News

PPIC: Universal health care, free community college tops wish list

The state Capitol in Sacramento. (Photo: SchnepfDesign, via Shutterstock)

As Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom prepares to begin his first term, most Californians say universal health coverage and tuition-free community college should be high priorities for new state funding. This is among the key findings of a new statewide survey released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Click here for the complete survey. For the report’s methodology,  click here.

“Majorities of Californians place a high priority for new state spending on universal health coverage and tuition-free community college, rather than high-speed rail.” — Mark Baldassare

In his campaign, Newsom highlighted a number of policy priorities, including universal preschool and tuition-free community college. He also indicated support for statewide universal health coverage.  The PPIC survey asks about these policies and one more—building a high-speed rail system—that would require a significant amount of new state funding. The results:

  • Majorities of adults (60%) and likely voters (57%) say universal health coverage should be a very high or high priority.
  • A slight majority of adults (53%) and nearly half of likely voters (47%) say tuition-free community college should be a very high or high priority.
  • Fewer than half of Californians (48% adults, 41% likely voters) say the same about universal preschool.
  • Far fewer (25% adults, 19% likely voters) say the same about high-speed rail. Californians voted to allocate money to begin building the rail project in 2008.

Summing up, PPIC president and CEO Mark Baldassare said: “Majorities of Californians place a high priority for new state spending on universal health coverage and tuition-free community college, rather than high-speed rail.”

The survey asks Californians to make fiscal choices for the next budget year, when the state is projected to have a surplus of several billion dollars. A majority of adults (57%) say they would prefer to spend the surplus to increase state funding for education and health and human services. Far fewer would prefer to use the surplus to pay down debt and build up a reserve (21%) or for one-time spending for transportation, water, and infrastructure (16%).

Signs of Concern about the Economy
In the wake of the November election, a majority of California adults (54%) say that things in the state are generally going in the right direction. Their responses were similar in September. But residents are more pessimistic today when asked if we will have good times financially in the state in the year ahead—fewer than half of adults (46%) believe this. Optimism was higher in September when a majority of residents (53%) predicted good financial times ahead.

In keeping with this note of caution about the economy, Californians are most likely to name jobs and the economy (17%) as the most important issue facing people in the state today. The next most frequently named issues are the environment (10%), housing affordability (9%), and immigration (9%). Notably—in the wake of the recent wildfires—9 percent say wildfires are the most important state issue. Across regions, San Francisco Bay Area residents are the most likely to name housing affordability as the top issue, and Central Valley residents are the most likely to say wildfires.

Half of adults (50%) say that children growing up today will be worse off financially than their parents.

When asked what the state government’s most important priority should be in planning for the future, 39 percent say improving jobs and the economy, 20 percent say protecting the environment, and 15 percent say updating water and transportation infrastructure. Across all parties and demographic groups, improving jobs and the economy is the highest priority.

“Californians say that improving jobs and the economy is the most important priority for the future,” Baldassare said. “And many believe that children will be worse off than their parents.”

Half of adults (50%) say that children growing up today will be worse off financially than their parents, while fewer (40%) say children will be better off. Slight majorities of Latinos (54%) and Asian Americans (51%) think children will be better off, while most African Americans and whites (62% each) say they will be worse off. US-born Californians (34%) are much less likely than immigrants (53%) to say children will be better off than their parents.

Asked if the state will be a better or worse place to live in 2025 than it is now, 40 percent say it will be better, 32 percent say worse, and 23 percent say it will be the same.

In the final survey before the end of his fourth term, Jerry Brown’s approval rating stands at 51 percent among adults and 52 percent among likely voters.

Two-thirds of Californians (67%) say the state is divided into two economic groups: the “haves” and the “have nots.” Solid majorities across income groups express this view, as do majorities across parties (Democrats 73%, independents 69%, Republicans 60%). Across racial/ethnic groups, African Americans (82%) are the most likely to say the state is divided into haves and have nots, followed by Latinos (68%), whites (67%), and Asian Americans (55%).

When asked to choose which of the two economic groups they are in, Californians are split: 40 percent say they are haves, and 45 percent say they are have nots. Two-thirds of residents (66%) with an annual household income of $80,000 or more say they are in the haves group, while 62 percent of those with incomes under $40,000 say they are have nots. Californians with annual household incomes of $40,000 to $80,000 are divided (42% haves, 44% have nots).

Should the government do more to make sure that all residents have an equal opportunity to get ahead? A majority (53%) say yes, while 41 percent say that all Californians have an equal opportunity now.

The Legislature’s approval rating is 47 percent among adults and 43 percent among likely voters.

Less Than Half Approve of Newsom’s Policies—A Third Don’t Know Yet
After Newsom’s landslide victory in November, 42 percent of adults and 41 percent of likely voters approve of his plans and policies based on what they know so far, while 25 percent of adults and 32 percent of likely voters disapprove. About a third say they don’t know or haven’t heard enough to have an opinion yet (34% adults, 27% likely voters).  Asked if they want Newsom to generally continue outgoing governor Jerry Brown’s policies, just 35 percent of adults and 39 percent of likely voters say yes. Half (48% adults, 50% likely voters) say they want Newsom to mostly change to different policies.

“As Gavin Newsom makes plans for his new administration, nearly half of Californians say they want him to take a different policy direction from Governor Brown,” Baldassare said.

In the final survey before the end of his fourth term, Brown’s approval rating stands at 51 percent among adults and 52 percent among likely voters. His rating after the November 2014 election was similar (54% adults, 57% likely voters). After the November 2010 election, it was lower (41% adults, 47% likely voters).

In the aftermath of an election that gave Democrats a majority in the California Legislature of more than two-thirds, the Legislature’s approval rating is 47 percent among adults and 43 percent among likely voters. Ratings were similar after the November 2014 election (41% adults, 39% likely voters) but lower after the November 2010 election (26% adults, 18% likely voters).

Editor’s Note: The Californians and Their Government series is supported with funding from the James Irvine Foundation and the PPIC Donor Circle. Findings  are based on a survey of 1,704 California adult residents, including 1,193 interviewed on cell phones and 511 interviewed on landline telephones. Interviews took place from Nov. 11–20, 2018. Interviews were conducted in English or Spanish, according to respondents’ preferences.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: