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What’s the California Dream? Sunshine

Voter angst is high toward traffic and cost of living; Californians pessimistic about quality of life for the next generation

Contact: Merrill Balassone at balasson@usc.edu or (213) 740-6156

Los Angeles, March 1, 2015 –  California voters are less optimistic about the quality of life for the state’s next generation than their own, but by overwhelming margins believe the Golden State is the best place to live, according to the latest results of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll.

Forty-two percent of Californians said they thought the next generation of Californians would have it worse off than they did, as compared to 28 percent who thought California would be a better place to live. Twenty-four percent of Californians believe that California will be the same for the next generation.

But more than 7 in 10 voters said they would rather live in California than anywhere else, with 47 percent agreeing “strongly” with that statement. Twenty-six percent of voters said they’d prefer to live elsewhere, according to the poll.

By a wide margin, weather, the beach and the state’s coastal location topped the list of voters’ favorite thing about living in California, with 69 percent citing the climate, followed by family, friends and the people (18 percent); a diverse and progressive atmosphere (17 percent); and a laid back pace of life (13 percent). In the birthplace of the Gold Rush and the silicon chip, only 12 percent of voters cited employment and earnings potential, the poll showed.

What do Californians hate? Topping the list is congestion, traffic and “too many people” (24 percent of voters overall and peaking at 34 percent in LA County), cost of living (23 percent overall with a high of 34 percent in the Bay Area), taxes and business climate (22 percent), government and politicians (14 percent) and the cost of owning a home (11 percent).

“Most Californians have decided that they are willing to pay a ‘weather tax’ to live here," said Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and executive director of the Unruh Institute of Politics of USC. "Our weather is one of a series of quality of life and lifestyle issues that draw people here. Taxes are one aspect of a set of policy challenges like traffic, housing and the overall cost of living that discourage us. But on balance, most Californians have decided it’s a tradeoff worth making."

But Californians largely aren’t disgruntled enough to pack their bags, the poll showed. Roughly 1 in 4 voters said they were more likely to move out-of-state now than in past years, and 46 percent of Californians said there was no real difference in their desire to move. Twenty-six percent said they were less likely now to move away than before.

Among voters who said they are more likely to move away, cost of living was a top reason to relocate (31%), followed by employment (20%), taxes and business climate (19%), government and politicians (12%), the cost of owning a home (11%) and traffic and overcrowding (11%).

“Living in California is no longer about striking it rich, but about looking past the high cost of living and shrinking opportunities for the lifestyle that it offers,” said Drew Lieberman, vice president of Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, part of the bipartisan team with Republican polling firm American Viewpoint that conducted the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll. “There’s undoubtedly some real angst among Californians about the state of things. But given a binary choice between their finances and their lifestyle, at the end of the day, Californians will still pay a premium for what California offers.”

When asked to choose between two statements describing the business climate, 50 percent of Californians said that “state rules and regulations are getting in the way of business creation and growth,” and 41 percent of Californians said the state provides “opportunity for entrepreneurship and promotes innovation,” according to the poll.

Said David Kanevsky, vice president of Republican polling firm American Viewpoint: “California voters still want to believe in California – they haven’t completely soured on it – but they no longer have the sense of optimism or attractiveness that earlier generations saw. If Californians thought the economic and business climate was as good as the meteorological climate, they would be a lot more satisfied about how things are going in the state.”

A report card on California

The poll also asked voters to rate California on a number of quality of life measures.

Among the most positively ranked were culture and the arts, with 85 percent of voters saying they were “excellent or good” as opposed to 11 percent rating them “poor;” innovation (74-16); and preserving natural resources like parks or beaches (77-20).

Those issues universally panned were: traffic and congestion (17-82); being able to afford housing (20-78); being able to buy a home (29-66); government spending (29-65); taxes (31-66); being able to afford college (30-66); income inequality (33-59); government corruption (31-55); and dealing with immigration (35-57).

Latino voters were far more negative than white voters on some of the state’s economic and public safety measures. When asked about finding a good paying job, 37 percent of Latinos rated California “excellent or good,” as compared to 61 percent who rated the state “poor.” Whites were more closely split, 45-51. On crime and safety, 45 percent of Latino voters rated the state “excellent or good” as compared to 54 percent who rated it “poor.” White voters were more positive about the state’s crime and safety record, with 54 rating it “excellent or good” and 43 percent “poor.”

"This poll illuminates the cross section of the fading optimism of aging white Californians and the youthful exuberance of young Latinos," said Michael Madrid, a distinguished Unruh Institute fellow, Republican strategist and nationally recognized expert on Latino voting trends. "At the same time the growing divide between these two California groups is becoming more apparent on issues like crime and public safety, housing affordability and the ability to secure a good paying job. While there remains a generally optimistic view of life in the state there are undeniable elements of growing concern that policy makers should pay attention to."

Governor at highest approval rating, state finally on the “right track”

Californians’ general good feelings about living in the state are also reflected in the highest approval rating for Gov. Jerry Brown in the history of the USC Dornsife/LA Times Poll. Similarly, for the first time in the poll’s history, a plurality of voters say the state is on the right track.

More than two-thirds of voters, 64 percent, approve of the job being down by Brown, with 27 percent of voters saying they disapprove of Brown. That’s up 10 percentage points from his 60-33 approval rating in October’s USC Dornsife/LA Times Poll.

Voters also approve of the job being done by the state Legislature, 42-39; Sen. Barbara Boxer, 53-32; and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 54-30.

Forty-five percent of voters say the state is on the right track, with 39 percent of voters who believe California is on the wrong track. That’s a 13 percentage point swing from October, when 39 percent of voters said the state was on the right track and 46 percent said it was on the wrong track.

"California voters love the weather, the environment, and the culture of the state, but they have real concerns about the future and cost of living issues here," said Matt Rodriguez, a distinguished Unruh Institute fellow and Democratic strategist. "The state’s elected officials, who fare better in this poll than they have in previous years, should take notice and provide solutions to the problems that voters are raising."

The latest USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, the largest statewide survey of registered voters, was conducted Feb. 18-24 and includes a significant oversample of Latino voters as well as one of the most robust cell phone samples in the state. The full sample of 1,505 registered voters has a margin of error of +/- 2.7 percentage points.

Additional poll results and methodology are available here.

WEBSITE: http://dornsife.usc.edu/poll

TWITTER: @usclatpoll

About the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll: The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll is a series of statewide public opinion polls in California, designed to survey voter attitudes on a wide range of political, policy, social and cultural issues.

Conducted at regular intervals throughout the year, the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll is one of the largest polls of registered voters in the state and has been widely cited, helping to inform the public and to encourage discourse on key political and policy issues.

About USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences: USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences is the heart of the university. The largest, oldest and most diverse of USC’s 19 schools, USC Dornsife is composed of more than 30 academic departments and dozens of research centers and institutes. USC Dornsife is home to approximately 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students and more than 750 faculty members with expertise across the humanities, social sciences and sciences.

About the Los Angeles Times: The Los Angeles Times is the largest metropolitan daily newspaper in the country, with a daily readership of 2 million and 3 million on Sunday, and a combined print and interactive local weekly audience of 4.5 million. The fast-growing latimes.com draws over 10 million unique visitors monthly.