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Voters Dislike 3 of Governor’s Ballot Measures

Times Staff Writer

Californians likely to vote in the special election Tuesday oppose three of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ballot measures, but Proposition 74, his plan to roll back teacher tenure, remains a tossup, according to a Los Angeles Times poll.

By and large, the survey found the public siding with organized labor and its Democratic allies in their clash with the Republican governor. Only about a third of likely voters favor Proposition 76, his flagship proposal to curb state spending, and Proposition 77, his plan to give retired judges the job of drawing district maps for lawmakers.

Also in trouble is Proposition 75, Schwarzenegger’s plan to require public-worker unions to get written consent from members each year before spending dues on political campaigns: 40% are for it, and 51% against it.

Beyond the ballot contests, the poll confirmed a steep dive in Schwarzenegger’s popularity. His 69% job approval rating a year ago has plummeted to 40%. He remains popular with Republicans, but his support among Democrats has all but collapsed.

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Like President Bush, another Republican with scant support beyond his party base, Schwarzenegger has polarized Californians, the poll found, with voters split starkly along party and ideological lines. Across the voter spectrum, his ratings are roughly in sync with Bush’s.

In a state dominated by Democrats, the partisan rupture is harming Schwarzenegger’s ballot measures. Democrats overwhelmingly oppose all four, while Republicans support all four, although not by such crushing margins.

More ambivalent are independents, a group that can sway California elections. Their support for Proposition 74, which would lengthen the time it takes teachers to get tenure from two years to five, is a key reason for the tight race on the measure.

Overall, the poll found, a core problem for Schwarzenegger is education, ranked by likely voters as the most important problem facing California. Most disapprove of the way Schwarzenegger has handled public schools -- and nearly half disapprove strongly.

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Labor has blistered Schwarzenegger for months on his handling of education, focusing on his breaking of a deal with educators to return $2 billion taken from public schools. In the poll, his education record is the No. 1 fault cited by those who give him negative job ratings.

“What has he done for education? He hasn’t done anything,” said poll respondent Ramiro Mojarro, 46, a Democrat, in a follow-up interview. “A lot of promises -- and nothing came through,” said Mojarro, a Pico Rivera construction project supervisor.

Despite the bleak results for Schwarzenegger, the poll found voter opinion on his ballot measures less than solid, heightening the possibility of wide shifts in the campaign’s final days. When read only the title of each initiative, more than one in five likely voters were undecided or had not heard enough to make up their minds. It was only after being read the full ballot description of each measure -- a traditional polling technique -- that many took a stand.

Schwarzenegger is actively campaigning for Propositions 74-77, arguing that they are central to his plan for reshaping the state capital.

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As for Schwarzenegger’s personal standing, the poll found that he scored well by at least one measure: A majority of likely voters say he has shown decisive leadership as governor. It also found that the state Legislature is even more unpopular than he is, with its approval score sinking to 21%, near its record low.

Yet the poll illustrated a wide array of troubles for Schwarzenegger in the special election -- and in his campaign next year for a second term. In matchups with two potential Democratic rivals, state Treasurer Phil Angelides and Controller Steve Westly, Schwarzenegger was virtually tied with each of them -- although most voters hold no clear impression of either.

One of Schwarzenegger’s main problems now is the severe downturn in his popularity among traditionally Democratic constituencies that helped elect him and gave him high marks during his first year in office. His approval rating among Democrats over the last year tumbled from 54% to 13%. Among Latinos, it slid from 66% to 26%. In the Bay Area, California’s most liberal region, his approval score dropped from 64% to 19%.

Schwarzenegger, who in the last year has engaged in extended spats with teachers and nurses, also suffers from a pronounced gender gap. Nearly half of men approve of his job performance, but barely a third of women approve -- a schism that has widened from a year ago. His poor standing among women is dragging his election agenda downward: More than half of women oppose each of Schwarzenegger’s ballot measures. Men tilt less heavily against three of them, but lean in favor of his teacher-tenure proposal.

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Also troublesome for the governor: A majority of elderly voters opposes each of the four initiatives. That could prove problematic for him if turnout is low, since seniors are relatively dependable voters whose share at the polls would then be larger.

Schwarzenegger’s strongest source of support remains Republicans and conservatives: More than seven in 10 of each give him positive job ratings.

“He’s very passionate, and to me he comes off as genuine,” said Republican Carlos San Roman, 39, an Orange entertainmentindustry consultant who voted by mail for three of Schwarzenegger’s initiatives. The husband and son of teachers, he voted against the tenure measure, but still views Schwarzenegger as a refreshing “outsider” in a state capital he sees as prone to overspending.

Yet even among Republicans, Schwarzenegger’s support is somewhat soft, particularly among the moderates who often break party ranks in statewide races. A quarter of all Republicans disapprove of Schwarzenegger’s job performance; nearly half of moderate Republicans disapprove.

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“I’m very disappointed with him,” said Republican Nancy Burkey, 56, a San Jose computer assembly worker on disability leave. She said Schwarzenegger was “taking money from the schools when he promised he wouldn’t.” She called the special election “totally ridiculous.”

