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USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Press Release

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Majority of Californians Want Special Election on Tax Increases

Voters favor a combination approach to the budget crisis.

Contact: USC News at (213) 740-0252 or
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

LOS ANGELES — April 23, 2011 — A majority of California voters support an approach to solving the budget crisis that combines spending cuts and tax increases — and they want to vote on it, according to the latest USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times Poll.  

Of the more than 1,500 voters surveyed by the poll in April, 53 percent favor a combination approach to the budget crisis that includes both spending cuts and tax increases. This includes 60 percent of Democratic voters, 42 percent of Republican voters and 56 percent of voters registered “decline-to-state.”

When asked specifically about Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget plan, which would seek to close California’s $26 billion deficit through $12 billion in spending cuts and $14 billion in revenue from increasing or renewing taxes, 52 percent of voters surveyed said they support the plan and 38 percent oppose it. After about four months in office, 44 percent of voters approve of the job being done by Brown and 33 percent disapprove.

Less than one-third (30 percent) of California voters support an “all-cuts” budget that could mean significant cuts to K—12 education, according to the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll. An overwhelming majority of those surveyed (63 percent) support renewing tax increases in order to protect K—12 education.

“Californians are clearly buying what Jerry Brown is selling,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC and director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll. “Not only do they support a mix of tax increases and spending cuts to balance the budget, but they are adamant about having the opportunity to vote on it themselves. Their continued support for a special election is a strong signal that the governor is correct to keep his promise to let the voters make the final decision.”

During last year’s campaign, Brown promised not to raise taxes without the approval of voters. As part of his deficit-reduction plan, Brown has since proposed a special election to allow voters to decide whether to renew expiring tax increases. A special election is supported by 60 percent of California voters with 35 percent opposed.

Raising taxes or renewing tax increases without a special election could be politically risky for Brown. A majority of those surveyed were against renewing taxes by passing a bill through the state Legislature, with 53 percent opposed and 42 percent in favor. Forty percent of voters said they would be less likely to support Brown’s budget plan if he broke his promise and sought to raise taxes without voter approval, and 34 percent said it would make no difference in their support for the plan.

But more than 40 percent of Californians surveyed said they were not familiar with Brown’s budget plan, which in addition to calling for a special election also proposed major cuts to almost every sector of government, including state employee salaries, health care, public safety, welfare services and higher education. K—12 education was exempted.

Support for Brown’s budget proposal was about the same for White voters and Latino voters, the fastest-growing voter group in the state, at 53 and 51 percent support, respectively.


Despite a change in the governor’s seat, Californians are still overwhelmingly pessimistic about the future of the state.

Only 19 percent of Californians believe the state is “headed in the right direction,” a slight improvement over a low of 7 percent about a year ago in the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll conducted in May 2010.

A significant percentage of Californians were pessimistic about the state’s economy, with 39 percent agreeing with a statement that the economy had “not bottomed out yet and will still get worse.”

Twenty-eight percent said the state is “at the bottom but not yet improving” and 29 percent said we’ve hit bottom and are “starting to improve.”

In the latest poll, 70 percent of voters believe the state is “on the wrong track” and 11 percent are unsure. Last May, 82 percent of California voters believed the state was “on the wrong track.”

Only 1 in 5 California voters approve of the job being done by the California state Legislature, and 64 percent disapprove.

“This is not a happy state. Californians continue to be discouraged about the possibility of economic recovery anytime soon and they are very skeptical about the abilities of their elected leaders to put the economy back on track,” Schnur said. “A budget agreement might help make voters feel slightly more encouraged, but right now they seem braced for a long hard slog before better times return.”

When asked to identify the word that best described how they felt about the way things are going California, more voters chose “disappointed” than any other word provided.

About one-third of California voters surveyed (34 percent) said they were “disappointed,” while 17 percent were “angry” and another 17 percent were “ uncertain.”

Nineteen percent of voters were “hopeful” and 11 percent were “optimistic” about the future of the state, according to the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll.


Eighty percent of Californians support capping state spending so it could not increase more than the cost of living each year. Fifteen percent opposed a cost-of-living spending cap.

However, in many cases, California voters disapprove of the spending cuts that have already been passed by the state Legislature, according to the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll. Among proposals that have already passed:

Voters opposed cutting spending on higher education and increasing community college fees by a 54—42 margin.
By an even larger margin, 67—26, voters opposed limiting health care for low-income children, eliminating adult day care for the elderly and reducing welfare benefits.
Other deficit-reducing proposals were supported by voters:

Voters supported eliminating perks such as state cars and cell phones for public employees by a 78—19 margin.
Voters supported shifting foster care and mental health programs from state to local governments, and transferring non-violent inmates from state prisons to county jails, 47—38.

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.

These results from the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and additional findings on public employee pensions will be discussed in a phone conference on MONDAY, April 25 at 10:30 a.m. PST, with representatives from USC Dornsife College and polling firms Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and American Viewpoint.

Call-in numbers:

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

Spaces are limited. To reserve a line, contact Suzanne Wu at

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 draws over 10 million unique visitors monthly.

Contact USC Media Relations 24/7 at (213) 740-2215 or