any issue the Times Poll tested. More than seven in 10 respondents give a negative rating on the governor’s handling the economy, while roughly a fifth approve; more than three out of five surveyed also give a poor job rating on Davis’ handling education, while more than a fifth approve; and three-fifths of Californians disapprove of the governor handling the energy situation in the state, while almost three in 10 approve.
The State Legislature and Boxer/Feinstein Job Ratings
The state Legislature does not fare any better than the governor. More than half of the public disapprove of the way the Legislature is handling its job, while about three in 10 approve. Their job performance in handling the state budget is perceived as dismal (similar to the governor’s poor ratings). Almost seven in 10 of respondents give a negative rating to the Legislature in its handling of the budget, while about one in seven approve.
Considering that Barbara Boxer has been a U.S. Senator for 10 years, a large group of Californians have no opinion about her. About a third of respondents say they don’t have an opinion about the senator, but 42% approve of the way she is doing her job and 26% disapprove. Among registered voters – 44% approve of her job performance, 30% disapprove and 26% are undecided. Unlike the governor, almost two thirds of Democrats give Boxer positive ratings, as do more than three out of five liberals. For Boxer, there is a small gender gap with 45% of women giving her job performance a positive rating and men splitting between a 39% positive rating and 32% a negative rating. A large plurality (48%) of independents also give her a positive rating, as do 45% of political moderates.
Boxer is seen as the more liberal than the other Senator from California, Dianne Feinstein. Nearly three quarters of liberal Democrats approve of her handling her job, while on the other end – two thirds of conservative Republicans disapprove.
Dianne Feinstein, however, is a more popular elected official in California. More than half of all respondents approve of the way Dianne Feinstein is handling her job as U.S. Senator, while less than a quarter disapprove and 25% have no opinion. Among registered voters, her rating goes up slightly to 57% approve vs. 25% disapprove and 18% undecided. She receives positive ratings not just from whom you would expect – Democrats (71%), liberals (69%), independents (61%), self-identifying moderates (55%), women (54%), blacks (67%), Latinos (44%) and whites (54%), but also from those you would not expect – conservatives (44%), men (52%), southern California, excluding Los Angeles county (42%) and northern California, excluding the Bay Area (56%). Republicans are not as disapproving of her (38% vs. 47%) as they are of her sister senator, Barbara Boxer (16% vs. 60%).
Almost two thirds of those surveyed believe California is seriously off on the wrong track, compared to about a quarter who say the state is going in the right direction. These results are quite similar to results found in a March Times Poll.
The public is well aware of the financial crisis that California is experiencing and their perceptions about the economy are gloomy. This feeling of gloom is projected into the future. One of the ways this is shown is by the budget shortfall issue replacing education as the most important problem facing the state. Besides the budget shortfall and education as the number one and two problems facing the state, unemployment and the economy are tied for third. Nineteen percent of African-Americans and 18% of Latinos mentioned unemployment, while just 8% of whites mention this problem. A third of whites mention the budget shortfall as the most important problem, as do 29% of blacks and 18% of Latinos; three out of 10 Latinos cite education as the most important problem, compared to 19% of blacks and 20% of whites.
In addition to the budget crisis and the state going off on the wrong track, nearly two thirds of those surveyed say the state’s economy is doing fairly badly (37%) and very badly (28%). And almost two out of five of these respondents blame Governor Davis for this problem. A fifth of all Californians blame the state Legislature and 16% blame President Bush and his economic policies. Even 35% of Democrats and 27% of liberals blame the governor for the state’s economic problems, but these two subgroups also blame President Bush and his economic policies for the state’s economic crisis (27% and 29% respectively). One more thing to add to the economic gloom expressed by many Californians is the worry of losing their job. A third of respondents who are now working are concerned about losing their jobs and that figure rises substantially to 42% among black workers, 41% among working Latinos and 40% of those respondents whose household income falls below $40,000.
For many, a prognosis for an economically healthy California does not look good. Just about a fifth of respondents expect the state’s economy to get worse over the next six months, while 29% think it will get better. However, nearly half believe the economy will remain the same. Unfortunately, 65% of these respondents think the economy is doing badly, thus expecting more of the same.
Nearly three out of 10 surveyed also expect the state’s unemployment rate to get worse over the next six months, while 23% think it will get better. Nearly half (46%) think the rate will probably remain the same.
In addition to the governor being blamed for the economic crisis in the state, Davis is also being blamed for the state going from a period of rapid budget growth to now facing a record budget shortfall. Nearly two out of five point their finger at Davis for the biggest shortfall to hit the state, followed by the Legislature at 12%. But as Davis said on NewsNight on CNN, “We have a tough problem in California because we require a two thirds vote to pass the Legislature which means we need both Republicans and Democrats to agree. When Governor Wilson had a problem ten years ago he split the problem in half and he had $7 billion worth of taxes and $7 billion worth of cuts, but now the Republicans don’t want to have any kind of taxes whatsoever, so we’re having a big fight out here...”
Yet when asked what should the state do to close the budget gap, the public is a lot more pragmatic and compromising than the legislators who represent them. More than two out of five respondents say the state should reduce spending, while the same share of the public say the state should do a combination of reducing spending and increasing taxes. Republicans in the state Legislature are refusing to pass the budget if there are any tax increases, such as a proposed half cent sales tax. But along with nearly half of Democrats, a third of Republicans want to do a combination of spending cuts and tax increases to help reduce the budget shortfall. The Democrats in the state Legislature are just as adamant about not wanting to make further cuts in government programs. But, 25% of liberal Democrats and 40% of moderate Democrats would consider reducing spending as a way to rein in the budget, while 47% of moderate Republicans and 60% of conservative Republicans would consider that as well. A third of Democrats and almost three-fifths of Republicans want to reduce spending. However, 22% of liberal Democrats (and 8% of moderate Democrats) would be willing to solely raise taxes to help pass the budget and reduce the shortfall, while their Republican counterparts will not raise taxes. Only 2% of conservative Republicans and 4% of moderate Republicans are willing to put taxes on the table.