The poll, indeed, found that half of likely voters disapprove of Schwarzenegger’s calling of the special election.

“Rather than going around the system and throwing his money at it, I would rather see him work within the system and change it,” said Los Angeles architect Janet Urman, a Democrat in her late 40s.

A plurality also say -- when offered the choice -- that the election is more of a ploy by Schwarzenegger to undermine Democratic lawmakers than an effort to enact needed reforms.

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Still, voters unhappy with Schwarzenegger are not entirely rejecting his agenda. Fifty-six percent are supporting at least one of his initiatives.

One comparatively bright spot for Schwarzenegger is Proposition 74, the tenure proposal. Likely voters are virtually split, with 45% for it and 47% against it.

“I just don’t see why you’re guaranteed a job, no matter what your performance is,” said retired Tulare creamery worker Ron Wendt, 74, a Republican who backs the measure. “I was never guaranteed a job.”

Another poll respondent, Michael Kahan, 37, a Mountain View Democrat who lectures on history and urban studies at Stanford University, said he opposed the tenure proposal because it failed to address the problems facing public schools.

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“If we want to attract better teachers, we should look at increasing their salaries,” he said.

On Proposition 75, the proposed restriction on union political spending, the poll suggests that labor has had some success in persuading voters that it is a ploy by Schwarzenegger to weaken unions and give business more clout in Sacramento. Given a choice, nearly two-thirds see it as an attempt to curb labor’s influence in state politics, while a quarter say it is designed to protect union members’ rights.

Still, nearly four in 10 union members support the measure, despite the current law allowing them to block their dues from being spent on political campaigns.

“For years I’ve been complaining about the fact that they’ve been taking my dues money and using it for causes I’m not for,” said Republican union member Barbara Tankus, 63, of Westlake Village, a Pierce College business office supervisor.

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The poll also found that conservatives and Republicans are the only major voter groups that believe that unions wield too much influence in California, underscoring the appeal of Schwarzenegger’s agenda to that segment of the electorate.

Those groups were also the only ones more likely to support his reelection because of his vetoes of bills that would allow same-sex couples to marry and grant driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants.

They also are his strongest supporters for Proposition 76, which would cap state spending growth, change minimum school funding rules and expand the governor’s budget powers.

“You just can’t keep writing checks out of your checkbook if you don’t have money in the bank,” San Roman said. “If I did that, I’d get in trouble.”

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But Proposition 76 is losing handily, with 31% supporting it and 60% opposed. Of all the governor’s proposals, it has generated the fiercest resistance: 92% of liberal Democrats are against Proposition 76. And even Republicans are split. Most conservative Republicans support it, but nearly six in 10 moderate Republicans oppose it.

“It’s giving too much power to one person,” said Tankus. “And I don’t think that schools are the place that he should be cutting.”

Proposition 77 fares only slightly better, with 34% in favor of the redistricting measure and 56% opposed. Schwarzenegger argues that the current system of state legislators setting district boundaries for themselves and members of Congress has rigged elections for incumbents. He enlisted U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to make that case in a television ad, while foes have portrayed it as a Republican power grab.

The survey, overseen by Times Poll Director Susan Pinkus, was conducted by telephone from Oct. 26 to Oct. 31. The survey interviewed 1,405 registered voters, including 940 deemed likely to vote. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for both groups.

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Times Poll Associate Director Jill Darling Richardson and data management supervisor Claudia Vaughn contributed to this report.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Propositions

Only Proposition 74 is now opposed by fewer than half of the likely voters.

*--* Yes No Proposition 74 (school teachers) 45% 47% Proposition 75 (union dues) 40% 51% Proposition 76 (state spending) 31% 60% Proposition 77 (redistricting) 34% 56%

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*--*

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

How voters rate the governor and Props. 74-77

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Among likely voters:

Q. If the November 2005 special election were being held today, how would you vote for these initiatives?

Proposition 74: increases the probationary period for public school teachers from two to five years and modifies the process by which school boards can dismiss a teaching employee who receives two consecutive unsatisfactory performance evaluations. Fiscal impact: it will have an unknown net effect on school districts’ costs for teacher compensation, performance evaluations, and other activities.

Yes: 45%

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No: 47%

Don’t know: 8%

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Proposition 75: prohibits public employee unions from using dues for political contributions without each individual employee’s prior consent. It excludes contributions benefiting charities or employees. It requires the unions to maintain and upon request report member political contributions to the Fair Political Practices Commission. Fiscal impact: probably minor state and local government implementation costs which may potentially be offset in part by revenues from fines and/or fees.

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Yes: 40%

No: 51%

Don’t know: 9%

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Proposition 76: limits state spending to the prior year’s level, plus three previous years’ average revenue growth. It changes minimum school funding requirements which were set by Proposition 98. It permits the governor, under specified circumstances, to reduce budget appropriations of the governor’s choosing. Fiscal impact: state spending will likely be reduced relative to current law due to additional spending limits and due to new powers granted to the governor. Reductions could apply to schools and could shift costs to other local governments.

