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Californians Polled on Social Issues and Governor and Senate Races

The USC College/Los Angeles Times Poll is the largest statewide sample of registered voters in California this year.

By Suzanne Wu
April 5, 2010

Californians Polled on Social Issues and Governor and Senate Races

New poll results reveal important shifts in public attitudes toward illegal immigrants in California, a bellwether state for the debate over immigration policy.

In a departure from voter attitudes in the past, Californian voters are much more conflicted about whether to deny taxpayer-supported social services to illegal immigrants. More than 47 percent of registered voters oppose – 45 percent support – proposals to deny social services such as public schooling and emergency room care to illegal immigrants.

A majority of Democratic voters (55%) and decline-to-state voters (53%) would not deny illegal immigrants social services, compared to 31 percent of Republican voters. In support of denying illegal immigrants social services are 37 percent of Democrats, 40 percent of decline-to-state voters and 61 percent of Republicans polled.

However, among Republican voters, more oppose denying undocumented immigrants access to taxpayer-funded social services (31%) than oppose creating a path to citizenship (29%). Seventy-five percent of Republicans favor temporary worker programs and 65 percent of Republicans favor creating a path to legalization, according to the USC College/Los Angeles Times Poll.

Of the three immigration policy options provided in the poll, all of which included stronger border enforcement, denying undocumented immigrants social services was the least popular option for Democratic voters and independent voters. About two-thirds of both Democratic voters and decline-to-state voters support temporary worker programs and creating a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

Overall, almost 70 percent of registered voters support temporary worker programs that do not grant legal citizenship; 67 percent support a path to legalization for undocumented immigrants that includes learning English and paying fines and back taxes; and 45 percent support prohibiting illegal immigrants from using social services.

“Throughout Californian and American history, attitudes toward illegal immigrants have hardened during difficult economic times. What’s striking about these results is that Californian voters are much more conflicted on the question of services for illegal immigrants than we’ve seen in the past,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California. “Along with the support for a guest worker program and for creating a path towards legalization, this marks a significant shift in the mindset of Californians in this area.”

CALIFORNIANS BELIEVE STATE IS ON THE WRONG TRACK

Californians were more pessimistic about the state economy than the national economy, and the smallest percentage of Californians in the history of Los Angeles Times polling were optimistic about the state’s future. Only 10 percent of registered voters agreed that the state is headed in the “right direction,” compared to 34 percent who agreed the nation is headed in the right direction.

“While voters are starting to become optimistic about the national economic picture, they’re still extremely dour about their own state’s prospects for recovery. When it comes to jobs and the economy, for Californians, the grass is definitely greener on the other side of the fence,” Schnur said.

The percentage of voters who believe the state is on the “wrong track” was 82 percent, matching the highest dissatisfaction ever measured by the Los Angeles Times, in September 1992.

The USC College/Los Angeles Times Poll also found Californians are more pessimistic than Americans overall, with only 26 percent of Californians believing that the economy is starting to improve. Thirty-one percent believe that the economy has hit bottom but is not yet getting any better, and another 36 percent believe the economy will get worse.

Optimism about the future of the nation was highest among younger voters. About 39 percent of 18 to 29 year-old registered voters believe the country is headed in the right direction, compared to 27 percent of those 65 and older.

CALIFORNIANS OPTIMISTIC ABOUT HEALTH CARE

In the USC College/Los Angeles Times Poll, which was conducted after the passage of health care reform, a majority (52%) of Californians believe the country will be better off overall because of the new health care law.

Opinion is sharply divided along party lines: 72 percent of Democrats believe the country will be better off and 70 percent of Republicans believe the country will be worse off because of health care reform. Overall, 36 percent of the registered voters polled believe the country will be worse off because of the health care reform bill.

As for personal benefits from the health care reform bill, 47 percent of Californians did not expect to see benefits for themselves or their families within the next few years, compared to 41 percent who expected to see benefits.

