It’s very good news for Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton, mostly good news for Arnold Schwarzenegger and advocates of redistricting reform and health care changes, not good news for those who want to change California’s term limits law. “It” is the new Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll. And it says that 64% of likely California voters are against the drive to alter term limits on next February’s presidential primary ballot.
Only 31%, notes PPIC director Mark Baldasarre in his statement, back the move to allow legislators to serve up 12 years, all of it in one house. (Currently they can serve 14 years, limited to six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate.) This stands in sharp contrast to a private poll by proponents of the term limits change, the results of which they gave to me a few weeks ago.
In that poll, 59% favor the change, while only 33% oppose it. What accounts for the discrepancy?
Well, putting aside the obvious fact that one poll could be right while the other could be wrong, term limits change proponents point out that their poll, by David Binder and Associates, gave respondents arguments for both sides of the proposition. The PPIC poll asks the question flat out: “Under current term limits, a legislator is allowed to serve six years in the state assembly and eight years in the state senate. Would you favor or oppose a change in term limits that would allow members to serve up to 12 years of total legislative service in either branch?”
One advocate pointed out that there is not yet a ballot title or description from California Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office, arguing that that will provide a fairer test.
Also in the interim was state Senate leader Don Perata’s widely publicized lockout from their taxpayer-funded offices of three Democratic senators for attending a Moderate Caucus dinner (believe it or not, one top Democrat told me as it was happening that I was “the only person who would pay any attention”) and Schwarzenegger’s slow recovery from his Christmas skiing mishap, which put a serious crimp in his activities. (He’s fine now and walking without support.)
Another difference is that the state’s political leaders were much more highly rated in the poll presented by term limit change advocates. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger had a 68% job approval rating from California voters in that poll. In the PPIC poll, his approval has slipped from January, to a still high 56%. The Legislature had a 49% job approval rating as an institution in the private poll. PPIC has it at 39%, a full ten points lower. Still, that is the highest approval for the Legislature since October 2004, when Schwarzenegger’s first phase of bipartisanship was still in full swing before his ill-fated “Year of Reform.”
First Lady Maria Shriver is also highly rated, as are new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, at 53% among likely voters, and Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, 59% and 53%, respectively.
Yet another difference may be that the PPIC poll shows a darkening mood among California voters, perhaps reflective of their very dark view of the national scene. The halo effect of Schwarzenegger’s landslide re-election victory, in which he inundated the state with feel-good advertising and was constantly moving about talking about how well things were going in the Capitol, is wearing off.
And seeping in are California voters’ dark views of the national and global scenes, as well as increasing fears about economic prospects. In January, 55% felt things were on the right track in California. Now only 45% feel that way. 51% now think that bad economic times are ahead, while only 39% felt that way in January.
President George W. Bush reached a new low in the PPIC poll, with only 29% job approval among likely voters. It’s even lower among all California adults. Tracking almost exactly with Bush’s thoroughly dismal rating is California’s view of his Iraq policy.
California voters like the impact of Bush’s new “surge” strategy in Iraq no better than they did the versions that preceded it. Two months after the surge was announced, 74% say they disapprove of Bush on Iraq. That includes 40% of Republicans.
Strikingly, the water from the poisoned well of Iraq has spread to other potential military expeditions. 54% of likely voters say it is more important to avoid a military conflict with Iran than it is to take a firm stand against Iranian actions, a posture backed by only 39%. There’s a sharp partisan divide there, with Democrats and independents strongly opposed — 60% plus — to any conflict with Iran.
The PPIC poll is unalloyed good news for backers of redistricting reform, and mostly good news for Schwarzenegger and other advocates of a comprehensive health care package. 66% of likely voters favor an independent commission doing redistricting every 10 years rather than the Legislature; only 22% are in opposition.
On health care, 65% of likely voters agree with Schwarzenegger that Californians should be required to have health coverage, with costs shared between employers, providers, and individuals. But breaking out different components of the approach yields a slightly different answer. 67% of likely voters back the employer mandate to provide health insurance or pay into a state fund. 69% would require individuals to have health coverage, with low-income people taken care of by public programs. But only 30% think doctors and hospitals should pay a fee to help cover the costs of health care.
Another wrinkle emerges, once again, with attitudes toward illegal immigration, which 21% of voters, the highest of any issue area, regard as the state’s top issue. Illegal immigrant children would be covered in the Schwarzenegger plan. While most think that illegal immigrants should be able to apply for work permits, opposition to drivers licenses for illegal immigrants remains widespread and entrenched. 64% are still opposed. Most also oppose providing health care coverage for illegal immigrants.
Now we get to the presidential primary. Tomorrow I will focus heavily on the California presidential primaries for both Republicans and Democrats. For now, here are the quick numbers in the first major California public poll in the new early presidential primary.
On the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani has a big lead, 33% to 19% over John McCain. Newt Gingrich (not a declared candidate) has 14% and the much ballyhooed Mitt Romney is at 7%. Fred Thompson, who may make a big stir in the race, was not included in the poll.
On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton enjoys a significant lead over Barack Obama, 35% to 24%. John Edwards is third with 14% and Bill Richardson continues his slow but steady advance from the land of the asterisks with 6%.
As I said, much more about the presidentials in tomorrow’s column.