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Schwarzenegger Widely Popular; Pessimism About State Declines

Times Staff Writer

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has built a broad foundation of support among California voters as their anger over the state’s fiscal mess subsides in the recall’s aftermath, a new Los Angeles Times poll has found.

The Republican governor, now California’s most popular politician, scores favorable job ratings from a robust 65% of the state’s voters. Just 19% disapprove of his job performance.

Public satisfaction with Schwarzenegger comes amid a clear, if not overwhelming, improvement in voters’ mood since Gov. Gray Davis was ousted in October. With the state still bogged down in a budget crisis, just 32% say things are generally moving in the right direction in California. But that is up from a dismal 14% in August.

Pessimism over California’s economy has also waned: 56% of voters say it is doing badly, down from 71% in August. Nearly four in 10 voters say they have more confidence in the way state government is run, now that Schwarzenegger is governor. Only two in 10 had less confidence.

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Those findings, coupled with the growing popularity of two Schwarzenegger ballot measures -- which have jumped in support since he began airing ads on their behalf -- suggest that the governor’s political honeymoon endures.

“Schwarzenegger is helping bring the state out of its gloom,” Times polling director Susan Pinkus said. “Voters are willing to go the extra mile to help him -- and want him to do well.”

Even some who did not vote for Schwarzenegger acknowledged a level of admiration.

“I’m pleasantly surprised at the impact he seems to be having,” real estate executive Lisa Jordan, 33, a liberal Democrat who lives in Redondo Beach, said in a follow-up interview.

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With Schwarzenegger and Democratic lawmakers taking pains to work together and avert partisan deadlocks, the Legislature’s abysmal approval ratings have also rebounded, from 24% in August to 32% now.

“They’re talking to each other, the two parties, and that’s a switch right there,” said Republican Edward V. Mannix, 70, a retired San Jose car salesman who credits Schwarzenegger for the change. “That’s what he said he would do, and it appears for the most part that that goal is being met.”

With a laugh, he added: “Cooperation among the members of the California Legislature has not been at its strongest point.”

The poll did find pockets of relative weakness. The most stark: The governor’s leadership in Sacramento, like his action movies, appeals less to women than to men. While 59% of women rate him favorably, 71% of men say Schwarzenegger is doing a good job.

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In the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, the poll found former California Secretary of State Bill Jones, Schwarzenegger’s preferred candidate, leading each of his rivals by at least 3 to 1.

Among likely GOP primary voters, Jones is ahead with 44%; followed by former Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian, 12%; Toni Casey, former mayor of the Bay Area city of Los Altos Hills, 10%; and former U.S. Treasurer Rosario Marin, 8%.

But the race is fluid: 24% remain undecided and 36% of those who named a favored candidate say they might change their minds.

The survey, supervised by Pinkus, contacted 1,926 California residents, including 1,521 registered voters, from Feb. 18 to 22. Among them were 1,005 deemed likely to vote in the March 2 election, 413 of them in the Republican senatorial primary, which is open to independents.

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The margin of sampling error for registered voters and all likely voters is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For likely GOP primary voters, it is 5 points.

The overall strength of Schwarzenegger’s popularity is not unprecedented for a new governor.

Even Davis won favorable ratings from 67% of California voters at the end of his first year in office -- when the state’s economy was soaring.

Still, Schwarzenegger has coalesced support dramatically since the divisive recall race.

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The new governor, the poll found, draws support from across the gamut of California voters, though most strongly from the right.

He gets positive job ratings from 50% of liberals, 68% of moderates and 76% of conservatives; 52% of Democrats, 58% of independents and 86% of Republicans.

He wins favorable marks from a majority of voters of all ages and income groups, with and without a college education, from all regions of the state, even the predominantly liberal Bay Area, and from traditionally Democratic constituencies such as Latinos and union members.

“I don’t think he’d give up his job to do what he’s doing if he wasn’t for the people and didn’t want to fix our state,” said Kari Jobke, 31, of Loomis, northeast of Sacramento. Jobke is a homemaker registered as an independent.

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For weeks, Schwarzenegger has sought to harness his popularity in campaigning for Propositions 57 and 58, the two budget measures that he put on Tuesday’s ballot. And the poll suggests that the strategy is working.

Proposition 57, a $15-billion bond measure to cover the state’s debts, trailed badly in polls last month. But now, after millions of dollars in Schwarzenegger television ads, voters favor both measures, the poll found. Nearly one in four likely voters say Schwarzenegger’s support has made them more likely to vote yes.

But the poll found that not all voters -- particularly Democrats -- are in lock step with Schwarzenegger.

Nearly two-thirds of registered voters say his endorsement of the budget ballot measures will have no influence over their vote.

