News

Legislature’s image on the mend?

State Capitol, Sacramento. (Photo: David Monniaux)

Is the California Legislature making a comeback?

The poll numbers would certainly indicate it is, but lawmakers shouldn’t start popping the champagne corks.

The Public Policy Institute of California tells us that in January, 41 percent of likely California voters approved of the job the Legislature was doing.

The figures would seem to indicate that the more informed you are about the Legislature, the more inclined you are to dislike it.

That may not seem to be a towering vote of confidence but it’s much better than the figures for November of 2010, when a whopping 9 percent of likely voters thought the Legislature was doing fine, and 82 percent said, in effect, that they were a bunch of bums. The lawmakers have been on a steady upward march since July of 2014, when they had a 31 percent approval rate vs. 56 percent disapproval.

In fact, the Legislature hasn’t had this much love since October of 2004, when 40 percent of likely voters approved and 46 percent disapproved of the legislature’s performance, according to the PPIC.

California’s 120 legislators make take comfort from the fact that their approval ratings have soared past those of Boko Haram, but they still have a way to go. That same January PPIC poll showed a disapproval rating of 47 percent, six points higher than their approval rating. They’re still underwater, by a considerable amount.

The Field Report confirmed, once again, what campaign consultants have known for decades: There is a sharp difference in outlook between Californians who live on the coast and those who live inland.

The PPIC’s results were also interesting from another standpoint — the Legislature’s approval rating among “all adults” was a bit higher at 49 percent, and the disapproval percentage was much lower at 36 percent than the  likely voters’  41/47 breakdown. On the logical assumption that “likely voters” are better informed than “all adults,” the figures would seem to indicate that the more informed you are about the Legislature, the more inclined you are to dislike it.

California’s Field Poll shows similar results. Figures released by the Field Poll on Feb. 25 showed a 42 percent approval rate vs. 44 percent disapproval.

What accounts for the improving job rating for lawmakers? It’s probably because most voters finally seem to believe that things across the state are getting better. The Field Poll tells us that “For the first time in over thirteen years, a significantly larger proportion of California voters believes that the state is moving in the right direction (50%) than feel it is off on the wrong track (41%).” That’s not sensational, but it’s better than it has been for a long time, and the sentiment may have rubbed off on the Legislature.

The Field Report confirmed, once again, what campaign consultants have known for decades: There is a sharp difference in outlook between Californians who live on the coast and those who live inland. On the coast, 54 percent of voters think the state is moving in the right direction and 37 percent think it’s moving downward. Inland, only 43 percent say the state is heading in the right direction, while 51 percent believe the state is heading in the wrong direction.

It’s not much of a reach to conclude that Californians believe things have gotten better in the Legislature under Gov. Jerry Brown. When he was inaugurated for his third term in January of 2011, the lawmakers’ approval rating was a pallid 18 percent vs. 68 percent disapproval, a long way from where it is today. California’s economic resurgence and its positive impact on state budgeting are probably also factors, even if indirect, in the improved image of lawmakers.

There is also the fact that the last round of political campaigns are fading from our collective memory. Remember? Politicians ranted about “those Sacramento politicians” while campaigning strenuously to become one of those Sacramento politicians. With the awfulness of Sacramento politicians not being drummed into our brains daily, our regard for them may be rebounding, even if only a little.

What’s the significance of all these figures for the future? The Democrats will say it’s a reflection of their popularity, since they enjoy such heavy legislative majorities. They may be emboldened to spend more on social programs. And Republicans will say the upsurge in the state’s economic picture, achieved by Republican businessmen despite state-imposed handicaps, is what is giving the legislature sunnier approval figures. They’ll point out that with Democrats in control, it’s still true that more people disapprove of the legislature than approve.

But regardless of party, legislators will bask in the warmth of knowing that four out of 10 voters believe they’re doing a good job. Lemons and lemonade, right?

Ed’s Note: Chuck McFadden was an Associated Press reporter in Sacramento many years ago. He is the author of “Trailblazer: A Biography of Jerry Brown” from the University of California Press.


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: