Capitol Journal: California’s Legislature is less popular than Trump with the state’s voters, poll finds

Little has been accomplished so far this year at the Capitol in Sacramento.
Little has been accomplished so far this year at the Capitol in Sacramento.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

The heavily Democratic state Legislature is less popular among California voters than President Trump.

That’s not a typo.

It’s a poll finding released Wednesday by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

Even less popular than the Legislature and Trump is Congress.


Why is Congress held in such low esteem, even though the recently reinstalled House speaker is California Democrat Nancy Pelosi?

“Because they’re not getting anything done. It’s that simple,” says Mark Baldassare, the PPIC president and pollster.

And the Legislature isn’t perceived to be doing much either, Baldassare says. The lawmakers don’t seem to be in sync with new Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“The public doesn’t have a sense yet that this governor and Legislature can work together and solve problems,” Baldassare says. “There’s not an awful lot that anyone can point to and say they’ve done something.”

In fairness, they’re less than six months into a two-year session. Legislative rules and routine aren’t designed for much bill passage until at least August, and more likely late summer of next year for the most controversial bills.

But lawmakers can pass legislation anytime they want and often do in the first year of a session. And next year there’ll be another insiders’ excuse: It’ll be an election year and a politically risky time for passing contentious bills.


California’s Legislature convenes as a record number of Democrats settle in to govern »

PPIC’s latest statewide survey, conducted in late May, showed the Legislature with its lowest job approval rating among likely voters in nearly four years. And it was the first time in three years that the lawmakers’ approval slid below 40%.

The numbers: approve 34%, disapprove 53%. Since January, approval has fallen by 12 points and disapproval risen by 10.

Democratic voters approve of the Legislature by nearly 2 to 1 and Republicans disapprove by almost 8 to 1. Nothing shocking there. The key measurement came from the rapidly growing contingent of independent voters, who outnumber registered Republicans. Their grade of the Legislature was 32% approval, 55% disapproval.

Trump’s job approval rating was slightly higher than the Legislature’s at 38%. His disapproval was also higher: 60%. But Trump’s overall rating ticked up slightly since January.

Not Congress’ marks. It’s got a pathetic 22% approval, 73% disapproval.

Newsom’s numbers among likely voters are a tepid 47% approval, 37% disapproval — up 4 points in the positive column, but also up 8 on the negative side since January.

Former Gov. Jerry Brown’s ratings were consistently higher once the economy recovered.

It’s a bit startling for the Democratic-controlled Legislature’s approval to fall to Trump’s sorry level in this deep blue state.

I asked two political consultants about it. They both used to work in the Legislature.

Republican Rob Stutzman: “Social distress primarily related to the housing crisis is becoming more prevalent and disruptive. And there’s no public perception that elected leaders are doing anything effective to solve the crisis.”

Stutzman represents housing construction interests. But he’s 100% correct that the Legislature has bombed out — chickened out in the face of heavy opposition from local governments and NIMBYs — on its promise to spur construction of affordable housing. And there hasn’t been much push from the governor or legislative leaders.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of homeless are living in rat-infested Los Angeles squalor. That can’t help state government’s image.

Sacramento wants to tax soda, tires, guns, water, pain pills, lawyers, car batteries... »

Democratic consultant Steve Maviglio says: “It’s a reflection of voters not seeing any solutions in sight for the issues that matter most to them — like affordable housing, student debt and affordable healthcare.

“All they hear from Sacramento,” the Democrat adds, “are proposals for more taxes and more spending for everyone except the middle class. And they rightfully wonder where the high taxes they already are paying are going.”

True enough. Early in the legislative session, there was a whole bunch of new tax ideas floating in the Capitol while the state was sitting on a $21-billion surplus. They included taxes on new tires, car batteries, firearms, prescription painkillers, corporations based on their CEO pay, oil extraction and water.

That unnerved many voters. Lawmakers wisely dropped some of the more heated measures, such as the water tax.

As for Trump, 54% of voters opposed Congress trying to impeach the president.

“That’s the pragmatic side of voters saying, ‘You’ve got a Senate controlled by Republicans and a House controlled by Democrats,’” Baldassare says. “‘Where is this going to lead to and what are we going to get done besides conversations about impeachment probably going nowhere? We’ve got other things that need to be done.’”

The poll, Stutzman says, is “a cautionary tale that ‘resisting Trump’ isn’t enough when it comes to meeting the public’s expectations of governing.”

At the Capitol, Baldassare says, “there’s no shortage of things this governor wants to get done. But do we have a governor and Legislature in sync? That’s what you need. What we don’t seem to have now is the chemistry between the governor and Legislature that we became accustomed to during Brown’s terms.”

“If it doesn’t happen,” the pollster adds, “the public will take it out on the Legislature’s approval ratings, and that’s what’s happening….

“Maybe this governor needs to pay a little more attention to this Legislature and the Legislature needs to find out more about what the governor wants to get done….

“Maybe everybody needs a wake-up call.”

Suddenly lousy poll numbers should be a loud alarm.

More from George Skelton »

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