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Fears persist over state’s economy

Most Californians are aware of the state health care exchange, and a majority of those without insurance say they plan to get it by 2014. But residents are divided in their assessment of the Affordable Care Act itself. These are among the key findings of a statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), with funding from The James Irvine Foundation.

The survey—conducted in the month after the beginning of enrollment under the law—finds that 68 percent of Californians correctly say there is a health insurance exchange available to people in the state. About a third say that there is not (14%) or don’t know (18%). Across parties, regions, and demographic groups, solid majorities are aware of the state insurance exchange. Among the uninsured, 63 percent are aware of it (19% say there is no exchange, 18% don’t know).

While the uninsured are likely to take advantage of the law, many people are deeply divided over the law itself.

When uninsured residents are asked if they will get health insurance in accordance with the law or pay a fine, 66 percent say they will get insurance. A quarter (24%) say they will remain uninsured, and 11 percent are uncertain.

Enrollment of younger, relatively healthy residents is considered important to the law’s success. In the survey, uninsured residents 18–44 years old are far more likely to say they will get in insurance (72%) than are those age 45 years or older (51%).

Yet Californians are split in their view of the law itself: 44 percent favor it and 44 percent have an unfavorable opinion (13% don’t know). Likely voters assess the law more negatively than Californians overall. Half (51%) view it unfavorably and 42 percent favorably. Among uninsured Californians, half (50%) favor the law and 43 percent have unfavorable views. Those with insurance are evenly divided (43% favorable, 43% unfavorable). There are deep partisan differences on this question: 60 percent of Democrats have favorable views and 80 percent of Republicans view it unfavorably. Half of independents (51%) have an unfavorable opinion (40% favorable).

“Californians are evenly split and deeply divided along party lines on federal health care reform,” said Mark Baldassare, PPIC president and CEO. “While public awareness of the state’s effort is high, there is room for improvement among those in need of health insurance.”

Sharp Drop in Approval Ratings for Obama, Congress
In the aftermath of the federal shutdown and the troubled rollout of the national health insurance exchange, President Obama’s job approval rating among Californians (51%) is down 10 points since July (61%) and matches his record low in September 2011. Likely voters today are divided (48% approve, 50% disapprove), also near the record low (47%, September 2011). Approval of Congress among Californians (18%) has dropped below 20 percent for the first time. Among likely voters today, approval of Congress (10%) is near the record low of (9%) in December 2011. And, in a near reversal of opinion since January—when 56 percent of Californians said the U.S. was going in the right direction—57 percent today say the nation is going in the wrong direction.

Asked about how the president and congressional Republicans are handling the federal deficit and debt ceiling, Californians are more negative than they were in January. Obama’s approval rating on this question is 42 percent, down 14 points (January: 56%). Approval of congressional Republicans is at 17 percent, down 9 points (January: 26%). An overwhelming 74 percent of Californians and likely voters think it is at least somewhat likely that the government will shut down again in January.

“Approval ratings of both the president and Congress have taken a hit this fall,” Baldassare said. “And most Californians have lost confidence that their leaders in Washington will be able to avoid another fiscal crisis.”

Distrust of government is a recurring theme: The latest survey shows the lowest level in at least two years.

Lack of trust in Washington is reflected in Californians’ responses to other survey questions. Only 24 percent say they can trust the federal government to do what is right just about always or most of the time, near the record-low 20 percent in December 2011. And 73 percent say the federal government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves, while just 22 percent say it is run for the benefit of all the people. Most (61%) say the people in federal government waste a lot of taxpayer money.

The survey asks which political party could do a better job of handling four key national issues: the economy, federal budget, health care, and immigration. Californians are divided on the handling of the economy (39% Republican Party, 40% Democratic Party) and federal budget (38% Republican Party, 39% Democratic Party). On health care, they are more likely to choose the Democrats (45%) than the Republicans (33%). They are also more likely to choose the Democrats on immigration (33% Republican, 44% Democratic).

Looking ahead to congressional elections next year, more likely voters say they would prefer Congress to be controlled by Democrats (49%) than by Republicans (39%). They are divided on whether it is better for the president’s political party to have a controlling majority in Congress (26%) or for one party to be in the White House and the other controlling Congress (29%). A larger share—36 percent—say it doesn’t matter too much one way or the other. Responses to this question have changed little since it was last asked in September 2000 (27% president’s party controls Congress, 31% one party controls each, 36% doesn’t matter too much).

