Political Mistrust in California

Mark Laluan

Californians have little faith that politicians can solve the State’s woes, polls say

The latest Field Polls show that Californians are losing confidence the ability of politicians, both those running for office and incumbents, in solving California’s economic and social problems.

According a Field Poll published September 28 over 81 percent of Californians hold the view that the state is moving sharply in the wrong direction. In contrast the same poll shows that only 12 percent of Californians think the state is moving in the wrong direction.

Such indicators could be expected to presage of a cut and dry race this November favoring Republicans. Yet Field Polls published September 23 and 25 show clear signs of public apathy in regard to support for both incumbents and new faces running this fall.

When asked why Californians are angry with state politicians, Cal State East Bay political science professor, Dr. David Baggins said, “Confidence in government is down. For the average worker, the last period of prosperity was long ago. Wages haven’t risen in a dozen years. People got a false prosperity out of increasing their mortgages and spending that money. We all know how that worked out.”

The same September 28 poll shows that registered Republicans and Democrats maintain similar disillusionment in their elected representatives. Republicans as a whole maintain a 78 percent disapproval rating of California’s representatives while Democrats voice their disapproval to the tune of 66 percent.

The September 23 poll shows that the gubernatorial race between Republican, Meg Whitman and Democrat, Jerry Brown has swung back into a statistical dead heat. For the month of September, Whitman polled 41 percent while Brown likewise polled 41 percent.

This has continued a trend, which has seen ups and downs for both Brown and Whitman during the summer in terms of public support. As election day draws closer it is evident any advantage in public support enjoyed by either candidate can be removed by an increasingly fickle electorate.

Other statewide offices have maintained equally close races. Current Democratic Mayor of San Francisco maintains a 4 point lead over the current Republican Lieutenant Governor Abel Maldonado. Newsom’s lead has shrunk from a commanding 9 point advantage in July.

The race for Attorney General between Democratic San Francisco District Attorney General Kamala Harris and Republican and Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley show Cooley leading by 4 points, 35 percent to 31 percent. The numbers for this race have barely moved by a one point advantage to Cooley since July.

When asked if the latest Field Polls represent an accurate sampling of the electorate Baggins said, “The core science of election polling is to figure out who is not going to vote. So a gross poll of the governors race would have Brown well ahead. But that’s false, many pro-Brown people are statistically unlikely to vote. This is normal.”

The static nature of these statewide races function as clear indicators that a feeling of apathy is present among likely voters in California. No candidate of any major party has been able to show signs of gaining a commanding lead in any statewide election.

Republicans and Democrats have moved substantial resources to break the deadlock. Whitman’s ability to self-finance has given her unprecedented time on the airwaves while Brown’s alliance with organized labor has given him the firepower to capitalize on his name recognition.

With Republican and Democratic voters entrenched in their respective regional strongholds, the major campaigns have begun to aggressively and exclusively target the middle electorate; those independent voters who are likely to self-identify as ideological moderates.
The number of moderates is hard to gage in each given race but anywhere between 10 percent to 20 percent of the electorate can function as the pivot that will decide the outcome of an election.

Deadlock also continues when considering the eventual fates of twp important propositions on the ballot; Prop. 19 which would legalize marijuana and tax its production and Prop. 25 which would allow a simple majority to decide budget votes.

Support for Prop. 19 stand at 49 percent to 42 percent against according to a September 26 Field Poll. The same Field Poll shows a sharp drop in support for Prop 25, showing 46 percent in favor to 30 percent against; this is in direct contrast to over 65 percent in favor to 20 percent against in July.

The swing by California’s electorate back and forth from one noncommittal stance to the next shows an increasing disillusionment with policies suggested by both the ruling Democrats and the Republican opposition.