OTHER KEY FINDINGS

Same-sex marriage supported by 52 percent of registered voters in California (40% oppose). These numbers are similar to findings from the last USC College/Los Angeles Times Poll, conducted in November 2009, which found 51 percent of registered voters in favor of same-sex marriage and 43 percent opposed.

STATE OF CALIFORNIA GOVERNORS AND SENATE RACE

Meg Whitman’s massive ad buy appears to be paying off among voters, reveal new findings from the USC College of Letters, Arts & Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll.

An overwhelming majority (72%) of registered voters who have seen Whitman's ads back her against California State Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. In contrast, only 38 percent of registered voters who have not seen Whitman’s ads support her in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

In the general election for governor, 53 percent of voters who have seen Whitman’s ads support her over likely Democratic opponent Jerry Brown, compared to 33 percent of voters who have not seen a Whitman ad.

Sixty-five percent of registered voters remember seeing an advertisement for a gubernatorial or Senate candidate in the last few months. Of this percentage, 75 percent specifically remember seeing an advertisement for Whitman, compared to 47 percent for Poizner.

WHITMAN AHEAD IN PRIMARY — NECK-AND-NECK WITH BROWN

Whitman, the former eBay executive, holds a significant lead among registered voters in the Republican primary. Sixty percent of registered Republicans say they plan to vote for Whitman, the former eBay executive, compared to 20 percent for Poizner. Whitman has already spent more on her campaign than any other state candidate in history, reportedly more than $46 million.

Against Brown, California attorney general and former governor, Whitman leads 44 to 41 percent among all registered voters polled. Thirteen percent of voters are undecided.

Whitman’s ads have positioned her as a business executive who could bring strong management to California's problems, and the latest poll reflects changing voter attitudes about candidates’ work experience. Forty percent of Californians polled now say it is more important for a gubernatorial candidate to have business experience than to have political experience. Thirty-five percent believed the reverse.

By a slight margin, Republican voters said they preferred a centrist candidate with appeal to independent voters over a conservative candidate who could motivate Republicans. Forty-six percent preferred a centrist candidate, compared to 42 percent in favor of a conservative candidate.

BROWN’S FAVORABILITY REMAINS UNCHANGED

Brown’s favorability rating remains virtually unchanged from where it stood in November 2009, with 41 percent of registered voters polled giving him a favorable rating and 28 percent an unfavorable rating. Whitman’s favorability over the same period increased from 17 percent to 30 percent, but the percentage of registered voters who have an unfavorable impression of her also increased, from 14 percent to 23 percent.

Since November, the percentage of registered voters who said they had not heard enough about Whitman to have an impression, either favorable or unfavorable, fell from 60 percent to 39 percent.

Poll organizers said there is some indication that Whitman’s lead over Brown will grow as her "name ID" continues to creep up.  Among voters who can identify both candidates by name, Whitman’s lead is a much larger – at 51 to 43 percent.

The race among voters registered as “decline-to-state” is a dead-heat (39 percent for Brown, 40 for Whitman).

CAMPBELL, FIORINA EVEN IN PRIMARY; BOTH BEHIND BOXER


U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer leads against an unnamed Republican challenger, with 48 percent of registered voters saying they would vote for her against a Republican candidate (34%).

Boxer’s approval rating has dipped slightly in recent months. Forty percent of those polled approve of Boxer’s job performance and 38 percent disapprove, compared to 43 percent approval and 36 percent disapproval in November. Boxer’s favorability rating among voters is higher than her job approval, but has also fallen, from 49 percent favorable five months ago to 46 percent now, according to the USC College/Los Angeles Times Poll. 

The Republican Senate primary race remains a toss-up between former Hewlett-Packard executive Carly Fiorina and former Congressman Tom Campbell, with more voters reporting they are undecided (31%) than saying they would support Campbell (29%) or Fiorina (25%).  California State Assemblyman Chuck DeVore was far behind with 9 percent of voters saying they would support him.

The first USC College/Los Angeles Times Poll was taken in November of 2009.

For more information, video commentaries and updates, visit college.usc.edu/poll and sign up for Twitter @usclatpoll.