HECTOR AMEZCUA / hamezcua@sacbee.com

Gov. Jerry Brown arrives in the Assembly chambers in January for his State of the State speech in which he declared that the budget deficit problem has been solved.

Californians in sunnier mood, lifting public approval rating of Legislature, Jerry Brown

Published: Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2013 - 12:30 pm

Following years of budget deficits and discouragement about the future, California's mood appears finally to have improved.

For the first time in six years, a plurality of California voters think the state is heading in the right direction, according to a Field Poll released today.

Gov. Jerry Brown's approval rating vaulted above 50 percent for the first time since he took office in 2011, and even the Legislature's job performance rating rose 11 percentage points, to a marginally less embarrassing 36 percent.

A majority of voters believe the greater control Democratic lawmakers gained over the Legislature on Election Day is good for California, according to the poll.

"It's a big change from where we've been over the last two or three years," poll director Mark DiCamillo said.

Californians may not be satisfied with California's overall economy, DiCamillo said, but they are "viewing it through the prism of state governance and the budget, and what was once a major, multibillion deficit … is now apparently in balance, and that's something that they feel good about."

California is heavily Democratic, and the electorate's improving outlook comes despite California's still-high unemployment rate of 9.8 percent.

The poll follows passage of Brown's November ballot initiative to raise taxes, Proposition 30, and his release last month of a state spending plan in which he declared an era of state budget deficits over.

The Democratic governor's public approval rating, 57 percent, is 11 percentage points higher than immediately before the November election. The rating is nearly identical to the percentage of voters who say Brown deserves credit for turning around the state's finances.

"I'm optimistic," said Christopher Souza, a 23-year-old Democrat from Selma. "I don't think things are great yet, obviously, but I read that they presented a balanced budget for the first time … so that was good news."

Souza, a Walmart cashier and student teacher, was among poll respondents who think the state is heading in the right direction – an opinion he said he couldn't have given as recently as a year ago.

This year, Souza said, "I am feeling hopeful about the future."

Not since March 2007 have Californians had such a sunny disposition. Forty-eight percent of registered voters believe the state is heading in the right direction, while 42 percent of voters say things are seriously off on the wrong track, according to the poll.

In September, just 35 percent of registered voters held a positive outlook for the state, according to the poll.

While Brown's public approval rating was expected to improve following his tax initiative's passage and the release of his budget plan, it was unclear how voters might react to Democrats gaining supermajorities in both legislative houses, a majority sufficient to approve tax increases or place measures on the ballot without Republican votes.

By a 55 percent to 39 percent margin, voters say the Democratic supermajority is good for California, with Democrats largely favoring the arrangement and Republicans largely opposed.

Among independent voters, 69 percent view the Democratic supermajority positively, according to the poll.

"Maybe it's because voters are tired of the gridlock," DiCamillo said. "They want the state to move forward."

Tony Sinclair, a 69-year-old artist and independent voter from Auburn, said he fears the Democratic supermajority will encourage greater partisanship in Sacramento.

The former Democrat said he left the party years ago "because I don't believe in them," but he added, "The Republicans aren't any better, really."

According to the poll, 58 percent of registered voters say Brown is the right governor for the problems facing California and 61 percent of voters say he can be trusted to do what is right.

However, a large proportion of Californians also agree with standard criticisms of Brown. According to the poll, 57 percent of registered voters say he advocates too many big government projects that the state cannot afford, 52 percent say he favors tax policies that hurt California's economy and 47 percent say he favors organized labor too much.

Brown's public approval rating does not match the highs he reached as governor before, from 1975 to 1983. In March 1976, Brown's public approval rating hit a high of 69 percent.

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