Poll Analysis: Davis Begins Second Term as a Very Unpopular Governor

Times Poll Director

Gray Davis begins his second term as governor with Californians believing that the state is seriously off on the wrong track, the economy is rocky and the state is in a budget shortfall that the governor says might well run over $30 billion. Although respondents believe it is unrealistic to think that the budget can be balanced without taxes being increased, they are not inclined to endorse increases in most taxes or fees (i.e., vehicle license fees, increase in sales tax) or to reduce spending on many social programs. Respondents mentioned education, budget shortfall and the economy, in that order, as the most important problems facing California today. And they believe that the governor falls short in addressing those issues.

Governor Davis’ overall job rating by most Californians is remarkably poor, as well as his ratings on the economy, education, energy and the state budget. And most don’t think he is a decisive leader as they thought before the gubernatorial election. But even with such a poor opinion, Californians do not want him recalled. And when respondents were told the cost of a special election, the share of those supporting a recall drops substantially.

Governor Davis’ Ratings

Overall Rating: The governor’s job rating is one of the lowest ratings a governor in California has ever received. Nearly two-thirds of Californians disapprove of the way Mr. Davis is handling his job as governor, while just 27% approve. Nine percent are undecided. During the latter part of the governor’s first term in office (during and after the energy crisis), Mr. Davis’ ratings began to tumble but not to this degree. In late October of last year, 46% approved of his job performance while 42% disapproved. To give some perspective, former Governor Pete Wilson received about as bad a rating as the current governor after several crises disrupted his administration. A Times poll taken during the recession in late 1992 when the former governor increased taxes, showed that 28% of Californians approved of the way he handled his job, while 61% disapproved; and a Times poll in late 1994 after the former governor supported Proposition 187 (anti-immigration initiative) and the initiative won, his job rating also sank — 33% approved, while 60% disapproved. (When Mr. Wilson left office, his job rating improved to 53% vs. 37%.)

The governor’s core constituency — Democrats, liberals, women, blacks and Latinos — have turned their opinions around from approving of Mr. Davis’ handling his job from just before the November election to now disapproving of his job performance.

–––– Now –––– ––– Oct. ’02 –––Job Rating: Approve Disapprove Approve DisapproveDemocrats 39% 54% 66% 30%Liberals 33% 59% 65% 23%Blacks 40% 57% 73% 18%Latinos 36% 51% 51% 34%Women 24% 64% 50% 36%

Independents or declined-to-state respondents also changed their view about the governor. In October, 57% approved of his job performance, while 36% disapproved. In the current poll, it was the opposite: 31%–57%. Both self-described liberal and moderate to conservative Democrats also shared the same opinion of the governor—disapproving (59% and 50% respectively). More than half of respondents living in Los Angeles County and three out of five living in the Bay Area also give the governor negative ratings.

When respondents were asked why they approved of the way Governor Davis has handled his job, nothing was specifically cited. About a fifth each said they just liked him and his performance as governor. However, among those who disapproved of his job performance, there was more consensus on many substantive issues: 29% cited the budget shortfall, 27% mentioned the way the governor handled the energy crisis, followed by 24% who said education and 11% who cited that he had no integrity. Even 35% of Democrats cited the budget shortfall and 32% mentioned education as reasons why they disapproved.

State’s economy: More than three out of five Californians disapprove of the way the governor is handling the state’s economy, 22% approve. This is a dramatic downward shift since the question was asked last year in a January Times poll. Mr. Davis’ ratings were not stellar then, but at least the state was divided over his handling of this issue — 41% approve, 42% disapprove.

Education: This issue was the keystone of Governor Davis’ first campaign and he made it his first “top three priorities”. The state has made some progress with higher test scores for public school children, but Californians believe a lot more can be done. However, with the budget shortfall, there is talk of reducing spending for kindergarten through 12th grade and fee hikes for community colleges and the UC/Cal State systems. In an October 2002 Times poll, the governor received a 49% approval rating to a 33% disapproval rating. In the current survey, a fifth of respondents approve, while two-thirds disapprove. A fifth of parents with children in public school approve of his handling education, while 74% disapprove of handling this issue. Blacks and Latinos also overwhelmingly disapprove of the governor on this issue. Minorities make up more than three fifths of the state’s 6.1 million public school students.

Energy: During the energy crisis in California, Gov. Davis blamed the energy industry for manipulating prices and causing the rates to soar. He was vindicated when Enron was found guilty of this practice along with other energy companies. However, Californians did not believe he acted quickly enough. His “dragging his feet” on this issue cost the respect of the state’s residents. Almost three out of five Californians disapprove of the way he handled the energy situation, while almost three in 10 approved. This has not changed much since the Times’ poll asked the question starting back in late January 2002.

State’s budget: With so much talk about the budget shortfall, Governor Davis’ handling of this issue is not seen with an approving eye. Almost seven in 10 of those surveyed said they disapproved of the way the governor is handling this issue, while 17% approve. No demographic group approved of his handling of the state’s budget.