Yes: 31%

No: 60%

Don’t know: 9%

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Proposition 77: will amend the state Constitution’s process for redistricting California’s Senate, Assembly, congressional and Board of Equalization districts. It requires that a three-member panel of retired judges be selected by legislative leaders. Fiscal impact: a one-time state redistricting cost totaling no more than $1.5 million and county costs in the range of $1 million. Also, potential reductions in future costs, but the net impact would depend on decisions by voters.

Yes: 34%

No: 56%

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Don’t know: 10%

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

All likely voters

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Now

Approve: 40%

Disapprove: 57%

October 2004

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Approve: 69%

Disapprove: 22%

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Democrats

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Now

Approve: 13%

Disapprove: 84%

October 2004

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Approve: 54%

Disapprove: 33%

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Independents / Others

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Now

Approvve: 38%

Disapprove: 62%

October 2004

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Approve: 67%

Disapprove: 26%

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Republicans

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Now

Approve: 71%

Disapprove: 26%

October 2004

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Approve: 92%

Disapprove: 6%

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Liberals

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Now

Approve: 12%

Disapprove: 86%

October 2004

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Approve: 47%

Disapprove: 37%

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Moderates

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Now

Approve: 31%

Disapprove: 68%

October 2004

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Approve: 72%

Disapprove: 21%

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Conservatives

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Now

Approve: 70%

Disapprove: 36%

October 2004

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Approve: 90%

Disapprove: 7%

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Whites

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Now

Approve: 50%

Disaprove: 49%

October 2004

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Approve:73%

Disapprove: 18%

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Latinos

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Now

Approve: 26%

Disapprove: 72%

October 2004

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Approve: 66%

Disapprove: 31%

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Q. Do you approve or disapprove of Arnold Schwarzenegger calling for a special election?

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All

Approve: 34%

Disapprove: 50%

Haven’t heard / don’t know: 16%

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Moderates

Approve: 25%

Disapprove: 56%

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Haven’t heard / don’t know: 19%

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Liberals

Approve: 13%

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Disapprove: 74%

Haven’t heard / don’t know: 13%

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Conservatives

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Approve: 59%

Disapprove: 26%

Haven’t heard / don’t know: 15%

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Q. Why do you disapprove of the way Arnold Schwarzenegger is handling his job as governor?* (asked of those who disapproved of Schwarzenegger’s job performance as governor)

Mishandling education: 23%

Broke his election promises: 13%

Beholden to special interests: 11%

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Called a special election: 10%

Public employee unions pegged as special interests: 10%

* Top five mentions, up to two replies accepted

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Q. How interested have you been in following the campaigns for and against the ballot initiatives?

*--* Sept. Oct Now 2003* 2002** Very interested 47% 73% 38% Somewhat interested 47% 27% 47% Uninterested 6% -- 15%

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* Just before the 2003 special election to recall Grey Davis

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** Just before the 2002 governor election

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Q. Things in California are generally:

*--* Oct. Aug Now 2004 2003 Going in right direction 26% 45% 14% Seriously off on wrong track 64% 45% 78%

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*--*

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Asked of registered voters:

Phil Angelides and Steve Westly are unknown to most California registered voters, but each would hold his own against Schwarzenegger if the November 2006 general election were held today.

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Schwarzenegger: 34%

Angelides: 37%

Someone else: 2%

Don’t know: 27%

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Q. If the November 2006 general election for governor of California were being held today and the candidates were Schwarzenegger, a Republican, and California State Treasurer Phil Angelides/ California State Controller Steve Westly, a Democrat, for whom would you vote?

Schwarzenegger: 33%

Westly: 38%

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Someone else: 2%

Don’t know: 27%

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Note: Some answers may not add up to 100% where some answer categories are not shown. -- indicates a value of 0.5% or less Poll results are also available at: https://www.latimes.com/timespoll

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How the Poll Was Conducted

The Times Poll contacted 1,778 adults in the state of California by telephone Oct. 26 through Oct. 31, 2005. Among them were 1,405 registered voters, of which 940 were deemed likely to vote in the November 8th special statewide election. Likely voters were determined by a screening process which included questions on intention to vote, certainty of vote, interest in the campaign, absentee voting and past voting history. Telephone numbers were chosen from a list of all exchanges in the state, and random digit dialing techniques allowed listed and unlisted numbers to be contacted. Multiple attempts were made to contact each number. Additional Latino voters were contacted in a separate random sample to allow more accurate analysis of their subgroup. Adults in the entire sample were weighted slightly to conform with their respective census proportions by sex, ethnicity, age, education, region, and party registration figures from the California Secretary of State. The margin of sampling error for registered voters and likely voters is plus or minus three percentage points. For certain subgroups, the error margin may be somewhat higher. Poll results may also be affected by factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. While voters of all racial and ethnic groups were interviewed and are included as part of the overall results, some may comprise too small a subgroup of the sample to be separately reported. Interviews in all samples were conducted in both English and Spanish.

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Source: Times Poll


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