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Californians Sour on Governor, Special Election, and the State’s Direction

By Michael Alvarez

Majorities of California adults are in a sour mood, regarding both Governor Schwarzenegger and the direction of the state, according to a new poll and report issued by the Public Policy Institute of California. This poll, conducted August 8-15, 2005, interviewed 2004 California adults and found they ending their summer in a foul mood as far as the Schwarzenegger is concerned:

54% disapprove of the job he is doing as Governor.

50% disapprove of the job he is doing to reform state government.

55% disapprove of the job he is doing to fix the state’s budget and tax problems.

60% think that he should have waited until the scheduled elections in June 2006 to vote on his reform agenda.

Further compounding the Governor’s problems is a generally foul and pessimistic mood with the state’s overall direction, as 57% see the state as moving in the wrong direction and 51% see the state’s economic situation as worsening over the next twelve months.

As we get closer and closer to the November special election, Schwarzenegger’s job approval ratings are falling lower and lower. If these trends continue, he soon could see an approval rating as bad as his predecessor experienced just before California voters recalled Davis from office, and replaced him with Schwarzenegger. The Governor needs a strong victory in the November special election to turn these bad approval ratings around. Don’t forget that right behind the special election this fall will be the beginning of Schwarzenegger’s campaign for reelection in November 2006.

Schwarzenegger’s job performance rating continues to be weak across the board. Democrats and Independents continue to see Schwarzenegger’s job performance in very negative terms, as 72% of Democrats and 50% of Independents disapprove of his work as Governor in this latest PPIC poll. Support is not uniform among Republicans, as 31% of the Governor’s own partisans either disapprove or have no opinion of his job performance. One of the groups with the strongest disapproval of Schwarzenegger are the state’s Latinos, with only 17% of Latinos approving and 73% disapproving of his job as Governor.

The prospects of a big victory this fall for Schwarzenegger look bleak. Only one of his reform measures on the special election ballot, one that would increase the probationary period for teacher tenure from two to five years (Proposition 74), receives support from likely California voters, with 49% saying they would support it, 42% opposed, and 9% uncertain. The redistricting measure supported by the Governor (Proposition 77, which would change California’s redistricting process mainly by placing it into the hands of a nonpartisan panel of retired judges) is not now polling well, as 49% of likely voters oppose this measure, 34% approve, and 17% undecided. Last, a proposal to limit state funding and alter school funding requirements is looking bad for the Governor (Proposition 76) --- 61% of likely voters are currently opposed, 28% in support, 11% uncertain.

But there are also some warning signs in the PPIC polling for Democrats and progressives about the mood of Californians and some of the measures on the special election ballot.

First, Californians also hold the state legislature in disregard. 56% of Californians disapprove of the job the state legislature is doing, and 62% disapprove of the job that the state legislature is doing to fix the state’s budgetary and fiscal problems. Distressingly, only 38% approved of the job their own state legislators are doing to represent their own districts. Keep in mind that the state legislature is currently a Democratic stronghold in California, so that most of the legislators that Californians seem to hold in such disregard are Democrats.

Second, two of the ballot measures that are not part of the Governor’s reform agenda need to be followed closely by Democrats and progressives. One of these measures would place severe restrictions on the ability of public employee unions to use member dues for political purposes (Proposition 75) has relatively strong support from likely voters, with 58% of likely voters in support, 33% opposed, and 9% undecided. The other measure, which would require parental notification before a minor could terminate a pregnancy (Proposition 73), is now running roughly evenly in this poll; 44% of likely voters say they support this measure, 48% are opposed, and 8% are undecided.

In coming weeks, the campaigns for the special election will begin in earnest, and both sides are well-funded to fight this fall. But there is much in this latest PPIC poll that continues to paint a bleak picture for Governor Schwarzenegger’s reform agenda this fall, and possibly for his reelection campaign next year.