Leadership traits: Along with the governor’s poor performance ratings, most poll respondents also said that he has not shown decisive leadership qualities. More than three fifths said he is not a decisive leader, while 29% think he is. Californians’ perceptions about the governor’s leadership have changed dramatically for the worse. These opinions about the governor cross party lines. In a Times poll conducted last October, nearly half thought the governor had shown leadership traits, while another 39% didn’t think so.

Decisive Leadership

Now Oct. ’02

Dems Inds Reps Dems Inds RepsYes 42% 35% 10% 62% 51% 31%No 52% 54% 86% 31% 33% 66%

Like Davis, Like Policies: Respondents were asked a question about Governor Davis and whether they like him as a person and like his policies or do not like the governor and do not like his policies. Although most Californians disapprove of Mr. Davis’ job performance, half said they like him as a person, while 41% dislike him. Not surprising, given his ratings on issues affecting the state, two thirds of those interviewed disliked most of the governor’s policies, while a quarter liked his policies. Nearly three out of five Democrats said they like him as a person, but 56% also said they dislike his policies.

State Legislature handling job and state budget: The state Legislature’s performance has fallen from being somewhat positive in a Times poll taken in January 2002 (43% to 29%) to being more negative — 32% approve, while 37% disapprove. Three in 10 are undecided. They also are not giving stellar marks to the way the Legislature is handling the state budget. Almost three out of five respondents disapprove of the state Legislature’s performance on the state budget, (residents of the Golden State give lower marks to the governor on this issue) while about as many approve of its handling of the budget, 17%, as the governor.


More than two-thirds of those interviewed said that California is seriously off on the wrong track while about a quarter said the state is going in the right direction. Last October, a Times poll found a more optimistic public (46% right direction, 39% wrong track).

What a difference six months makes. In a September 2002 Times Poll, 55% of respondents said that California’s economy was doing well compared to 42% who thought it was doing badly. Today, nearly seven in 10 Californians said the economy is doing badly and just 30% thought it was doing well. There are no differences of opinion between race and ethnicity, or by class, or by political party, or by gender on how the state’s economy is doing — they all think it is doing badly.

Californians also believe more so in this poll than six months ago that the state is in a recession (73% and 62% respectively) and that the state’s economy will be worse six months from now (15% said worse six months ago vs. 25% in the current survey). Yet, seven in 10 said that their own personal finances are very or fairly secure. (A majority of respondents with household earnings of less than $20,000 said their personal finances are shaky.)

Budget Shortfall

The state’s budget shortfall, which Governor Davis says may run as high as $34 billion, is one reason why Governor Davis’ popularity has been dropping through the latter part of his first term and the beginning of his second term. Nearly three in 10 Californians blame the governor for going from a period of rapid budget growth to the state now facing a budget shortfall. After Mr. Davis, respondents mentioned the energy crisis (14%), the national and global economic slowdown (13%), both the Legislature and governor (11%) and solely the Legislature (10%) as being responsible for the state’s budget crisis. Even his own party’s base points to Governor Davis as the one responsible for the budget shortfall (21%). Not surprisingly, more than two fifths of Republicans blame the governor.

Can the state budget pass without inclusion of some fee or tax increases? More than half of California residents agreed that the governor should not rule out anything in trying to make up for the record budget shortfall, even if it means raising taxes, while more than two out of five disagree. And, regardless of whether they expect taxes to be increased or not, an overwhelming preponderance of Californians believed taxes will have to be increased to meet the budget crisis head-on. On one hand, Republicans who are opposed to any tax increase, realize that taxes will have to be increased to solve the budget problem, while on the other hand, they disagree that the governor should not rule out anything including taxes. Almost three quarters of respondents also believed it is unrealistic to think the state budget can pass without any tax increases, including 59% of Republicans and 58% of self-described conservatives.

Yet, when proposals which are being debated by the governor and the Legislature to close the biggest budget shortfall in the state’s history were read to respondents, almost all of them were considered either a fair or poor way of helping to reduce the budget shortfall. Most Californians (66%) were in agreement, though, that raising the cigarette tax by $1.10 was an excellent or good way to reduce the budget shortfall. There is some disagreement along party and socioeconomic lines about reinstating the top rates on the state income tax for the top two or three percent of income earners in the Golden State. The rate would change from the current 9.3 percent to 10 or 11 percent. Respondents were split on this rate increase (excellent or good, 48% vs. fair or poor, 49%). Democrats, liberals and moderates thought this was an excellent idea, while Republicans and conservatives were opposed to it. Independents were split. Respondents with household earnings of $100,000 or more thought it was a fair or poor way of reducing the shortfall, while those respondents with household income of less than $20,000 were split on the idea.

Although majorities of statewide residents think increasing corporate tax by one percent and the start of collecting sales taxes on all purchases made on the Internet is a fair or poor way of reducing the budget problem, a sizeable plurality said it is an excellent or good way (42% and 43%, respectively).

However, there was almost total unanimity on the other proposals the Times Poll tested.

