Poll finds California voters trust themselves more than legislators

After an election year shaped by anxiety about the economy and frustration with gridlock in Sacramento, a new survey by the Public Policy Institute of California has found that most state voters have little confidence in the ability of their elected leaders to work together.

In a sobering set of findings in the institute’s post-election survey, voters expressed more faith in their peers to decide public policy matters than in their representatives.

Only 33% of California voters said they had “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust and confidence in the ability of the state’s elected officials to craft public policy. By contrast — even though they described the ballot initiatives as confusing — 44% said they trusted fellow voters to make policy decisions at the polls.

“The job that the voters have in making public policy at the ballot box is a very complicated one, and one that’s become quite burdensome, but they value doing that because they hold the elected officials in such low esteem,” said the institute’s president, Mark Baldassare. He noted that the number of voters who don’t approve of the way the governor and Legislature are working together has jumped by 43 points in the last four years: from 36% in a 2006 post-election survey to 79% this year.

“It just tells you the extent to which voters have lost confidence in the governor and Legislature’s ability to work together to solve complex problems — they feel like this is why the burden has come to them,” Baldassare said.


This year, that burden for voters amounted to nine state ballot measures, and the poll looked at voters’ responses to four of them. Illustrating the state’s deep partisan divide, Democrats and Republicans ended up on opposite sides of three of the four initiatives, with nonpartisan independents often leaning in the same direction as Democrats.

Despite their shared frustration with Sacramento, there was a marked difference between Democrats and Republicans on the successful Proposition 25, which will allow lawmakers to pass the state budget with a majority vote rather than two-thirds.

Two-thirds of Republicans voted against the measure, but 57% of independents and 71% of Democrats voted for it — with half of the “yes” voters expressing a desire to break up the legislative gridlock over budget matters.

There was more agreement on Proposition 24, the failed measure that would have rolled back corporate tax breaks that were set to begin taking effect this year. A majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents opposed the measure, but it clearly generated confusion. More than one-fifth of those who voted against it could not say why they did.

Drawing the most interest by far was Proposition 19, which would have allowed the sale and cultivation of recreational marijuana under certain circumstances.

Republican opposition was a driving force in the measure’s defeat, with nearly 3 in 4 of those voters opposing the initiative. Fifty-six percent of Democrats and 55% of independents supported the measure.

As expected, age was also a major factor for Proposition 19, which failed by 7 percentage points at the polls. Six in 10 voters age 18 to 34 voted in favor of legalizing marijuana, while 58% of voters 35 years and older opposed the initiative. Women were more likely to oppose the measure than men, who were evenly divided.

Californians offered a wide array of reasons for opposing Proposition 19. A third of those who voted against it said they did so because they believe drugs should be illegal. Another 12% said they didn’t think the measure would be good for the state. Others cited concerns about child safety and the view that the initiative was poorly written and would conflict with federal law.

Opinion was split on a separate poll question about whether marijuana should be legalized. Of voters who favored the legalization of marijuana, 88% said they voted for Proposition 19 and 12% said they voted against it — suggesting at least some dissatisfaction with the way the measure was written.

On the ballot measure that would have rolled back the state’s global warming law until unemployment fell to 5.5% for a year, Californians stayed true to their tradition of environmental protection, defeating the measure by a 23-point margin.

Although proponents of Proposition 23 had argued that implementation of the global warming law could cost the state jobs, the survey showed that voters didn’t buy it: Forty-one percent said the state’s effort on climate change would create more jobs, and more than a quarter said it wouldn’t affect the number of jobs overall.

Voters who wanted to keep the global warming law in place cited concerns about air pollution (18%) and a fear that the law might never be restored if it were suspended (10%). The ad campaign vilifying the two Texas-based oil companies backing Proposition 23 also clearly got some attention — 12% said they voted against the measure because the oil companies were behind it.

Overall, 72% of Democrats and 64% of independents voted against suspending the state’s global warming law and only 54% of Republicans voted for it.