Voters see state going in right direction, approve of Brown

By Mark DiCamillo and Mervin Field

The Field Poll


For the first time since Democrat Jerry Brown was elected two years ago, a solid majority of voters (57%) approves of the job he is doing as Governor. This increase in voter esteem has occurred despite the fact that many voters acknowledge several common criticisms lodged against the Governor and his policies.


At the same time, a plurality of voters now believes the state is heading in the right direction – something that has not happened since 2007.


There has also been an easing in the highly critical view that voters have had of the legislature’s job performance, with 36% now approving of its performance and 51% disapproving. Part of the change appears related to a more favorable view that voters have of the performance of Democratic lawmakers. In addition, by a 55% to 39% margin, more voters believe it’s a good thing for California that Democrats hold two-thirds control of both houses of the state legislature.


These are the highlights from the latest statewide Field Poll conducted Feb. 5-17. The entire survey and its methodology are provided here.


Brown’s job rating on the rise For the first two years of Brown’s latest term as Governor voter approval ratings of his performance were in the modest 43% to 49% range.

However, the most recent Field Poll finds a 57% majority now approving of Brown’s job performance, the Governor’s highest rating since his election.


Contributing to this surge is the fact that big majorities of both Democratic and independent voters now view the Governor’s performance positively. While most Republicans (65%) disapprove of the job Brown is doing, a not inconsiderable proportion of Republicans (24%) give him a favorable rating.


Brown served two earlier terms as Governor between 1975 and 1982. Field Poll surveys conducted at the time show that while he maintained positive job ratings throughout his first term, especially during his first two years in office, he fell out of favor with the public during his second term.


For example, early in his second year in office in March 1976, a record 69% of Californians approved of Brown’s performance as Governor, while just 25% disapproved. However, by April 1980 and after his abortive run for President that year, Brown’s job marks turned highly negative, with just 38% approving and 61% disapproving. His performance ratings never returned to positive territory during the remainder of his term.


During his 2010 election campaign and subsequently, Brown has been both praised and criticized for his actions and policies. Some of the more widely pro and con descriptions of Brown were repeated in this survey and voters were asked to what extent they felt each applied to the Governor.


Majorities of voters statewide concur with three positive statements about Brown – that he “can be trusted to do what is right” (61%), “is the right governor for the problems facing California” (58%), and “deserves credit for turning around the state’s finances (56%).


However, large proportions also agree with several criticisms of the Governor and his policies. For example, a 57% majority believe he “advocates too many big government projects that the state cannot afford right now.” In addition, 52% maintain that he “favors tax policies that are hurting California’s economy,” while 47% agree that he “favors organized labor too much.”


Voters long-felt strong disapproval of the legislature’s job performance eases some In sixteen previous Field Poll measurements conducted during the past five years voters have been strongly critical of the job the state legislature has been doing. During this period, no more than one in four voters approved of its performance. The latest poll shows a decline in the extent of voter disapproval and a corresponding increase in approval. While still viewed more negatively than positively, a somewhat larger proportion of voters than previously (36%) approves, while a smaller proportion (51%) disapproves of the job the legislature is doing.


A majority of Democratic voters (52%) offers a positive assessment of the legislature, as do about one in three (34%) independent voters. On the other hand, just 14% of Republicans approve There is a sizeable difference in the way Democratic and Republican legislators are viewed by voters.


When all voters are asked to assess the performance of the Democratic lawmakers 45% approve and 44% disapprove. By contrast, more than twice as many voters disapprove (58%) as approve (24%) of the job being done by legislative Republicans.


Majorities of rank-and-file Democrats (64%) and independents (53%) give positive marks to Democratic lawmakers. By comparison, about two in three of each group disapprove of the performance of legislative Republicans, along with 44% of rank-and-file Republicans.


For many years Democrats have held a majority of the seats in both the State Senate and Assembly. However, the 2010 election saw Democrats expanding their advantage to where they now hold more than two-thirds of the seats in both houses.


This means that with supermajority control of both houses, Democrats can now move forward legislation that requires a two-thirds majority for passage, without any Republican votes.


By a 55% to 39% margin more voters say it’s a good thing. Not surprisingly, views about this follow party lines, with 76% of Democrats reacting positively and 86% of Republicans negatively to this development.


Significantly, about seven in ten political independents (69%) also maintain that the two-thirds Democratic control of the legislature is a good thing for the state.

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