Skip to main content

USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Press Release

< Return to the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll page

 

Poll: Strong Voter Support for Overhauling Public Pensions

Majority of Californians back proposals capping pensions and raising retirement age for public employees such as teachers, police officers and prison guards.

Media Contact: Suzanne Wu at (213) 740-0252 or suzanne.wu@usc.edu


A phone conference discussing the results of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll of California politics, including public employee pensions, is MONDAY, April 25 at 10:30 a.m. PST. Domestic call-in number: (800) 230-1951; International: +01 (612) 332-7517. To reserve a line, contact Suzanne Wu at suzanne.wu@usc.edu

LOS ANGELES — April 24, 2011 — Across the political spectrum, Californians are overwhelmingly in favor of overhauling the state’s public employee pension system, according to results of the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll.

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll is one of the largest surveys of registered voters in the state. This poll was conducted April 7-17, 2011 with a sample size of 1,503 respondents and has a margin of error of +/- 2.53 percentage points.

Overall, 70 percent of California voters surveyed support capping the pensions of public employees — both future and current — which includes teachers, police officers and prison guards. This includes 66 percent of self-identified liberals, 71 percent of moderates and 69 percent of conservatives.

Among people in unions or union households, almost two-thirds — 62 percent — supported capping the pensions of both future and current public employees in order to help balance the budget.

“I can’t remember an issue that has exploded on the political landscape with the speed and force of the debate over public employee pensions,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC and director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll. “The support for everything we tested suggests that pensions and public employee benefits are going to be an important part of the state’s political dialogue for years to come.”

The issue of public employee pensions has become a central aspect of budget negotiations between Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature.

A plurality of voters said they think the salaries and benefits of most public employees are too high. Forty-three percent said compensation is too high compared to 12 percent that said it is too low.

By party registration, 55 percent of Republican voters, 39 percent of decline-to-state voters and 36 percent of Democratic voters said salaries and benefits are too high for public employees. Thirty-three percent of all voters surveyed said public employee compensation is “about right.”

Californians support a proposal to increase the share public employees contribute to their pension plan by a significant margin, 68 to 22. Those surveyed by the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll also overwhelmingly support replacing public employees’ current pension plan with a plan that includes elements of a 401(k), by a 66 to 22 margin.

As a deficit-reduction measure, 50 percent of California voters support cutting the level of retirement benefits received by future and current public employees. Forty-one percent were against cutting these benefits, including 52 percent of Latino voters surveyed.

Latino voters and White voters were divided on whether to raise the retirement age at which current and future public employees would be eligible to collect pension benefits.

By a 25 point margin (58—32), White voters support raising the retirement age for public employees. In contrast, 52 percent of Latino voters are against raising retirement age, with 38 percent in favor.

Overall, 52 percent of all voters surveyed support raising the age at which public employees can collect pension benefits. Thirty-eight percent are against raising the retirement age.

Voters were split on public employee unions in general, with 42 percent of voters having a favorable view of public employee unions and 41 percent having an unfavorable view.

“If the governor decided that he was willing to take on the pension issue and a spending cap in order to attract the Republican votes he needs in the legislature, these results show he’d have very strong public support,” Schnur said. “Democratic legislators don’t like the pension issue any more than Republican legislators like tax increases, but California voters have clearly decided that they’re more comfortable with compromise than their elected representatives.”

Seventy percent of members of union households surveyed support increasing the share that current and future public employees contribute to their pensions. More than 50 percent of union household members support raising the retirement age for public employees, and 45 percent support cutting pension and retirement benefits for future and current public employees. Fifty-four percent of members of union households support introducing a new pension plan that includes elements of a 401(k).

The USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll was conducted from April 7—17, 2011 by Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Republican polling firm American Viewpoint. The full sample has a margin of error of +/- 2.53 percentage points.

For more results and methodology of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll, click here.

Results from the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll will be discussed in a phone conference Monday, April 25 at 10:30 a.m. PST, with representatives from USC Dornsife and polling firms Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and American Viewpoint.

Call-in numbers:

Domestic: (800) 230-1951               
International: +01 (612) 332-7517

Spaces are limited. To reserve a line, contact Suzanne Wu at suzanne.wu@usc.edu

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.
 

Contact USC Media Relations 24/7 at (213) 740-2215 or USCNews@usc.edu.