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Divide over part-time Legislature, open primary

To download a PDF file of the poll results, click here.

About half of Californians support the concept of a part-time Legislature, and are similarly divided about changing state elections to make them less partisan, according to a new Capitol Weekly/Probolsky Research Poll.

The survey also found that more than half of those polled – 53 percent – believe that at least some environmental regulations should be eased in order to expedite infrastructure construction projects and take advantage of a looming federal economic stimulus package. Estimates of California’s potential share of that federal funding range from $37 billion to $42 billion, or more.

The economy in general was cited as the single most important issue facing California, with 21 percent of those surveyed ranking it as their top concern, followed by jobs/unemployment at 13 percent.

And more than a third of those surveyed said they would be interested in serving on the voter-approved redistricting commission when it comes time to redraw legislative political boundaries.

The telephone survey of 752 registered voters was conducted Jan. 22 through Jan. 29. The margin of error is 3.7 percent. The full survey, the first Capitol Weekly/Probolsky Research Poll, is available on online here.

Overall, more than six in 10 voters believe the state is on the wrong track, while Republicans are more inclined than Democrats to question the state’s direction, by 70.4 percent to 55.3 percent.

Only a fourth of those surveyed said the state was moving in the right direction. More than a third of voters aged 18-34 believe the state is on the right track, while about a third of Latino voters – 33.9 percent – also said California was going in the right direction.
 More than two-thirds of those surveyed – 68 percent – said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was doing a fair or poor job, while fewer than 4 percent said he was doing an excellent job.

But while voters are unhappy with the governor, they also have concerns about the setup of the Legislature and the current structure of California’s primary elections – two hot-button political issues in the Capitol. But voters seem divided over the specific ways to change the structure of California government.

Half of those surveyed said they favor a part-time Legislature, and 49 percent said they favored open, “top-two” primary elections. In a separate but related issue, more than a third of those surveyed would be interested in serving on an independent redistricting commission that will draw political boundaries next year.

For nearly 120 years, California had a part-time Legislature. In 1966, with the voters’ approval, California’s Legislature became full time. The new survey showed 51 percent in favor of a part-time Legislature, 36 percent opposed and 13 percent unsure or refused to answer. The results are likely to spur debate in the Capitol, where the notion of a part-time Legislature is already a topic of heated discussion. Seemingly simple on its face, the conversion to a part-time Legislature entails complex legal issues, including the potential convening of a state Constitutional Convention.

In a top-two primary, only the two top candidates who receive the most votes in a primary election are allowed to advance to the general election. Critics such a system would choke off minor parties, but supporters believe it could lead to politically moderate candidates, who would be forced to court votes from the broad center of the electorate rather than the partisan fringes. The concept has been embraced by Gov. Schwarzenegger.

Forty-nine percent of those surveyed favor the top-two primary, 35 percent oppose it and the remaining 16 percent were undecided or declined to respond.

Currently, California has what is called a “modified blanket primary,” in which voters who decline to state a partisan preference currently can request a Democratic, Republican or an American Independent ballot; absent that request, decline-to-state voters will receive only ballots containing nonpartisan offices and ballot propositions. In presidential primaries, the major parties have different rules: The GOP only allows only Republicans to get a Republican ballot, while decline-to-state voters can get a Democratic or AIP ballot.

The rules can change for each primary, because six months before the election, the parties must notify the secretary of state of their rules for the upcoming election.

Support for the top-two system was highest among declined-to-state voters, with 62 percent saying they favor the change in primaries, and nearly as strong among newly registered voters and voters aged 18-34. Among those who feel California is on the right track, more than 57 percent support the top-two idea.

Latinos and African Americans were divided over the issue: About 60 percent of Latinos favor the top-two system, while 51 percent of Blacks oppose it. Of those African Americans who said they oppose the plan, more than a third  – 36 percent – said they “strongly oppose” the proposal.

On an issue related to partisanship, more than a third of the voters surveyed – 37 percent – said they would be interested in serving on a newly approved commission that is intended to draw political boundaries for the next census. Voters narrowly approved the commission in November as Proposition 11. The independent, 14-member commission takes away from the Legislature the power to draw boundaries for Senate, Assembly and Board of Equalization districts. The boundaries for California’s 53 congressional districts – it may be only 52 because of population losses – will continue to be drawn by the Legislature.

The poll is the first survey produced by Capitol Weekly/Probolsky Research, which will conduct similar surveys on a quarterly basis focusing on dealing issues of statewide politics and governance. The results will published online at www.capitolweekly.net and www.probolskyresearch.com, and in print in the nonpartisan Capitol Weekly, the state’s only newspaper devoted solely to politics and government.

Probolsky Research LLC, with offices in Laguna Hills and Sacramento, is headed by Adam Probolsky. The firm provides services to corporate, government and political clients. It conducts telephone surveys, field studies, focus groups, benchmark polling, image testing, tracking polls, exit polling and community attitude surveys, among other services.

Capitol Weekly is published by Arnold and Karen York, who also publish the Malibu Times. Their son, Anthony York, a former political editor at Salon.com, is the editor of Capitol Weekly. Founded in 1988, it originally provided listings of state jobs, but in 2005, it was redesigned to include news and analysis of state politics and the state government community. The paper’s Web site also provides detailed salary listings of legislative and executive-branch jobs, as well as a complete listing of available state positions.


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