Let Us Vote, Watch Us Say 'No'

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Getty/Eric Tahyer

Public opinion polling isn't always predictive of an electoral outcome. And no one is probably hoping that's true more at this point than Governor Jerry Brown.

A brand new statewide poll offers virtually no change from previous surveys this year... and for Brown, that may not be a good thing. Voters agree with his idea for an election to help close the state budget gap but they still seem poised to reject the plan that he's been pushing since taking office almost five months ago.

The new poll (here) from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California finds very little shift in public opinion on the state's fiscal woes. That in itself may be the real news, given that the constitutional deadlines for a spending plan are fast approaching as Brown still searches for consensus at the state Capitol.

As PPIC sums it up:

"Despite their general willingness to consider higher taxes for K–12, higher education, and health and human services, fewer than half of Californians support raising specific taxes and fees to address the state budget deficit overall."

46% of likely voters, to be exact. So then voters... um, whatdya got in mind?

In a nutshell: raise some kind of taxes other than those pitched by Brown (sales, vehicles, income). Oh yeah, and cut prison spending.

It's a familiar refrain: voters are squishy when it comes to picking a path forward. But they're resolute in their desire to have a say-so. 76% of likely voters surveyed said they want to make some of the decisions. As much as some groups are pushing Brown to just get his tax plan through the Legislature and bypass his campaign pledge of a statewide vote, only 21% of those polled concur.

Those findings were what Brown focused on when asked about the (at the time, embargoed) poll this morning.

"There's massive support for letting the people decide, for asking the people their views," said the governor before a luncheon speech to the California State Association of Counties.

Brown's job approval rating in the PPIC poll stands at 42% of all adults, not terribly different than where it's stood for the last few months. But the number of people who say they don't know whether the Guv's doing a good job has risen to 33%. Which begs the question: after five months of relentless hammering away at a single subject, and some four decades after he landed on the political scene, why can't fully one in three Californians surveyed offer an opinion on how Jerry Brown's doing?

Pollster Baldassare says he thinks those voters are sitting back, waiting for something else from the governor before they pass judgment. He also says while Brown's budget plan doesn't seem to be so popular once the details are laid out, that could change. The poll finds that 53% of those surveyed think there needs to be "major change" in the relationship between state and local government, and 78% think locals should have control of how state money is spent in cities and counties around the state.

Those are just the kinds of things that Brown and his supporters say would happen under his realignment plan, which would be financed for the first five years by the taxes that voters, for now, aren't very keen on extending.

PPIC's Baldassare says he's surprised by another finding in this survey: even after several years of deep spending cuts to popular programs -- cuts that would ostensibly only have been made after easier things had been done -- 58% of likely voters say people in state government waste "a lot" of money. The governor may have already gone after cell phones, tchotchkes, and vehicles... but it doesn't seem to be enough.

Finally, a smack either to voters... the press... or all of us. Those surveyed continue to prefer fixes that won't actually solve the state's problems, appear to misunderstand how government works, or both. And yet 61% also say they're "closely" following news stories about the budget situation.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new California Politics & Government Desk. He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades, serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and most recently as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. In 2014, he was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.
  • surfon

    “Those surveyed continue to prefer fixes that won’t actually solve the state’s problems, appear to misunderstand how government works, or both.” perhaps the respondents are only familiar with how the current goverment works, not the responsible, competent goverment we want.

  • Steve

    Any solution is doomed until the unholy alliance between pols, including Brown, and the public unions are broken.
    When our tax money goes to local and state workers, then to unions thru dues, and finally bribes to democrats who give the unions what they want for more bribes, there will never be a solution all can agree to.
    Sad but true.