How do Californians view the two major parties? A slim majority (52%) have a favorable impression of the Democratic Party, while 57 percent have an unfavorable impression of the Republican Party. Strong majorities view their own party favorably, but Democrats are more likely to express favorable opinions of their party (77%) than Republicans are of theirs (66%). Asked about the Tea Party movement, 52 percent of Californians view it unfavorably. They are as likely to be uncertain about it (25%) as they are to view it favorably (23%).

Brown’s Job Rating Stable: Nearly Half Approve
With the gubernatorial election a year away, nearly half of adults (47%) and likely voters (49%) approve of the way Jerry Brown is handling his job. This is similar to his approval rating in the eight PPIC surveys conducted since December 2012. In an early look at the gubernatorial primary, we included Brown and the two Republican candidates. If the primary were held today, Brown, with the support of 46 percent of likely voters, and state assemblyman Tim Donnelly, with the support of 16 percent, would advance under the state’s top-two primary system. Former lieutenant governor Abel Maldonado has the support of 7 percent of likely voters. Another 29 percent of likely voters are undecided. When likely voters are asked how they feel about the three, 46 percent have a favorable opinion of Brown and 40 percent have an unfavorable one, while most have no opinion of Donnelly (15% haven’t heard of him, 70% don’t know enough about him to have an opinion) or Maldonado (11% haven’t heard of him, 61% don’t know enough to have an opinion). Maldonado is viewed unfavorably by a quarter of Republican (23%) and independent (26%) likely voters.

The state legislature’s job approval rating is identical to September’s rating: 38 percent among Californians and 32 percent among likely voters.

Optimism Rising About State’s Direction, But Economic Worries Persist
In contrast to Californians’ pessimism about the direction of the nation, they feel better about the direction of their state than they did two years ago. Today, 45 percent say California is going in the right direction and 46 percent say it is going in the wrong direction—a big improvement since December 2011 (30% right direction, 61% wrong direction). However, Californians’ faith in state government remains about as low as their level of trust in the federal government. A strong majority say they trust state government to do what is right only some of the time (63%) or none of the time (8%). A quarter say state government can be trusted most of the time (20%) or just about always (5%).

The sluggish economic recovery has focused attention on income inequality, an issue that is becoming increasingly more volatile as economic shifts occur.

The economy continues to weigh on Californians, although they see conditions improving: 66 percent say the state is in a recession. The percentage saying the state is in a serious recession—22 percent—is down from 43 percent two years ago. Asked about the economic outlook for the next year, 43 percent say the state will have good times, and 48% predict bad times. Just 31 percent predicted good times in December 2011. Slightly more than half of Californians (54%) say they and their families are about the same financially as they were a year ago, with 22 percent saying they are better off and 24 percent saying they are worse off. In December 2009, the midst of the Great Recession, 53 percent of Californians said they were worse off than in the previous year.

Strong Majority Say State Is Split Between Haves and Have-Nots
As a sluggish economic recovery has focused attention on income inequality, a record-high 66 percent of Californians say that the state is divided into haves and have-nots (30% say it is not divided that way). Results were similar in December 2011 (63% divided, 34% not divided). In January 1999, 56 percent said the state was divided and 41 percent said it was not. When asked to characterize themselves, 40 percent of Californians today say they are among the haves, and 45 percent say they are have-nots. In 1999, the results were very different: 57 percent said they were among the haves, and 35 percent said they were have-nots.

What is the government’s role in easing poverty? Half of Californians (49%) say the government should do more to make sure that all Californians have an equal opportunity to get ahead, while 43 percent say people already have an equal opportunity. This is a reversal from January 1999: 45 percent said the government should do more and 52 percent said people already have an equal opportunity.

A majority of residents (63%) agree (24% completely, 39% mostly) with the statement that the government is responsible for taking care of people who can’t care for themselves. About a third disagree (22% mostly, 12% completely). Half of Californians (51%) say poor people have hard lives because government benefits don’t go far enough to help them live decently; 35 percent say poor people have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return. Likely voters are divided (40% easy, 46% hard). In the five previous surveys that included this question, more than half of Californians have said that poor people have hard lives because benefits don’t go far enough.

Ed’s Note:  The PPIC Statewide Survey was conducted with funding from The James Irvine Foundation. Findings are based on a telephone survey of 1,701 California adult residents interviewed on landlines and cell phones from November 12–19, 2013. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.


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