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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

CA’s Leadership Crisis a Challenge for Dems

It’s frequently said that change comes to California before it comes to the rest of the nation, and if that’s the case America may be in for a rocky ride, according to a new report, published by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, in conjunction with Public Opinion Strategies. The report, based on a survey of 1,500 CA RVs for the L.A. Times and the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, indicates that widespread discontent with state leadership may be creating a political vaccuum. From the exec summary:

Results reveal that voters in California are deeply pessimistic about where things currently stand in their state and are very unhappy with their state leaders. The State Legislature and Governor Schwarzenegger both receive very low approval ratings and it seems that these low marks are more driven by voters’ disappointment with their leaders than anger. Despite their unhappiness voters resist all of the changes presented to them that would help shore up the large budget deficit and eliminate some of the gridlock in Sacramento.

An L.A. Times article by Evan Halper based on the study, reports,

More than a third of those polled said they or a family member had lost a job in the last year. Nearly half said they or someone in their family had been hit with a cut in take-home pay, and 57% said their investments or those of family members had dropped by more than a quarter.
The recession’s impact is particularly strong among blacks and Latinos, with 57% of Latinos and 41% of blacks in the survey saying they or someone in their family had lost a job as a result of the recession. Among Latinos, 21% reported a home foreclosure, a number more than twice the overall rate of those surveyed.
Nearly a quarter of those polled said they or someone in their family had lost healthcare coverage as a result of the recession. And 27% said they or someone in their family had put off or canceled a medical appointment or prescription in the last year because of the cost.

Further,

Amid tough times, “voters seem uninterested in budgetary innovation,” said Stan Greenberg, one of the two pollsters who supervised the survey. His Republican counterpart, Neil Newhouse, concurred, saying the poll indicated widespread voter “distrust” of proposed reforms, in favor of a focus on cutting spending and reducing the power of special interests.
…A solid majority, 65%, opposed plans to place sales tax-like levies on services such as legal advice and car repairs. A proposal to flatten the income tax to make the state less dependent on the wealthy was opposed by 48% of voters and supported by just 33%. The nonpartisan panel had endorsed the argument made by many budget experts that income taxes from wealthy residents make state finances too erratic because they rise and fall dramatically as the stock market moves.
Another proposal being pushed by budget reformers, although not the commission, would ease the restrictions on property tax increases put in place three decades ago by Proposition 13. That idea was also unpopular. Just 30% of voters support such changes even if they would affect only commercial property and not residences.

Another L.A. Times report on the survey by Cathleen Decker indicates that there is an emerging opportunity for Democrats:

Against that grim backdrop, next year’s political contests loom as potentially volatile, but Democrats start out holding the upper hand, the poll found. President Obama retains his popularity in a state that gave him a landslide victory one year ago, with 60% approving of his tenure as president. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican struggling in the last year of his term, won the support of only a third of voters.
In the election to replace Schwarzenegger, Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, the only major figure currently angling for the Democratic nomination, was seen favorably by more than 4 in 10 voters, and unfavorably by about one-quarter. His likely Republican opponents are much less known; none was seen favorably by more than 2 in 10 voters, the poll indicated…Asked about next year’s election for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Barbara Boxer, nearly 3 in 5 voters said they “want a senator who will mostly support” Obama’s policies. .
Few voters said they knew enough to have an opinion about either of the Republicans running to challenge Boxer, Carly Fiorina and Chuck DeVore. Voters, however, have a favorable view of Boxer, about in line with where she has stood before her three prior victories in Senate races.

But Decker cautions:

There was little confidence that the next governor, whoever he or she may be, would be able to successfully battle California’s problems. Voters were split over whether the winning candidate would be able to bring about “real change.” More than half of voters said that California’s problems are long-term in nature and will not ease substantially when the national economy recovers.

California remains the big prize in terms of both electoral votes and setting the tone for America’s future. Democrats seem poised to take the political reins of the governorship, and it will require all of the governor-elect’s creativity and political savvy to succeed. Much depends on what Jerry Brown has learned since his last term in Sacramento.

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