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“I’m not sure, given Gov. Schwarzenegger’s political experience, that I want to throw blind trust at him just because he comes on TV for 30 seconds and asks me to do stuff,” said Studio City music producer Patrick Anding, 32, a Democrat.

And voter reactions to Schwarzenegger’s moves on a controversial immigration issue are mixed. Seven in 10 back the repeal by him and the Legislature of a law allowing illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses.

“I don’t think that illegal aliens should have a driver’s license -- ever,” said Hilda Akins, 71, a retired Republican dress shop owner who lives in Jamestown in the Sierra foothills near Yosemite National Park. “If they have a driver’s license, it almost makes them legitimate. I know it’s harsh, but there has to be a line drawn someplace.”

But only 48% of voters support Schwarzenegger’s effort to reach agreement with Democrats on a new version of the legislation.

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He has said he would be willing to provide driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants if his public safety concerns were met. That concept is especially unpopular among the governor’s fellow Republicans; 62% of them oppose it.

In the U.S. Senate race, the poll offers encouragement to the Democratic incumbent, Barbara Boxer, who is seeking a third term. It found that 54% of California voters give her positive job ratings -- her highest score in any Times poll since she took office 11 years ago -- with 35% disapproving.

Nearly half of California voters view Boxer as more liberal than they are, and she is most popular among liberals and Democrats; roughly four out of five give her positive job ratings. But she also wins favorable ratings from solid majorities of moderates and independents.

And in a hypothetical November race against Jones, Boxer wins handily, 53% to 37%.

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California’s other Democratic senator, Dianne Feinstein, has dropped from her perch as the state’s most popular politician, thanks to Schwarzenegger. But she still gets a positive job rating from 59% of voters.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Voters approve

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Q: Since Arnold Schwarzenegger has become governor, do you have more or less confidence in the way the state government is run?

Among registered voters:

*--* More confidence 39% Less confidence 19% No effect 35% Don’t know 7%

*--*

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Source: Times poll

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

California politics

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Q: If the March 2 Republican primary for U.S. senator were being held today, for whom would you vote?

(Among likely Republican primary voters)

*--* Bill Jones 44% Howard Kaloogian 12% Toni Casey 10% Rosario Marin 8% Someone else 2% Don’t know 24%

*--*

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Q: If the November election for U.S. senator were being held today, for whom would you vote?

(Among all registered voters)

*--* Barbara Boxer 53% Bill Jones 37% Someone else 1% Don’t know 9%

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*--*

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Q: Do you believe Barbara Boxer’s views are generally more liberal, more conservative or about the same as yours?

(Among registered voters)

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*--* All registered Democrats Independents Republicans voters More liberal 49 31 34 80 More conservative 10 13 16 2 Same 30 46 34 10 Don’t know 11 10 16 8

*--*

*

Q: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Arnold Schwarzenegger is handling his job as governor?

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*--* Schwarzenegger Gray Davis Now 8/03+ 2/00++ Approve 65 25 67 Disapprove 19 70 20 Don’t know 16 5 13

*--*

+Six weeks before the recall election

++ Davis’ highest job approval rating

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Q: Since Arnold Schwarzenegger has become governor, do you have more or less confidence in the way the state government is run?

(Among registered voters)

*--* All registered Democrats Independents Republicans voters More confidence 39 20 33 67 Less confidence 19 31 18 5 No effect 35 42 41 24 Don’t know 7 7 8 4

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*--*

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Job approval ratings:

(Among registered voters)

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*--* Approve Disapprove U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer 54% 35% U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein 59% 28% Legislature 32% 49%

*--*

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Q: Are things in California generally going in the right direction or are they off on the wrong track?

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(Data could not be translated and was not retained)

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Q: The economy in California these days is doing:

(Among registered voters)

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*--* Now August 03+ Well 42% 28% Badly 56% 71%

*--*

+Six weeks before the recall election

All results shown are among registered voters unless otherwise indicated. Percentages may not total 100% where some answer categories are not shown.

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How the poll was conducted:

The Los Angeles Times Poll contacted 1,926 California residents, including 1,521 registered voters, by telephone, Feb. 18-22. Among registered voters were 1,005 voters considered likely to vote in the March 2 primary, including 413 Republican Senate primary voters (which is open to independents). Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the state. Random digit dialing techniques were used so listed and unlisted numbers were contacted. The sample of all California adults was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age and education. The margin of sampling error for all adults is plus or minus 2 percentage points and among all registered and likely primary voters it is 3 points; for Republican primary voters it is 5 points. For certain subgroups the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results can also be affected by factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish.

Times staff writer Julie Tamaki contributed to this report.

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