• 93 percent of Californians think reducing spending on public schools by $5 billion for kindergarten through 12th grades is a fair or poor way of reducing the budget shortfall;

• 89 percent of respondents think raising fees at the University of California and Cal State campuses to a total increase of 35% this year is a fair or poor idea;

• 84 percent of those interviewed think increasing vehicle license fees by an average of $136 per car is a fair or poor way of reducing the shortfall.

• 83 percent of Californians believe increasing per unit fees at community colleges from $11 to $24 per unit is a fair or poor way of reducing the shortfall;

• 74 percent believe asking the counties to pay for some or all programs, such as substance abuse, foster care, homecare, welfare-to-work and nursing homes instead of having the state pay is a fair or poor way of reducing the budget shortfall;

• 73 percent of Californians think increasing the sales tax by one percentage point is a fair or a poor way of reducing the budget shortfall;

• 76 percent of Californians think the start of collecting sales tax on services which are now exempt is a fair or a poor way to help out the budget crisis;

• 60 percent think reducing funding for the state’s prison system is a fair or poor idea.

However, if those interviewed had one program they would like to protect , it would be public school education (44%). And if there was one fee or tax that they wouldn’t want the governor or the Legislature to consider, it would be no increases in fees at the community colleges (21%) or the University of California/Cal State campuses (16%).

After reading the proposed tax/fee hikes and reductions in some social programs to the respondents, two thirds said that some proposals would affect their family negatively. Among those who said it would hurt them, they cited a variety of things — 30% said cuts in education would hurt their children in public school, 22% said they wouldn’t be able to afford to send their children to college, 22% mentioned they already pay too many taxes now and 21% wouldn’t be able to afford the increase in the vehicle license fees if that were to happen.

Recall of Governor Davis

More than three out of five voters have not been following the story about the possibility of a recall of Governor Davis closely, 37% have (including only 8% very closely). More than 40% each of Republicans and self-described conservatives have been watching it closely.

However, “the effort to recall Gov. Davis will be more difficult because professional firms won’t take on the huge task of signature collection,” San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci reports. Also, the Green Party, which was thinking of collaborating with the Republicans for the recall, now says it is “highly unlikely” they will join in the effort.

After hearing statements that both supporters and opponents of the recall have made, a bare majority of California voters (51%) said they oppose the recall of the governor. Supporters of the recall accuse Davis of mismanaging the state and causing its budget problems, thereby arguing that he should be removed from office. Opponents of the recall effort said the budget shortfall is mainly a result of a slowing economy and this is a partisan Republican effort to overturn the results of the November election. Although 44% of voters believed that he has mismanaged his job, more than a third, 36%, think it is partisan politics. One in ten think it is a combination of both and 4% think it is neither of those things. But, when the electorate was told that it would cost at least $25 million to taxpayers and the state to call a special election, the support went down even further. Less than 3 in 10 who said they would support a recall, would still support it even with it costing so much, while 10% changed their minds and won’t support the recall because of the dollar amount affixed to the special election; thereby making it 61% of voters who would not support recalling the tenured governor.

Most demographic groups do not think recalling Mr. Davis is a good idea. Republicans and conservatives support a recall. Here are some other groups:


Support OpposeDemocrats 28% 64%Independents 31% 54%Republicans 57% 35%

Liberals 32% 59%Moderates 34% 58%Conservatives 53% 36%

Male 41% 51%Female 38% 51%

White 38% 53%Blacks 25% 60%Latinos 44% 48%

Boxer Reelect

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein is more popular among Californians than U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer. Among all Californians, Ms. Boxer received an approval rating of 43%, while a quarter disapproved of the way she has handled her job as senator. A third are undecided. Among registered voters, 46% approve, 28% disapprove and 26% are undecided.

Senator Feinstein received 50% of all Californians saying they approve of the way she is handling her job, compared to 25% who disapprove and a quarter are undecided. Among registered voters, she fares slightly better — 55% to 27%. Eighteen percent are undecided.

Still, the poll had encouraging news for Boxer who is up for reelection in 2004. When the incumbent senator is pitted against a generic GOP candidate, nearly half (47%) of the voters said they would vote for Ms. Boxer, 30% for a GOP candidate, 4% for someone else and about a fifth are undecided who they would support.

When registered Republican voters were asked who they would vote for in a GOP senatorial primary, 43% were undecided. But those who could name a candidate, 29% supported former gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon, 13% supported Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), 7% said they would vote for Rep. Doug Ose (R-Sacramento) and 6% would vote for Rep. George Radanovich (R-Mariposa). Two percent would vote for someone else. These four Republicans are exploring the possibility of running, but none has formally announced their candidacy. Yet, at this point, a year away from the state’s primary, name recognition is basically driving the hypothetical primary vote.

How the Poll Was Conducted

The Times Poll contacted 1,300 adults statewide, including 1,055 registered voters, by telephone Feb. 27–March 3. The margin of sampling error for registered voters and for the overall state sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points. Telephone numbers were selected from a list of all exchanges in the state. Random-digit dialing techniques allowed both listed and unlisted numbers to be contacted. The entire sample was weighted slightly to conform with census figures for sex, race, age and education. Poll results can also be affected by other factors such as question wording and the order in which questions are presented. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish.